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Passing Daboll: New England’s Hoss Y-Juke

Is young Jalen Hurts ready to run a five-wide empty concept, and will Nick Saban sign off on it?

NCAA Football: Alabama Spring Game-A-Day Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve heard all offseason about new Alabama OC Brian Daboll’s affinity for using his tight ends in the passing game. Those attending Saturday’s open practice were able to get a glimpse of what the Tide’s new Daboll-ical™ offense might look like.

In one of our offseason knowledge base features, we explained the nomenclature of offensive personnel groupings. Today we will focus on 12 personnel, meaning one RB and two TEs, that was reportedly featured prominently on Saturday. More specifically, we will examine one of the ways that Daboll’s former employers, the New England Patriots, use 12 personnel to cause matchup nightmares for defenses.

Creating favorable matchups is really what coordinating an offense is all about. Sometimes that means moving linemen to get a numbers advantage in a gap...

...or getting a 310-lb. manchild moonlighting at fullback isolated on a 230-lb. linebacker:

Consider that additional footage of Payne obliterating the Arkansas OL on the interception return a bonus gift.

Most often though, when the analysts talk about creating matchups, they are referring to the chess match that is the modern passing game. When a team is able to put two tight ends in the game that are capable as run blockers and receivers, along with running backs who can flex out wide, it puts the defense in quite a quandary.

Since there are always five interior linemen and one quarterback, “12 personnel” dictates that there will be only two wide receivers. A defensive coordinator will normally prefer to counter this with base personnel, or four secondary defenders and a typical 3-4 or 4-3 front seven. Indeed, this is traditionally a power grouping used to pound the football. Go nickel with a fifth defensive back in place of a linebacker and you risk being too light against the run. This is particularly true against a team with Alabama’s ability to run the ball.

Assuming that the defense correctly matches a 12 personnel grouping with their base defense, tight ends and running backs who are excellent receivers can create an almost impossible situation for them. In fact, in some cases - longtime Alabama fans, you might want to sit down before you read this - the offense can create an incredible advantage by emptying the backfield.

Empty backfields are unquestionably scary from a pass protection standpoint. One missed block and you have a free runner at the quarterback. This requires trust in the linemen and for the quarterback to have the pocket presence to feel pressure when it inevitably happens. Given those factors, however, the possibilities are endless.

One of New England’s favorite empty concepts is called “Hoss Y-Juke.” Like all staples of the Patriots’ Erhardt-Perkins system, the terminology is designed to be very simple for the quarterback to learn. The “HOSS” part stands for “Hitches Outside, Seams.” The “Y-Juke” tells the #3 receiver on the “trips” side, the right side in the diagram below, to run a “juke” route. Pay no attention to the fact that the player is labeled “H” in the diagram as the benefit of having versatile weapons is the ability to plug and play specific players in any of the spots. The diagram comes courtesy of Zach S. Dunn, who has an even more thorough breakdown of the play here.

The Patriots are famous for “option” routes, which allow the receivers to decide on the fly which route to run based on the defense’s positioning. First, let’s take a look at the #1 receivers, or the closest receivers to the sidelines. On both sides the call is for a hitch route against softer coverage or a fade route against press coverage. Needless to say, the quarterback and the receiver have to read the coverage the same way or results can be disastrous. Moving to the #2 receivers, their assignment is rather simple: go deep down the seams. Assuming that the defense works to take away those deep balls, plenty of space is afforded for the #3 receiver to work, reading his defender’s leverage and juking him to get open either across the middle or on a “return” route toward the sideline.

Now that we’ve seen the alignment, let’s go back to the personnel matchup. Remember, the defense has only four defensive backs on the field to cover what are now five capable pass catchers. If the defense keeps two safeties deep, then three linebackers will be matched up in coverage. One deep safety means two linebackers have to cover, and even if the defense decides to go “zero” coverage with no deep safety, one linebacker is going to be forced into coverage. Of course, this strategy also allows the defense to send a free rusher at the quarterback if they so desire.

