Notes on Practicing and Developing the Quick Passing Game:
A QB must throw the ball within 1.3 seconds in the quick passing game. This is the most important factor. Studies have shown that sacks and incompletions sky-rocket not when protection is bad, but when the QB hangs onto the ball too long.
Pointers for Practicing Timing:
We start practice with a version of "Pat n Go"--QBs 40 yards apart facing each other, receivers in two groups on QBs' right or left. The receivers run a route, catch it, and give it to the QB on the opposite side of the field and then get in line facing the other way. A coach should stand in the middle of the field with a stopwatch:
(1) this coach should be timing the QBs' releases and he should be drilling the QB to get the ball out in under 1.3 seconds.
(2) The QBs should look at the coach in the middle of the field (and in 7 on 7 or real games the safeties) on his first step back from center.
Another coach should watch the QBs' drops to make sure they are making all three steps at least 4 1/2 yards back. It is best to be a full 5 yards back (remember the center gives them about a yard head start).
If in shotgun, the QB should reset his feet like a shortstop or take a 1 step drop. I prefer the one-step drop, but others successfuly use the shortstop approach. The important thing is that QB releases the ball within 1.3 seconds and is comfortable.
The shotgun puts an extra premium on pre-snap reads on where to go with the ball, since he cannot look at the defense on the first two steps of his drop. Note: I personally prefer throwing 3-step from under center. The BEST 3-step team of the past couple years has been USC, and they are almost exclusively under center. That said the best 3-step team of the last 7-8 years or so has been Purdue, and they use the shotgun quite a bit.
Routes, Receivers, and Receiver Steps
For a good reference regarding the number of steps for most routes I recommend the Purdue playbook and the St. Louis Rams playbook, which can both be found on the Coach Huey site. Both go into detail about routes and steps.
In general, receivers should start with their outside foot back, attack the middle or outside hip of the defender over them, and then make their breaks.
The hitch route is a 5-step route but it consists of 3-big and 2-short (throttle) steps, and then the receiver simply turns back to the QB.
Note: We do not "bring him down the stem" and back to the QB (Like 6 back to 5 or 7 back to 5) because we have found that the QB has a harder time targeting where he will be and, if thrown on time, there is no reason for the receiver to lose ground and momentum coming back to the quarterback.
For us the hitch is a big yards after the catch play and turning it into a curl or mini-hook takes his momentum away and hurts this run after the catch ability. On the hitch the receiver is looking for for a six (6) yard depth, but the last two steps do not really add depth--they are to let him stop from a full-speed run in two steps or less. We work hard on these throttle steps. We say if you can run full speed and stop in two (or sometimes three for longer routes) steps, then you can get open against anyone (Got that from Florida St.).
Types of QB throws
The QB should be aware of the "type of throw." I saw a coach who said that they numbered the velocity and arc of throws. I think 1 was a bullet or frozen rope, 4 was a lob, with 2 and 3 being inbetween. You don't have to be that specific but different routes do call for different types of throws. Typically out routes need to be frozen ropes, whereas slants are really about timing and taking a little bit off the ball. You'll see even NFL QBs struggle with the slant because they put too much velocity on the ball (See Michael Vick).
The BEST slant throwing team of all time was the 49ers with both Montana and Steve Young. Both threw a very soft slant pass and did not lead the receivers much. Instead they put the ball right on their numbers.
Bottom line: The slant is tricky to both throw and catch; when you increase a football's velocity you make it harder to catch, because the increased velocity reduces the margin for error too much to make the pass effective.
Ball Placement When Throwing Quick Routes
When QBs' throw to each other they should not just "throw it to the other guy," and instead pick specific targets on the other guy's body: We say throw it at the guy's nostril, his ear, or the corner of his numbers for practice. The better the QB is at this the better he can be as a quarterback. Bill Walsh used to scream and rip Joe Montana when he failed to throw the ball to the correct corner of the receiver's jersey. That's being specific and being accurate.
Each route needs to be placed in a different spot on the receiver's body:
Hitch: The upper outside corner of the receiver's jersey so he can catch it and turn to the outside.
Slant: The upper inside corner ("in the body") of his jersey vs cover 2. Vs. cover 3 we say "one-foot in front of the numbers."
Out Routes, whether quick outs by outside receivers or quick outs to the slot (fade/out combo) or 12 yard speed outs from 5-step:
On outs we say we want the QB to throw it through the receiver's earhole. Here's why:
(1) The receiver is running away from the QB. To throw the ball through the earhole requires less precision regarding how far to lead a receiver.
(2) The earhole is a natural place for the receiver to catch it and turn upfield, whereas other placements require receivers to twist and turn, making it hard to get their head and hands around.
(3) The ball should be in the air before the receiver breaks, and a ball thrown at eye-level is easier to locate.
(4) The trajectory on the pass is a bit higher which has helped us avoid some of the underneath defenders
(5) Along with 4, sometimes to avoid underneath defenders and in an effort to put the ball in a catchable area, (usually trying to throw it "in front of" a receiver who is running away from them) the QB will throw it back towards the LOS and the receiver will lose too much ground; turning a 6 yard route into a 2 yard reception.
(6) Throwing through the earhole also avoids the old HS QB habit of turning an out route into some kind of corner route or horizontal go route, i.e throwing it over their shoulder and over the receiver's head, which tends to be thrown out of bounds and impossible to catch anyway. Part of this is arm strength and the ability to throw a pass with some velocity.