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"We're not just running plays to run plays." Building an attack-based pass game with Steve Sarkisian

The new Texas head coach shared the true basis for his "All Gas No Brakes" mantra.

Here's one way to tell you've drawn up a successful route concept. While speaking to an audience of high school coaches, at multiple points of your hour-long presentation you feel compelled to pause the clip and explain why the quarterback is not coached to throw the ball to the tight end in the flat who is not only open but, in the most technical of terms, is actually "wide ass open." 

Such was the case for new Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian last Thursday, who spoke for an hour on his passing game at the Angelo Football Clinic. While the other presenters I've written up -- Austin Westlake's Todd Dodge, Texas A&M's Mike Elko -- addressed the audience live and in person from San Angelo, Sarkisian spoke via Zoom from his office in Austin; he spoke in person to the Boys and Girls Club of Austin immediately after his Angelo talk with, one can only assume, a different presentation topic.

Most of Sarkisian centered around breaking down two pass concepts -- Railroad and Thumb. (I'll respect Sarkisian enough not to post the full play design here, but I did copy both down for my 2nd grade 7-on-7 team.) 

Railroad is a traditional drop-back concept where the first read is the running back on a wheel route. Beyond that, the Z runs a drag straight off the H's hips (who runs a corner, purely as a means of getting out of the way); the Y runs a dig and the X runs diagonally until he finds himself standing directly across from the quarterback at a depth of 20-ish yards. This creates a triangle the X, the Y and the Z, and in most clips we saw between Alabama, the Atlanta Falcons and Texas, the entire alphabet was open. 

Thumb is an RPO concept where Sarkisian cuts the field in half. The H runs a deep cross, the Z runs a post to the same side, and at the bottom of the formation, either the Y or the running back leak to the flat, again to the same side. 

Again, each route was open on nearly every play, and the Y or the running back usually had 10 to 15 yards all to themselves near the sideline.

"When we call play-passes, we always read top down," Sarkisian said, referencing why the ball is not dumped to the uncovered option near the line of scrimmage. "We're trying to play with the safeties, put them in tough situations." 

This, Sarkisian said, is the basis of his "All Gas, No Breaks" mantra that has now become the driving words of the entire program.

"We're an attack-oriented offense. We're trying to attack our opponent, we're not just running plays to run plays," Sarkisian said. 


To get to the point where he can truly attack defenses, Sarkisian has get players to the point where they can execute assignments "with belief." This is defined as when they not only know what to do, but how to do it and why it's important to be done that way. Concepts are installed in three phases:

- First in a meeting, where plays are introduced in X and O form, then shown on video clips.

- Next, in practice, coaches will walk through a play, re-teach it in individual and group periods, then in team periods and 7-on-7.

- Lastly, the play will be reviewed in post-practice film. 

"The more things you can do well, the harder you are to defend, but you've got to do them well first," Sarkisian said. 

Quarterback Traits: 

It's safe to say the days of Texas building its offense around the Vince Young zone read or the Sam Ehlinger quarterback power are over. While whoever wins the quarterback job this fall -- the battle is between junior Casey Thompson and sophomore Hudson Card -- will undoubtedly run the ball at times, Sarkisian will never run his quarterback.

The coach listed the following traits he looks for in a QB:

-- Mental makeup. "We want great competitors. You have to have physical and mental toughness to play this position," he said.

-- Decision making

-- Accuracy

-- Throwing mechanics. "I try not to over-coach this," Sarkisian said. "By the time we get them they've gone to 10 different quarterback coaches who've taught them everything under the sun. We try to keep it natural."

-- Quick hands. This was stressed multiple times, and it's something I've heard Sarkisian stress in multiple venues. The ideal Sarkisian quarterback spends his offseason playing point guard and/or shortstop. Mac Jones grew up playing tennis.

-- Athletic ability. Again, this must be placed in context. Sarkisian wants a quarterback athletic enough to dance around trouble and move to a place safe enough to throw, not to outrun a safety or overpower a linebacker. 

-- Arm strength. This was the final bullet point for a reason. A strong arm is a compliment to accurate balls thrown to open receivers, not an eraser for inaccurate throws to covered wideouts. 

Finally, we'll close with this quote that doesn't fit the topics above but is too good not to share: "Every day we take the field our energy has to be right. We don't pick and choose what's important. We don't judge how we prepare based on our opponent, it's who we are."