Utilizing the Attached Tight End in the Passing Game

May 22, 2018

More and more teams are recognizing the need for a tight end to aid the run game in their offense. Using an attached tight end creates another gap and provides the opportunity for a strong off tackle run game, whether up under the center or in the shotgun.  In addition to aiding the run game, the tight end can be used as a weapon in the passing game as well. They are often taller targets, and sometime get lost by the defense on a play action pass as they try to get extra defenders near the box.  Here are some ways to get your tight end involved in the passing game.

  1. The Drag- If you run a play action boot game then the TE drag can be a big weapon.  He can release inside just like he is executing a down block and slip out through or behind the LBers to the other side of the field. This can be deadly when attacking a zone pass defense.  Normally these drags are 10-15 yards deep. The better the play action, the more open the tight end will be.
  2. The Slam-  This is a great way to get the ball to a tight end that can run.  With play action going away from the tight end, he simply blocks down or his assignment for two counts and then releases flat and wide in the flat.  This is great against undisciplined teams, fast teams and teams that run a lot of man coverage.  If the safety takes his eyes off the tight end to watch the handoff or fake, he can easily get lost and be moving the wrong way. It’s also a very easy throw for the QB.
  3. The Shallow- Play action fake to the side of the tight end and shallow him at the feet of the defensive linemen all the way across the formation.  He gets across quickly and can get lost in man coverage.  In zones, the LBers have to decide if they are going to jump the shallow or let him go.  The old Steve Spurrier shallow to dig concept with the WR digging behind the shallow is still as good today as it was 30 years ago.
  4. The Stub Corner Route- Align a TE up with no wide receiver to his side (stub) and let him run a corner route.  If you put him away from trips or another strong side formation, you often get man coverage or a Cover 3 corner.  If the TE gets behind the DB, you have a nice over the shoulder catch opportunity. If the cornerback stays deep, the TE can level it off like an out route at 10 yards and use his bigger body to ward off the corner back and make the catch.
  5. The Cop-  This is a great way to take advantage of a defensive look that will give you numbers to the wide side of the field in twin or trips formations.  Set up verticals to the wide side and put the TE on the short side.  The TE will release just like he is about to run the corner.  He gives a hard head and shoulder fake outside as he sticks his outside foot in the ground and works straight up the field.  The QB looks away to the wide side and then comes back to the TE and throws a bullet down or slightly outside the hash.
  6. The Deep Cross- The offense can use this route off of a boot action or as a throwback off of play action.  The TE releases across the field similar to a drag or cross but deeper. It is usually run in the 15 yard area.  Good to the short side of the field, good vs man but great vs. zone coverages.

This fall, utilize that big target and improve your passing game. Below is a great video of former Penn State tight end Matt Lehman running routes.