In most cases, coaches avoid putting linebackers in outside press because your typical linebacker lacks the speed and agility to cover good offensive skill players on the deep routes:

or when trying to tackle a quicker athlete in the open field.

Single outside coverage can be a lonely place for a bigger player. To counter, there has been a trend in recent years toward lighter, more athletic linebackers that aren’t much bigger than strong safeties, making versatile players like Alabama’s Rashaan Evans more valuable than ever, but overall the defenses haven’t quite caught up.

The above gif shows a Hoss Y-Juke. New England QB Tom Brady opts for the hitch to RB Dion Lewis but could have just as easily gone to #80 Danny Amendola, a slot receiver matched up on LB Lawrence Timmons, who ran a “sit” against the soft coverage. Seeing a little guy matched up on someone wearing #94 or #95 is exactly what you look for. There was some pressure in Brady’s face as he delivered the ball, but the line had done just enough.

If everyone is on the same page, the protection is there, and the quarterback is able to deliver the ball on time and accurately, the pickings are easy here.

Here is another one, only this time Lewis runs the fade against the poor linebacker in press coverage:

Next, we have an All-22 look from Zach’s page that shows the entire concept at work. Brady hits the #3 “juke” receiver, favorite target Julian Edelman. With the defense deciding to keep the linebacker inside rather than risk putting him out on an island, he is matched up on Edelman:

Watch that gif a couple of times, then imagine Calvin Ridley as the #3 receiver matched up on a college linebacker. I’ll pause while you clean the drool off of your keyboard or mobile device.


All dry? Great.

As mentioned above, sometimes the defense will go to a “zero” look, in which case they’d better hope that the guys covering the #2 receivers, usually the big tight ends, do their jobs well:

Forgive O.J. Howard if he swears a little watching such things.

The concept is certainly sound and Alabama has plenty of athletes at tight end and running back who should be capable of flexing out. Neither Miller Forristall nor Irvin Smith have much in the way of college tape catching the ball, but both were used down the seam from that #2 slot in high school:

Forristall is featured in the first gif and Smith, who has a walk-in touchdown if his quarterback has any kind of arm whatsoever, in the second. As far as running backs go, Bo Scarbrough is adept enough outside that some analysts projected him at receiver coming out of high school. Both Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris have been used in the passing game since arriving, and then there are the freshmen. Najee Harris was turning heads at the first scrimmage, reportedly burning Tony Brown on one occasion:

Classmate Brian Robinson was dangerous out of the backfield in high school as well.

Of course, it all comes back to the pass protection and the quarterback play. If Hurts has happy feet in the pocket because he doesn’t trust his protection or his own ability to make every throw, he won’t be patient enough to go through his progressions. Additionally, option routes require the quarterback and receivers to be on the same page with the reads. Nick Saban has a well-deserved reputation for tending toward risk-averse where turnovers are concerned, and misreads on either end will create easy interceptions on occasion. Saban also likes the idea of the personal protector in the backfield, evidenced by his directive that young running backs see the field only when they have learned to pass block.

A nineteen-year-old Jalen Hurts simply isn’t going to execute anything in the passing game as well as a guy who is in the conversation for greatest QB in NFL history. Then again, Brady has the speed of a three-toed sloth with a bum knee. Jalen’s athleticism will certainly create better numbers in the pass game since he can’t be ignored. Daboll could use Jalen’s ability to run and adapt the concept to the college level by having him read only one side before making something happen with his feet rather than scan the whole field the way Brady does.

You can bet that Daboll will be hard at work finding ways to get linebackers matched up on his elite skill personnel. Don’t be surprised if you see Jalen flying solo in the backfield on occasion.


Should Alabama mix in some empty sets this season?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Yes. All the points!
    (384 votes)
  • 11%
    No, that’s not how you RTDB!
    (53 votes)
  • 1%
    Other - explain yourself
    (8 votes)
445 votes total Vote Now