Trying to note a college game? Or take notes regarding a specific prospect in your cross-hairs? Here’s a scouting tip: don’t be content to just push play, be specific!
Some of the most telling action for players takes place before the snap. Does a player actively engage in making calls for his unit? Does the team look to the sideline to get a play call? Is there stemming (fake movement) or bluffing from the secondary? Combine all of these factors and see the field for what it is before the play; keeping in mind there’s a perspective from either side of the ball.
Football is an incredibly simple but yet incredibly complex sport. When played at a high level, there’s a great deal of chess being played between coaching staffs and players. A good example of this? Check out the 2017 National Championship Game between Alabama and Clemson. There are Safeties rotation in or out of the box. Corners feigning a blitz or bailing as the Quarterback enters his cadence. Defensive linemen sliding up and down gaps at a time before the snap.
I make an honest effort to account for the following things before the snap, whether I’m live at a game to scout or working from the comfort of my living room:
- Down and distance
- Ball alignment
- Offensive personnel and formation
- Defensive personnel and formation
- Game clock (situational football? 2 minute drill? Etc.)
- Offensive and defensive motion prior to the snap
- Specific players engaged in initiating movement or audibles
- Box count
It’s a lot to digest. The more one can train their brain to notate the big picture first (Offense vs. Defense and get more specific from there), the more one can observe.
When trying to dial in on a single player, it’s still important to note all of the above to get a full context of the play in action and understand how and why a player got the end result they did. For example, here’s a long gain from Mason Rudolph that showcases some very positive pre-snap qualities:
"Check w me" at the line, making changes to pass protection. Casual 3 step drop and hitch, pass travels 53 yards in the air. In stride. pic.twitter.com/i6pfxpzqhH
— Kyle Crabbs (@NDTScouting) June 28, 2017
Control at the line of scrimmage is essential for Quarterbacks. If a coach doesn’t trust a Quarterback to change aspects of the play on the field, the team will either be neutered to original play calls or have watered down concepts to change plays on the fly.
Rudolph checks with receivers to both sides of the line before making an additional adjustment to the protection scheme. Against a thin box, Rudolph sends his back to protect the other side of the backfield to help chip against a one on one, while also clearing Rudolph’s pathway for a clean delivery of the football to his right.
We do not know what the initial play call could have been. But we do know based on the end result that Rudolph put the team in the proper situation with his checks; giving him a clean 3 step drop and hitch into a gorgeous throw that traveled 53 yards downfield.
What this play doesn’t show? WR James Washington initially lined up in one on one coverage to the right and a shallow Safety squatting over-top of “2 strong” (the second receiver in from the boundary). The previously mentioned inventory at the beginning of the play makes it clear why Rudolph made his checks. He had his guy in a one on one situation and he knew it.
In summary, don’t just note the placement of the throw (which is tremendous, by the way). Note the deliberate approach that Rudolph took to get the team into position for the long play. The only way to fully understand and appreciate that approach is to look at the field of play the same way he does, with a microscopic focus.