The SMASH route may be the most applicable concept for every reader. Because, whether you are an Air Raid guy or not, you probably have some version of this play in your offense. Let’s get into the SMASH route.
Ok, first let’s talk about the variations of the SMASH route. There are a number of ways to run it effectively. In a 2×2 set, the inside receiver is always going to run a corner route. The outside receiver can run a number of things. He just needs to end up about 5 yards deep on the numbers. I have run the SMASH route with a 5 yard hitch, a 5 yard out, and a 7 yard comeback. All of these options have their place and each is effective. It kind of depends who your outside receiver is and what his skill set is. But, if I had to pick, I would say the most effective outside route is a well executed whip route.
The reason I like the whip route, is that it is a cleaner read for the QB. If you run a hitch, a comeback, or an out, the CB can sit in the 6-8 yard range and make the corner route a little muddy for the QB. If you run a whip, the CB has to commit to covering the slant route for a few steps or he has to drop and take away the corner route. Either way, the read is easier for the QB.
The SMASH route one of our few drop back routes that is a 3-step drop. If you try to go a full 5 steps, the corner route has a better chance of being covered by the time the ball arrives. So, it important that your QB remembers this is a quick 3 steps. Pre-snap, he will decide which side of the field to work. This could be based on scouting report or leverage. The progression is Corner, Whip, Check Down. It is very important that he reads the coverage pre-snap and eyes the corner route as he is taking his 3 step drop. If the coverage dictates it, the corner route should be thrown as soon as the QB hits his third step. This will probably be before the slot receiver looks for the ball, which is why it is important for the slot and the QB to have landmarks that they are both working toward. If the corner is not open, he will reset and look to the whip. The whip route should be thrown low and away from the defender toward the outside hip of the offensive player.
Here are the basic rules that I try to teach the QB for the SMASH route. First, the landmark for the corner route is the front pylon or the back pylon. If we are inside the 20, we aim for the back plyon. This is just the initial angle of the WR’s break. You can always bend him flatter as he looks over the outside shoulder. You cannot bend him up the field. He will not be able to adjust and the ball will probably get picked by the safety. When in doubt, throw it flatter.
Because of the way some teams play Cover 2 or Cover 4, the check down is often the best option on the SMASH route. Embrace this! This is not a failure. Teach your QB’s that when they are in trouble, they can always find their RB. A lot of high school QB’s think its a failure if they don’t complete their primary or secondary read. But, there is nothing wrong with a 4 yard completion to an RB. For more on this…keep reading.
THE CORNER ON THE SMASH ROUTE
This is a really fun route to teach and to run because there are so many looks that the defense gives and each one requires a slight variation in the route. The first key is for the slot to identify who is covering him. This is where good scouting and good prep comes into play, but its also important for receivers to adjust on the fly. If it’s semi-tight man coverage, he needs to get on top of the coverage before he breaks his corner route. If it is zone coverage, he needs to release outside the OLB and stem the safety. (Definition reminder: To stem means to square up the defender so you can break either direction). It is very important that he gets off the jam of the OLB. Work drills in practice where WR’s have to fight through jams while running full speed routes.
The next coaching point is to stick your foot in the ground at 10 yards, aim toward the front pylon and look up over your outside shoulder. Throw this route a ton in your warm up drills and have the QB switch up the throw, sometimes lofting it around 20 yards toward the front pylon and sometimes bending the WR flat with more of a line drive throw to 14 yards or so. The WR needs to learn to adjust to the ball while it is in the air.
Finally, coach the catch. If ball is under thrown, teach the WR to use his body to shield the defender and get the ball at its highest point. If it is lofted, teach your receiver to position his body between the ball and the defender and catch the ball near his outside hip.
THE WHIP IN THE SMASH ROUTE
Like I said earlier, there are a lot of routes you can throw instead of the whip, but if you like the whip, here are some coaching points. First, it has to look like a slant. Whether the defense is playing man or zone, it has to look like a slant for the first five steps. (If you need some tips on how to run the slant, check out this post on the All Slant concept). That means, he needs to be patient off the ball and sell the slant hard for three steps. On the third step, he sticks his foot in the ground, pivots inside, and breaks out toward the numbers. If he doesn’t sell the slant hard, the CB will just sit in the flat and wait for him which kills the whole point of running the whip route.
