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Ask the Coach: Wide Receiver Passing Tree

By Coach Tom Bass Wed, 07/28/2010 - 12:46pm

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

A dad sent the following question:

My son is a high school tailback. The coach wants him to know the different routes of a wide receiver. I'm confused, but I need to help him out. Could you explain the 1, 2 and 3 routes the coach is talking about?


I can not tell you exactly what your coach is referring to when he talks about a 1, 2 and 3 pass routes. You will need to talk to the coach and have him explain in greater detail what each number means in his offensive scheme.

Numbers are used to designate individual pass routes for the simplification of play calling but there should be a corresponding name and description of the pattern. The coach should be able to go over this with you in a very short time.

Generally, and this may or may not be the case on your son's team, the numbering begins with the lowest number being the shortest patterns and working up to the highest numbers being farther down the field. Also, odd numbers usually refer to pass routes that are run toward the sideline while even numbered patterns are run to the inside of the field.

Each pass route will be run at a certain depth or distance from the line of scrimmage. For coaches this is often referred to as the "Passing Tree." (See USA Football's Coaches Guide for an introduction to the Passing Tree. The Guide also features an explanation of the Passing Tree for tight ends and on the intermediate level.)

For simplification, pass routes are usually broken down into routes run in the short (1 to 5 yards), medium (10 to 12 yards) and deep (anything over 12 yards) areas.

As an example, a 1 route may be "Quick Out" in the short area. Because it is an odd number, the route will be to the outside. Here the receiver runs straight up the field for four yards and then breaks immediately to the sideline. He should turn his head to quarterback and look for the ball the minute he breaks to the outside of the field.

A 3 route, an "Out" route, will also be to the outside of the field, but now it will be in the medium area. Now the receiver runs down the field for 12 yards before turning out to the outside of the field. He should begin looking for the ball right away, but he needs to understand that he will probably run an additional 8 to 10 yards toward the sideline before the ball arrives. This is because the ball is in the air for a longer time on this type of throw.

Check with your son's coach for a clear understanding of his numbering system. Once you have that you will be able to give him the help he needs, and congratulations on trying to help your son enjoy the game.

Coach Tom Bass

A parent sent the following question:

My son is 14 years of age. He's played two years of Pop Warner football. He will be a freshman this coming fall. His coach from Pop Warner wants him to play one more year; he wants to try out for the high school soph/frosh team. He isn't sure which way to go. He has the skills to play high school, but he's a little on the light side. He's 5'4", 118 lbs. Any advice is appreciated.


Your son is in a unique situation, and it is very good that you are interested enough to try to help him make the decision. It seems to me that there are some important areas to consider as you make the decision.

First is the way your son feels about the situation. Does your son want to play in high school so that he can continue playing with his peers? If he really feels strongly about staying with his friends, this can be a very important consideration.

Next would be where he will receive the best coaching and have the best opportunity to play. Experience gained on the field during a game is very important. You also may want to consider the importance of your son becoming familiar with the high school coaches and the system that they teach and employ.

Finally is the question of your son's age and size. He may really feel more comfortable playing the extra year of Pop Warner where he will have the opportunity to compete with players of his own stature.

In order of weight in making your consideration I would rate them: 1) your son's feelings and desires, 2) where the best coaching is available, 3) the greatest opportunity for playing time and 4) an early integration into the high school football system. I hope this helps you and your son.

Coach Tom Bass

Daren sent the following question:

I am going to be a junior this year. I am 5'9", 190 lbs, and I bench 315, squat 500 and run the 40 in 4.6. My question is how can I gain 10 to 15 pounds of muscle? I read all the time where NFL players add that much muscle. I was just wondering how I could do it without adding fat.

Hi Daren,

My first question to you is why do you want to gain another 15 pounds? That type of added weight will probably slow you down, and speed is much more important than bulk.

With only a month left until practice starts, it will be impossible for you to gain that type of weight. Weight gains of that type take the entire off-season and require a weight program that is four or five times a week with heavy weight.

Your weight numbers indicate to me that you have spent enough time in the weight room and are certainly strong enough to play. Now is the time to work on your running and increase your endurance so that two-a-day practices do not tear you down.

Try to eat properly and get enough rest so that you can start practice fresh and eager. These next two years are going to be important to your football career, so concentrate on perfecting your playing skills and performance. Focus on your grades as much as you do your lifting scores in the weight room.

Coach Tom Bass

Joe sent the following question:

I am going to start playing on my freshman team next year, but I have absolutely no experience. People say I am about the right size to play strong safety. How should I train for this?

Hi Joe,

Playing any of the defensive back positions requires a great deal of running. You should practice running backwards as this is a skill that you will need as a safety. Start by pushing off your front foot and stepping back with your back foot. Then, keeping your shoulders in front of your hips, begin to run backwards. Reach back with each step.

You can do your start for ten times with two or three steps. Next start and actually run backwards for ten yards. Increase your backward run to fifteen yards each time after a week or so. Do this every day with ten repetitions.

Finally, you will want to get into your stance, run backwards for ten yards and then change into a forward run. This can be done by leaning to your right or left with your upper body and rolling over the foot on that side. Keep your feet under your hips so you do not slip. Do five to each side in the beginning and work up to ten repetitions for each side.

Make sure you understand that as a first time player you will be sore and tired, the terminology may be confusing and often the drills will be difficult to understand and execute correctly.

After a couple of weeks things will become easier as you begin to feel comfortable and integrate yourself into the entire process.

Coach Tom Bass

Coach Tom Bass, a 30-year NFL Coach and the technical writer and advisor for USA football, is also the author of several highly acclaimed football coaching books, including "Play Football the NFL Way" (St. Martin's Press) the only authorized NFL coaching book, "Football Skills and Drills" (Human Kinetics) and "The New Coaches Guide to Youth Football Skills and Drills" (McGraw Hill).