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Coaching QB’s: Fundamentals over Scheme? (part 1)


About the Author: This blog is a series of articles from John Tomlinson, Cedar Hill HS Assistant Football Coach, Cedar Hill, TX.  Coach Tomlinson can be reached at

So what’s important in developing a Quarterback, scheme or fundamentals? Should these things even be compared or should they be integrated? Should one take precedence over the other? It’s easy to believe that these two vital pieces are pitted against each other within today’s game as fundamentals easily lose out to scheme with the way the game has evolved.

I’ve noticed over the years that many coaches are in a battle with trying to get into the perfect play for every situation imaginable. As that happens, the call sheet, arm band, and playbook get bigger and bigger. There’s nothing wrong with holding the chalk last and constantly working to evolve your offense but there’s someone on the offense that’s going to lose out. That person is of course the field general, your Quarterback.

Since my first Coordinator job in 1998 I’ve learned some principles that influenced the way I view QB development. I’ve listed the 10 Principles in a 2 part series on LOCKR:

Principle 1: Establish an Identity for your Offense (Scheme Specific)

Believe in what you do offensively and let that be what defines your offense. If you’re a Power team then you’re a Power team, if you’re a vertical passing team then that’s what you are and you work to do it well. You have to have something to hang your hat on is the recurring theme I’d hear from the late Coach J.D. Hall (former North Carolina Central Univ OC and head coach Mandarin HS).

Use the KISS principle. Many of us know what that is, but if you don’t, Keep It Simple Stupid! Always be aware that even though players drive your scheme, you have to have a few core principles when it comes to identity. If you believe in the running game, devote time to making it work. Personnel may dictate how you run the ball from one year to the next but if your core principle is running the ball, work that principle and be flexible so if you have a Zone runner, you can integrate his abilities in what you do.

Principle 2: Identify Your Personnel and their Commitment (Scheme Specific)

Is there a great transition from a heavy senior class the year before and little experience returning at key positions? Do the guys possess the commitment to show up for offseason work? The only way to change that is added commitment to get better from the younger players. Are you at a point where you have an established Program or are you still developing your building blocks for your Program? The players you have and where they are in their development will define what you plan on incorporating.

Principle 3: What type of Quarterback do you possess? (Scheme Specific)

Knowing the type of guy you have long before Spring practice is vital. Is your QB committed or just interested in the idea of leading the team? Will he take the team to the Promised Land or do you need to refine your scheme? Simply put, does he possess the basic skills to execute the scheme you are trying to implement.

Principle 4: Can you recycle any of the scheme from the previous season? (Scheme Specific)

Is there anything in the run or pass game that you can transition into the new season that the offense can use as a springboard? This is primarily for coaches that are either taking over a new program or have lost a lot of leadership and experience from the previous season. In 1998 I was hired as a new offensive coordinator and I spent time reviewing what was successful from the previous season in hopes that we could carry over a part of the scheme that the players had some success in.

Principle 5: Keep your ego in check. (Scheme & Fundamentals)

It’s never about you, it’s about the assignment! If you can bridge success and find something they do well and make it better, you become a better coordinator because you take less time in trying to build something that already has a foundation. Don’t be the coach that badmouths the previous coach when teaching the players the new scheme and your fundamentals. There’s potentially more than a few previous players that admire, honor, and respect the previous coaching staff. Your job is to effectively make the program better through your actions not by your ego.

Principle 6: Teach the game, teach the why? (Fundamental Specific)

I learned the value of teaching the why when developing concepts, reviewing film of opponents, identifying tendencies, and digging deeper with my QB fundamentals from practice to games. We spent a lot of time addressing stance, proper depth on drops, play fakes, footwork, play concepts, and identifying defenses. The entire offense was taught to understand their position as well as understand what the opponent was trying to do. Our players were well prepared and it resulted in the 1st winning season, in over 8 years at the school. I created a drill tape and gave it to my QB’s to teach handoffs and passing mechanics. That was only the beginning but teaching the why had an impact until this very day.

Look for Part 2 of this article with the remaining principles coming soon on LOCKR!

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