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Going by The Book
September 05, 2005
So you think playbooks are just diagrams with lines going this way and that? You'll be amazed at what coaches stuff in them and how much the poor player has to learn
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September 05, 2005

Going By The Book

So you think playbooks are just diagrams with lines going this way and that? You'll be amazed at what coaches stuff in them and how much the poor player has to learn

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Let the record show that on that date and time Boller was starting a 10-minute seven-on-seven drill. At 10:46 Boller broke the huddle to run Bunch Right Liz Cincy, a pass play out of a three-wideout set.

But that's nothing compared to the fine points driven home by Houston Texans coach Dom Capers. While Baltimore has five nights of classroom-style playbook instruction, Houston has about 20 such sessions. "If Dom Capers ever came to work here, he'd end up in a mental hospital," Billick says. "He's so detail-oriented. He'd come here and think, 'I'm at a country club.'"

St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz has a page in his playbook dedicated to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Well, not exactly. "We don't have a playbook," Martz says. One of the top offensive minds in the game doesn't have a playbook? "It's just too much," he says, explaining why his players are not issued phone book--sized playbooks at the start of training camp. "We can't do it. The plays we've used here, and may use again, are in 10 volumes. So we teach the base plays, we look at ourselves every day, and we find the right plays to run against our opponents." Each week of the season the Rams get 250-page binders containing the game plan and diagrams of plays for that week.

On the desk in Martz's office is a piece of loose-leaf notebook paper on which is written CAT PLAYS with details on five plays. These are pass plays to Manumaleuna, a 288-pound tight end who is an emerging force in a wideout-dominated offense. In the Rams' terminology, Cat is Manumaleuna (a former Arizona Wildcat). In the play Cat Right, Ace Right 816 F-8 H-Drag, for instance, he is split right and runs an 8 pattern, which in Martz's offense is a deep post.

"We signed another tight end, Roland Williams, in the off-season, and I think Brandon was a little down about it," Martz says. "He thought he was being replaced. The first practice we had this summer, Brandon was unbelievable. We threw him eight balls, and he caught every one. Some were tough catches too. So [offensive coordinator] Steve Fairchild and I figured, let's put two wide receivers left and isolate Brandon right. All the receiving talent on this team, and we'd have our big tight end all alone on the other side of the formation. We think there are some advantages for a play like that in scouting our first couple of opponents this year. How will they cover him? How will they defend the run? And that's what we like to do here. Players know if they have a good day at practice, we might draw something up for them. And if it doesn't work in practice or the game, the play goes into the trash can."

In 2000, when Mora was the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator, coach Steve Mariucci assigned him an off-season project on defending mobile quarterbacks. "We came up with a philosophy," Mora says. "Rush thoughts, blitz thoughts, coverage thoughts. We explained to our players what a quarterback under pressure is taught to do. How he escapes, who he's likely to look for, how an offense practices its scramble drill."

Mora took the information with him when he became the Atlanta coach last year. Now there's a slick, seven-page section in his playbook complete with photos of Falcons chasing Donovan McNabb.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and his coaches installed the section before last season. In three games against Atlanta before 2004, McNabb had scrambled a total of 12 times for 107 yards. When the Eagles and the Falcons met in the NFC title game, McNabb scrambled 10 times for 32 yards.

The Eagles have sections in their playbook that give wide receiver Reggie Brown, a rookie second-round draft pick out of Georgia, a massive headache. In college Brown would step into the huddle and hear two words. If the quarterback said, "70 Bench," Brown would do a 12-yard square out. With the Eagles, Brown steps into the huddle and hears, "Red Left Switch Close, A Right Motion, Sprint G, U-Corner HB Flat," and he has to know that he goes in motion from left to right before the snap, then runs a square-out.

"I hate my alarm more than anything right now," Brown says. "It goes off at 6:50 every morning, and I'm like, 'No! No!'"

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