Practice this route in 1 on 1 coverage drills. It’s an easy route to run against zone coverage. But, running it against man definitely takes some practice and some nuance. Just like the slant route, you have to run this with patience. The QB is taking a 3 step drop and the WR is the second read, so there is plenty of time to set this route up. If it’s tight man, he will have to use a shove-by technique when he breaks out into the whip. I will write a future post on WR release techniques, but basically he uses his outside hand on the CB’s outside hip to shove the CB across his face. So, sell the slant for three steps, shove the far hip across your face. Then pivot and break flat toward the numbers.
One more key coaching point. You can’t gain ground when you are breaking toward the sidelines. If you gain ground, the defender will have a chance to undercut the route.
THE CHECK DOWN IN THE SMASH ROUTE
Like I said earlier, the check down is not a failure. Too many coaches and QB’s focus so hard on the main pieces of the progression that they forget the power of the check down. The check down puts the ball in the hands of one of your best athletes and gives him a chance to make a play. This is a hint at some of the lies we have embraced. For some reason getting 4 yards on a running play is a success, but throwing a check down for 4 yards is a failure. How does that make any sense? If the defense is going to drop and take away everything deep and give your best athlete a 1 on 1 match up with their middle backer, take it all day long. Throw check downs all the way down the field.
Here’s how to coach the check down. It’s a lot like an option route. After checking his blitz responsibility, your RB is just looking for open space. Have him be really patient and try to decipher who is covering him. If it is man, it will probably be one of the middle backers. Run right up to him, step on his toes, break outside, and keep running. You are a better athlete than him! He can’t cover you!
If it is zone and all the backers are dropping to take away crossing routes, sit down in open space and get in the QB’s field of vision.
I’ll say it again. Teach your QB to throw this route. Practice it in 7 on 7. Practice it in 1 on 1’s. Your RB should be a huge weapon in your passing attack.
WHEN TO CALL THE SMASH ROUTE
If you can’t tell by now I love routes that work against every coverage. This route is no exception. Versus man, we will almost always throw the Corner route. The slot should be able to beat a linebacker or safety in man coverage. In this case, you can bend the WR flatter if there is no space outside of the numbers.
Vs Cover 2, the corner route should also be open almost every time. This is when I really love the whip route. Most cover 2 teams will fight hard to not allow an inside release by the X or Z. That means that while your X or Z is fighting to run his slant and occupying the CB, the slot receiver is stemming the safety and has the entire field to work on his corner route. The QB can bend him flat, away form the safety an it should be an easy completion.
Good cover 2 teams will use a wall and carry technique with their OLB’s. In this case, the OLB will cover the slot receiver for up to 12 yards before releasing him to the Safety. This means that the Corner route will be double covered when the QB is ready to deliver the ball. And, if the CB is jamming the whip, it may not be open either. This is what I was talking about earlier when I said that sometimes the check down is the best option. If the OLB is running with your slot, and the whip is covered by the CB, your RB is one on one with the Mike backer. I will take my RB on a 4 yard completion all day long. Embrace the check down If they have three guys covering your 2 primary receivers!
Vs Cover 4, the corner route will probably be double covered. But, there is no way that an OLB can get out to the flat in time to take away your X or Z on the whip route. If he does fly out hard, you will have your back on the check down, 1 on 1 with the mike backer.
BONUS TIP: Pass Run Options are all the rage these days. I usually like to pair runs with Quick Game routes, but because of how Quick the SMASH read is, it is one of the few drop back routes we can tag with a run play option. Here’s how it works. Instead of Running your RB on a check down, have him go block the Mike Backer. Run Smash with your WRs and have your QB key the OLB on the playside. If the team is playing Man, Cover 2, or Cover 4 and the OLB is turning to run with the slot, or flying out the the flat, the QB can tuck the ball and run a draw with the the RB lead blocking on the mike backer. If the OLB keeps his eyes in the backfield then just throw the corner route vs 1 on 1 coverage. It really puts the OLB on an island.
If the team is blitz heavy, teach your QB to throw SMASH into the blitz. If the D is bringing pressure from the right, The Y and the Z will most likely be in a 1 on 1 situation. Throw the corner route and give your Y a chance to make a play. Your back will pick up the blitz and the ball will be gone before the pressure gets there. If you throw SMASH away from the blitz, you could be in trouble. The H could be double covered, the X might not win, and there is no back to check down to because he is picking up the blitz from the right. In that case, throw it out of bounds and live to play on.
The good news is that High School teams rarely disguise their pressures very well. Most QB’s will be able to feel pressure naturally. Also, identifying blitzes is a team effort. Teach your slots to yell or signal to the QB if they feel outside pressure. Teach your guards and centers to signal if they feel inside pressure.
Thanks again fro reading guys, I really appreciate it. Keep Chucking It!