Last week I interviewed Pulaski Academy's Coach Kevin Kelley, one of the most innovative offensive football minds at any level of the sport. Besides Pulaski's new strategy this season of introducing laterals in to their base offenese, one of the most interesting things we talked about was just their base offense.
Pulaski is certainly a pass-happy, HUNH, Air Raid squad, but there were a few things that further differentiated their attack. One of those was their use of post-snap reads by running backs and wide receivers in addition to quarterbacks:
For instance, say Pulaski runs a jet sweep with an H-back/slot receiver type as the base play. Kelley and his offensive staff identify a pure athlete with decent throwing ability who is also a good receiver, put him in the slot, and then give him a run-pass option when he gets the ball. The line protects the receiver like he's the quarterback; after he gets the ball, he reads the unblocked outside linebacker with the option to run it on the base jet sweep, throw a bubble screen, or throw to another receiver on a go-route. This puts the play-side corner in a bad situation, defending against multiple horizontal and vertical threats to his side of the field. But leaving the outside linebacker unblocked also allows the line to add a double team elsewhere.
Tom Herman and Urban Meyer's 2014 Ohio State offense employed post-snap run-pass option plays (or RPOs), but it was only the quarterback doing the reading. The Buckeyes frequently packaged a hitch or bubble to a base run play, allowing the quarterback to make one or more reads to determine whether to hand the ball off to the running back (if the defensive end stays home), keep the ball in a run (if an outside linebacker, his second read, goes in to coverage), or throw (if the backer follows the quarterback). The rest of the offense runs their base run play responsibilities regardless of the decision the quarterback makes.
If Ohio State were to take a page out of Kelley's offensive playbook and allow receivers and running backs to have their own run-pass options, the H-Back would be the ideal player to make that call. Yes, as in Braxton.
For most Buckeye fans (and some Big Ten defensive coordinators, no doubt), the original news of Braxton switching positions meant a fear for trick plays where Braxton has some kind of passing role in the offense. The obvious example most likely thought about first was Evan Spencer's surprise pass to Michael Thomas in the Sugar Bowl. But this -- an RPO for the H-Back -- is not a trick play, but simply a constraint play for the base offense.
Braxton -- or conceivably another (former) quarterback like Torrance Gibson eventually -- would take a hand off or hot-potato pass on a play that looks like a jet sweep read or a bash zone read, but would then read the outside linebacker to decide whether to run or pass. Braxton could run this lined up in the slot (from a jet sweep) or out of the backfield (bash).
The interesting thing here is that theoretically, two Buckeye players could make post-snap reads. First, the quarterback would decide whether to keep or give to Braxton, then Braxton would decide whether to run or pass based on the outside linebacker's coverage decision. But they don't necessarily have to have two reads per play -- the quarterback could automatically give to the H-Back then only he makes a read.
While there are certainly a lot of moving parts in a play like this, it is a logical counter to aggressive linebacker play against outside run plays.