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Football Concepts, Schemes, Formations: TDG Football Seminar Discusses Route Trees

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Oregon State v Minnesota

Welcome back to the TDG Football Seminar. While most schools do not have classes on Labor Day, we recognize that learning more about football is a labor of love worth studying. Today we are going to discuss what a route tree is, where they came from, and why they are important.

Last year, we frequently discussed how the goal of an offense is make playing simple for your offense and complex for the defense. There are lots of ways to do this, some better than others. A reasonable question for the passing game is how do you communicate to wide receivers what route they should run. After all, saying “Post/Smash/Flat” out loud takes a bit of time. Moreover, there are lots of potential ways that a receiver can run a route to get open. A route tree is a collection of passing routes organized numerically. They should be the same for each receiver so that if a receiver switches positions, they won’t have to learn an entirely new system.

Usually, route trees split routes between those run towards the middle of the field and those run towards the sideline. Almost always, an even number route means to run the middle of the field and an odd number route means towards the sideline. Routes that go farther down the field have higher numbers than short routes.

Despite how obvious they seem now, route trees are a reasonably new invention. In the late 1970s, Don Coryell and the San Diego Chargers obliterated passing records with an exciting pass offense based on precision and timing. Wide Receivers were frequently put in motion, and the quarterback through to a spot on the field instead of a specific man. Because receivers moved around, they needed a mechanism to know what route they were supposed to run. For that matter, receivers in Coryell’s offense were given the freedom to change their route based on the defense. As a corollary, the quarterback needed the same mechanism to know what part of the field to put the football. Thus, the route tree was born.

As spread offenses rose in college football, the major change was how to compress play calls to lets offenses know what play to run and be set up in as short of time as possible. Certainly fast play calls no longer look like a west coast style call. They may be as short as one word. Code picture boards are now ubiquitous at all levels of the game, but especially in college. Minnesota now has one on the sidelines. Route trees still have a place because the code boards tend to give information to the skill position players.

Simple enough then. Next week, we’re going to dive in further into how route trees are used to create patterns for the offense, and how coaches use the geometry created by receivers to attack different defenses.