[o]f the five starters Leach has trotted out in nine years, every one has topped 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a season; even in terms of efficiency as opposed to straight cumulative totals, they've been remarkably consistent from year to year.
He also notes that it's unlikely that Texas Tech will quite reach the heights they did last year, and that "[u]nless the stars align for the new kids in some unforeseen, improbably way, even 4,200 yards and 35 touchdowns could feel like the first hints of stagnation in the success story." Quite likely. But how has Leach continued to produce such wildly successful (in terms of stats, at least) quarterback?
One answer is "the system," but let's get more specific. The Captain has frequently noted that his system is all stuff that's been done before. Indeed, what is remarkable is that guys can seem to leap off the bench and do nothing but throw completions. He had one of the great three-year runs, where, defying the common spread/passing offense wisdom of playing your younger guy so they can get some experience, he rode three fifth-year senior quarterbacks to great heights (and, again, stats).
My explanation, and I think Leach would agree with me, is how the Red Raiders practice. One, they obviously do not run the ball much so all the focus is on throwing and catching, every day. Leach also does not believe in traditional stretching; rather he begins practices with medium speed drills that work on techniques like settling in the windows between zones and dropping back and throwing. Everything is focused on throwing the ball. Bob Davie visited Texas Tech a few years ago, and was blown away by what he saw:
Last year, Tech averaged 60 passes a game so it is obviously not a balanced attack, but this actually works in their favor. In practice, they spend virtually all their time focusing on fundamentals related to the passing game. From the time they hit the practice field until they leave, the ball is in the air and the emphasis in on throwing, catching and protecting the quarterback.
It takes great confidence in your scheme to be able to take this approach, but the players appreciate it because they can focus on execution.
Practice -- What's Different
When you watch Texas Tech practice, it doesn't seem as structured as most college practices. They do not stretch as a team and unlike most practices, there is not a horn blowing every five minutes to change drills. The bottom line is that the cosmetic appearance of practice is not as important to Leach as it is to some coaches.
Although not as structured, it is impressive to watch Texas Tech practice and you quickly see why it is so successful. The ball is always in the air and what the Red Raiders practice is what you see them do in a game. They work on every phase of their package every day and in most passing drills, there are four quarterbacks throwing and every eligible receiver catching on each snap.
There is great detail given to fundamentals in all phases of the passing game. Wide receivers, for example, work every day on releases versus different coverages, ball security, scrambling drills, blocking and routes versus specific coverages.
Davie is referencing some of the specific "Airraid" passing drills -- the real secret to the scheme's success. The main drills are:
- Settle-noose: This is basically a warm-up drill. The receivers begin out quarter speed and shuffle between two cones, "settling" nearer to one than the other, as if they were two zone defenders. The quarterback takes a drop -- again, reduced speed -- and throws the ball, aiming for the receiver but away from the nearer "defender." The receiver uses good catching form and bursts upfield after making the catch. You can see how this simple drill sets up the entire theory of their offense, which relies on finding seams in the zones and quarterbacks throwing between defenders. Check out the video below, courtesy of Brophy:
- Pat-n-go: This is another simple drill. Most teams use a form of "route lines," or quarterbacks dropping and receivers running routes on "air" -- i.e. with no defenders. The one clever insight here is that one group of QBs and receivers lines up on opposite from another. This way they can complete a pass, have the receiver burst as if scoring, and simply get in line on the opposite side of the field, rather than have to run back through. Just another way they get more repetitions.
- Routes on air: Probably their best drill. The coaches line up garbage cans or bags or whathaveyou where defenders would drop for a zone. Then all five receivers and/or runningbacks line up, and they call a play. Five quarterbacks (or four and a manager, etc) each drop back and throw the ball to a receiver. Here's the deal: if you're the QB who should throw it to the first read, you drop back and throw it to him. If you are assigned to the third read, well you drop back, look at #1, then #2, then #3 and throw it to him. Same goes for #2, #4, and even #5. Moreover, every receiver who runs the route catches a ball and practices scoring. Then the quarterbacks rotate over -- i.e. if you threw it to #2 now you throw it to #3, etc -- and a new group of receivers steps in. This way quarterbacks absolutely learn all their reads and practice it every day (how many reps like this does the third or fourth string guy at another school get?), and they also practice throwing it to all their receivers. Each time they do this
- 7-on-7 and man-to-man: These are what they sound like, and most do these drills. One-on-one or man-to-man involves the receivers going against press man in practice, while 7-on-7 is like a real scrimmage, minus the linemen.
Tech gets an amazing amount of repetitions in practice and most importantly, it doesn't waste reps practicing things they don't do in a game.Indeed, if you're third-string quarterback at Texas Tech, I can't imagine a program whose third-stringer gets more reps than you. Same goes for second-string, third-string, etc. Now, games are certainly different -- Tech's defense has never been confused with Texas's or Oklahoma's -- but these drills, coupled with their total commitment to throwing the ball, is a big factor in Leach's ability to churn out successful quarterbacks.