Basic Knowledge About Reads

By Bill Hewitt | Posted 5/29/2019

There are many types of reads for quarterbacks to learn during their football career. Here, I will cover and explain some of the basic reads.

First, quarterbacks must be able to read defensive coverage and schemes. This is called a pre-snap read. This is a continuous learning process throughout a quarterback’s career. With the pre-snap read, the time clock must be a factor. Let’s start with the entry read for all inexperienced quarterbacks.

This is called the middle read, which is a basic play.

This read is designed to help all inexperienced quarterbacks by teaching them to get a pre-snap read and become familiar with multiple defensive coverages that are presented. On this read, the quarterback has one receiver to throw the football to and lock on. If for any reason the No. 1 receiver is covered, the quarterback should check down to the running back or run. That’s it! This is a good practice until he gains experience in pre- and post-snap reads is the beginning of a good teaching tool for all coaching staffs and quarterbacks.

There are limitations for failure and they are as follows:

  • Poor mechanics
  • Indecisiveness
  • Rushing the throw of the football
  • Staring down the No. 1 primary receiver (eyes locked on)
  • Not taking command of the offense and glassy-eyed.
  • As a coach, you can tell if a quarterback is ready for competition by their eyes.This was something I learned from my mentor.
  • Clock management


This is called the match-up read, the next one in the progression to teach quarterbacks.

This read is used against man coverage. Coaches: put your best receiver in the slot. This would be the second receiver in a three receiver set (X, Y, Z). The goal is to isolate your best receiver on a linebacker or a weaker coverage defenseman. The best way to achieve this is by using some type of motion. This will force the defense to make adjustments. Adding this is a tremendous benefit to our offense. This read uses three vertical receivers with a high/low read, which is when the quarterback first looks deep to complete the pass attempt, then looks for the open window underneath to pass the football to a level-1 or -2 receiver if option one isn’t open. Remember, offensive leverage is always the key for any successful pass play. The receivers must put their bodies in a fairy safe position to receive the football. Note to quarterbacks: never throw directly to the receiver. Lead them a small area ahead sensing the impending defensive coverage.

Limitations for failure are:

  • Not utilizing the best receiver
  • Not noticing defensive mistakes and coverage
  • Leverage advantage
  • Poor pressure steps and routes by the receivers


Remember reads can be simple or complex. Leverage and sight adjustment are a must. Hot reads will help the most experienced quarterbacks.

This is called the traditional read versus zone coverage

Against a soft zone coverage, always throw away from the strength of the defensive coverage if possible. This makes it easier for young, inexperienced quarterbacks to find success and not become frustrated. We could actually add one more receiver to make four verticals with a check down running back. When the quarterback is ready, coaches can experiment with the personnel groupings using these type of formations (i.e., 1x2 2x1 2x2 1x3 or 3x1). Find the best combination of players for each of the grouping.

It is important that coaching staffs work with the young quarterbacks. If the defense presents pressures or any type of stunts, make sure the offense is prepared to execute all forms of screens, draws and misdirection plays. It is also important to work on a few swing and Texas passes with the running backs. Adding motion to your offense will sometimes create mismatches and confusion at level-2 and -3 coverages. The teaching mode for reads will make or break the offense’s performance on game day.

With inexperienced quarterbacks, teach the three- and five-step drops with all of the reads. I also teach sprint out passes, emphasizing feet, body and arm positioning. This will give the receivers time to get into what we call open-grass windows and allow them to gain leverage. Now getting back to three-receiver set, watch the action of the strong safety. If he covers the flat, throw the curl. If he covers the curl, throw to the flat. This can be accomplished to the strong or weak side of the defense.

  • Limitations for failure are:
  • Not finding the open receivers in the middle of the triangle
  • Poor decision-making
  • Frustration for both the quarterback and coach
  • Clock management


This is called the progression read (turret reset to open receiver).

This read calls for a specific number of receivers in order, or as it’s called, in a progression. First order of business for the quarterbacks is to get their pre-snap read. He will look for uncovered receivers or out of position defenders. With this read, the quarterback just before his gather step on his drop, either three- or five-step, will look for his No. 1 Receiver. If he is covered, the quarterback will continue to the No. 2 receiver. If he is covered and if time permits, check down to the running back. Again, the progression is No. 1 receiver to No. 2 receiver to running back. The quarterback taking off to run the last stage of the progression. As Bill Walsh would say, “Out patterns to the left side and in patterns to the right side of the formation.” All intermediate patterns and curls are also to the right side of the formation.

Bill Walsh did not believe in the deep pass play. His philosophy was to control the football until a scoring attempt was completed. Variations of Bill Walsh’s philosophy have been altered by other college and NFL coaches.

Limitations for failure are:

  • Staring at the No. 1 receiver
  • Poor foot work and mechanics
  • Not throwing to the spot (football goes behind receivers)
  • Quarterbacks losing their cool
  • Coach being frustrated with open receivers that the quarterback did not see
  • Poor decision-making
  • Clock management


This is called the pure progression read.

This was developed for the West Coast offense exclusively. This is a non-read look for the quarterback. He must look for the open grass receivers in the order of the play that is called. This will help the talented, non-experienced quarterback find open receivers in order.

The next teaching tool is to have the quarterback read the flat defender to the play side.

This takes a little decision making with an experienced quarterback and is only a one-dimension read.

This is called the coverage read, which is used exclusively in the NFL.

Coaches will decide on the concept play called from the press box. The quarterback must understand the defensive coverages and decide on concept adjustments in a split second. The quarterback will first post-snap read the drops by the Will and Sam linebackers at level two and continue to level three. Remember: the quarterback is only responsible for one side of the playing field with this read and already knows the area of the field to throw the football. The coaches and quarterbacks must be on the same page. As a coordinator, thinking as one unit is like a chess game, making the correct moves when needed.

The most common mistakes made by quarterbacks during all reads:

1) Looking directly at his No. 1 receiver

2) Getting frustrated

3) Forcing the football against bad leverage or double coverage

4) Indecision from lack of playing time

5) Throwing the football directly at the intended receivers

There is a lot to be learned by quarterbacks. Here are a few examples:

1) Understanding MOFO/MOFOC and how to attack each.

2) Leverage advantages by all receivers versus all-level defenders. There are many possibilities for open receivers. Studying the defenses and how they react to certain formations and personnel groupings.

3) There are 12 specific progressions that the most sophisticated offenses use on formations and personnel groupings.

4) There are three basic progressions in the quick game. They are flat-to-slant, outside-to-inside and flat-to-stick

5) There are nine basic progressions in the drop back passing game. This includes alerts: mesh-to-flat, sideline-to-stop-to-middle, curl-to-flat-to-middle alert-to-post alert, comeback flat-to middle alert post, dig-to-drag-to-flat alert post, outside-to-inside-to-flat alert post, corner-to-flat-to-middle streak-to-dead zone-to-flat, all go-to-inside-to-outside-to-middle.

More for example

There are nine common camp reads I used to teach during summer quarterback camps. A good teaching tool.

Bill Walsh had 10 reads to progressions. He never used more than three reads in one progression.

This will give coaches and quarterbacks an overview of what has to be taught and learned in order to become a successful collegiate or professional quarterback.

There is a lot to learn with reads and concepts. Study your opponents and how to attack their weaknesses. Find a way to get the edge!

Good luck!


Reinforce your playbook and improve your knowledge with Coaches' Notes. Create your account and start your 7-day free trial!