On the Coach and Coordinator podcast, host Keith Grabowski discussed all things RPO with Kansas Jayhawks senior offensive consultant Brent Dearmon. While at Bethel University (Minn.), Dearmon’s offense led all of college football with 55 points per game. Prior to that, Dearmon coached with Gus Malzahn at Auburn and Arkansas State.
RELATED CONTENT: [Podcast] All In on Offense – The RPO with Brent Dearmon, Offensive Assistant – Kansas University
For coaches who are installing RPOs for the first time, Coach Dearmon recommends narrowing down the run game to four or five concepts that the offense runs best. He cited inside zone as a great starting point because the QB will be protected with every gap covered. Any RPO can be built off inside zone because with a backside TE or H-back the QB should be protected from C-gap to C-gap.
The OC must always consider what hurts each run and what RPOs can be attached to them. Dearmon noted that when running gap schemes, such as power and counter, you add a gap to the front side and lose a gap off the backside making the QB vulnerable.
To simplify RPOs for inexperienced QBs, Dearmon implements a rule that wherever the QB turns his back post-snap during the mesh is the side that he reads pre-snap. The side he opens to post-snap is the post-snap side. If the field-alley player is too tight to block, the QB must throw the ball to keep him from making the tackle. The RPOs are called to run the ball primarily, and it is the QB’s job to protect the run with the throw.
When working to master RPOs, Dearmon believes narrowing down what routes the WRs practice is key. In his offense, the field slot works on catching bubbles and stick routes whereas the field outside receiver catches slants and snags. Having a 10-minute RPO period where the OC emphasizes getting each receiver five catches on routes they run in games can be beneficial. This RPO period should replace the old inside run period because the QB handing off the ball with no reads does more to hurt his development than help him in a RPO offense.
On Dearmon’s day 1 install, he puts in 12 personnel inside zone/stick. The slot to the field runs an out turning hitch at 6 yards, and the outside receiver runs a fade through the corner’s outside shoulder. The QB reads the field overhang and throws the stick or hands off based on his leverage.
To attack the C-gap, Dearmon lines up in trey and has his QB read the end to the TE side off inside zone. The TE jabs inside to influence the end then runs an arrow route flat down the line. If the end crashes, the QB pulls the ball and runs vertically up the field to replace the end or throws to the TE off the Mike. The No. 2 WR’s block on the Sam is the key to the play.
Dearmon likes using a pop pass to the No. 3 receiver out of trey or trips to attack two-high structures. The offense locks the backside with the guard and tackle blocking back. The QB reads the Mike; if he moves toward the line the QB throws the pop. If he stays in place or drops, the QB hands off.
Coach Dearmon has about 25-30 RPOs, but they go into each week with seven or eight based on the base coverage they will face that week. Examples of RPOs he has when facing a base Cover 4 would be stick routes, bubbles and screens to the outside receiver to the field because they stress the Sam LB. Against robber, he likes seams to the middle of the field, slants or posts with digs behind them, and spot/corner combos.
When facing zone coverage, the QB must be taught to read a specific gap instead of a specific defender. For example, rather than telling the QB to read the backside DE on zone read, he should be taught to read the backside C-gap defender. This clears up confusion because defenses move their players around, but they all have a gap within the system.
When dealing with man coverage, Coach Dearmon believes in coming into each game with two answers. He has one pick play and one QB run. Against man coverage, the QB has the freedom to check into either one depending on the look.
Every week’s game plan should include a bear front answer. Dearmon’s favorite answer vs. bear/tite is to go to double tight end sets and run power or inside zone. Having only a couple answers vs. a specific front simplifies things for the players because they know those are the only concepts the offense will run in those situations. It also makes practice more efficient because they don’t waste time practicing plays they won’t run in the game against those fronts.
When running RPOs off buck sweep into the boundary, Dearmon attaches a double slant to the field and tells the QB to only read it pre-snap. If the Sam LB is in a tight apex, the QB throws the outside slant. If they bring pressure, the QB throws the inside slant hot.
Moving forward, Coach Dearmon believes the keys to improving RPOs are increasing the focus on protecting the QB and continuing to learn how to run them out of unbalanced formations and off motions. It will be fun to see how the ongoing RPO chess match between OCs and DCs continues in the coming years.
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