Coach Tom Bass brings more than 30 years of coaching experience to USA Football. Along with answering youth coaching questions, he also receives emails from young players. You can email the coach at NFLAskTheCoach@aol.com.
Scot sent the following question:
I grew up in a school where being a jock was not desirable. So like most kids my age, I didn't partake in any sports to avoid the hassle with my friends. But since the first time my grandfather took me to see a Bengals game, I had a deep desire to play football and I was always really good.
We played backyard football all the time, even against the neighboring towns. After my sophomore year in high school, we moved to a small town in Indiana. Right away I started to thinking about football. So when we got to the school I went straight up to the principal and introduced myself. The very first question I asked him was, 'Where do I sign up for football?' He told me they didn't have a football team, and I was devastated.
I thought I would give up my dream, but as much as I tried to push it out of my head, the hotter my passion became. It's a dream I've had for so long, and I just can't let it go. So I started to look at the next level - college.
I tried to do everything I could to get prepared. I joined the track team and ran 100M and did high jump and things to work on form. Every time I watch a football game on TV, I'm studying while everyone else is just enjoying the game.
I will be attending Eastern Kentucky University this year, and I have to admit I'm a little spooked. I talked to the coaches and I think they might give me a shot at trying out just because of my size.
Is there is anything you would be able to tell me on a personal level? Your opinion and instruction would be greatly appreciated.
Because of your situation in high school, attending a high school which did not have football, I do not think that this is something that will hold you back. The challenge is getting an opportunity to try out and then making the most of that opportunity.
The great thing about team sports - and especially football - is you have the chance to prove to your coaches and teammates every year that you can contribute to the success of the team.
I had the experience of attending a different high school every year. What I learned very quickly is that what you did at the other school, in the past, had very little meaning to your new team. They wanted to see how you performed in practice, how well you learned the system and how you could help the team to win.
You earn your position on the practice field. You will be attending a college that is rich in football history, a school with outstanding coaches and players who are very good.
Once you are on the practice field, it will be up to you to be on time, know your assignments, understand how to do the drills and when the opportunity comes up, show that you have the desire to play and compete.
Early fall practice is a challenge even for the experienced player, so it is important that you report in shape. Your track background should help in this area, with the understanding that much of what you see, hear and are asked to do will be new and may be difficult to understand at first. It will not only require long practice hours, but you must be ready to spend a great deal of time studying away from the field in order to play error-free football.
This is a big challenge for you and one I hope you enjoy. Do not become discouraged, stay positive and play as hard as you can every minute you are on the practice or game field.
Coach Tom Bass
Matt sent the following question:
As a first time middle linebacker for JV, my only problem is recognizing the play for a pass or run right when the ball is snapped. Have any tips?
One of the quickest keys you will get for pass or run will come from the offensive linemen. When the offense is running the ball, the offensive linemen will fire across the line of scrimmage. On a pass play they will set back off the line.
Try to have some of your offensive linemen show you how they line up in their stance prior to the snap and then how they block on a running play and on a pass play so that you can see the difference. The more you focus on a specific area of the offense rather than looking at the entire formation, the quicker you will get your run/pass read.
You need to try to see the offensive line triangle in front of you. This is the man directly in front of you and the offensive lineman on either side of that player. These are the players that can block you first so you need to see what they are doing. They will tell you by their movements if it is a pass or run.
As you become more experienced, you can line up and try to see through the offensive linemen into the backfield and not just concentrate on looking at the quarterback or running backs.
Coach Tom Bass
Barry sent the following question:
I was wondering how I could improve my over-the-shoulder catching? I wanted to know if you could provide me with some advice.
Many players have trouble making an over-the-shoulder catch because they do not reach back with their hands as they make the catch. They have a tendency to leave their hands in front of their body and then at the last moment they have to locate their hands when the ball arrives.
One drill you might do is to line up on a sideline and have a player throw the ball over your right and then your left shoulder as you run straight down the field. Try to look back and then reach back with both hands keeping your little fingers together so that you see the ball and your hands as you make the catch.
You don't have to run far each time and the ball should be lofted so that you run under it. You can do this drill when you first get on the field before practice actually begins.
Coach Tom Bass
Jamie sent the following question:
I'm playing free safety for my team, and I'm probably the youngest player on the team, not to mention one of the smaller ones. I'm 5-foot-9, 150 pounds, 15 years old and I bench 165. I have been having trouble making good, hard tackles.
Being a DB, I am left with the responsibility quite often, and I want to make an impression. I have never yet been taught tackling and I feel like I am hesitating because of fear of injury. My tendency is to run at them with my hands in front of me, like a very fast hard push or block, but I have broken my wrist and two fingers in a year with this technique. How do I lay a big hit on someone bigger then me running full speed?
Making a hard tackle is not nearly as important as making a sure tackle, especially from the free safety position. Tackling needs to be done by using the shoulder pads.
When you are coming up to make a tackle, you need to come under control (this does not mean to stop and wait for the ball carrier) by shortening your stride and widening your feet. You should bend at your knees and keep your back straight with your head up.
Make a decision as to which shoulder you are going to use to make the tackle. If the ball carrier is coming straight at you, you can use either shoulder. If he is running to your left you need to use your right shoulder and when he is running to your right your need to use your left shoulder.
When you begin to make the tackle, explode off of the foot on the side of the shoulder you are going to use to tackle. This is where your power comes from on your tackle. Drive up and through the ball carrier.
As your shoulder pad makes contact, wrap both arms around the ball carrier and grab his jersey in both hands. Practice tackling at half speed until you get the feel for exploding off the proper foot and using your shoulder pad to make the tackle, then you can increase the tempo of the contact. Good luck and work on good form tackling everyday starting with a player your size.
Coach Tom Bass
Kevin sent the following question:
What does it mean when the offensive lineman yells "stack", and how do you know when to pass block?
When an offensive lineman calls out "stack," it usually means that the defense has a linebacker lined up off the line directly behind a defensive lineman lined up on the line on the line of scrimmage. Depending on the offensive coaching, this type of call can be used to change the blocking for the play called in the huddle.
You will know to pass block based on the play called by the quarterback in the huddle. If he calls a running play you will need to run block. When he calls a pass play, you will need to pass block. You may find that your team will use different types of pass blocking, (aggressive with a three-step drop, straight drop back for a five- or seven-step drop back, slide, reach and key protection). Your job will be to understand each type and to know exactly which one is used for each pass play.
It is important as you learn the offense, to know which plays are running plays and which plays are pass plays and then to learn your assignment on each play. You need to know the blocking scheme at the point of attack and exactly where the ball carrier is assigned o run the ball.
It is a good idea to start a notebook, divided into run and pass sections, and then write down each play and what you are supposed to do. With this notebook, you can study your assignments at home and get a feel for what the offense is trying to do and what you are supposed to do on each play.
Coach Tom Bass
Coach Tom Bass, the technical writer and advisor for USA Football, is a 30-year NFL coach who has also authored several books, including "Play Football the NFL Way" - the first "how to" book ever authorized and published by the NFL. Coach Bass is happy to personally autograph his books to you. Book ordering information can be found on http://www.coachbass.com/.