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Boots, shovels & reverses: complements of the counter-trey.

About 80 or 90 years ago, our pioneer football coaches began pulling their linemen to get as many blockers as possible to the point of attack.


A whole lot of years later (the '60s), Vince Lombardi was pulling both guards in his famous Green Bay Power Sweep.

In the early '80s, it was the Washington Redskins, with John Riggins as running back, who displayed their rendition of the sweep in the Super Bowl. It had the backside guard and tackle pulling an off-tackle power play called the Counter-Trey.

Many coaches now use some form of the counter-trey as a basic play in their offense. The coaches will run the counter-trey, then build a counter run and a play-action pass off the counter trey action.

The basic concept of the Counter-Trey is simple enough: It is a power play that can be executed from multiple formations, and run to the strong or weak side (depending on defensive alignment and strength).

The front-side linemen angle-block "down," sealing the play-side gaps.

The backside guard and tackle pull and kick out the defensive end and seal the linebacker. The running back cuts up behind the pulling linemen and accelerates to "daylight."

A key block is thrown on the backside defensive end (by a fullback, slot back, or tight end) so that the DE cannot run the ball carrier down from behind.

One of the reasons the counter-trey is productive is because it fakes action away from the point of attack. High school defenders must be disciplined not to run with that first action.








At Liberty H.S., we utilize the Counter-Trey as our base run play. We call it Power 6 (Diag. 1). We then build complementary plays off this action: Bootleg, Shovel, Counter Shovel, and Reverse. Plays are run to both sides of the field. For simplicity's sake, the diagrams are explained herewith only to one side of the field.


One of the first plays in the offense is a Bootleg/Play-Action Pass. If the defense is intent on stopping the counter-trey, we will fake the run and "boot" the opposite way. We want to make the defense stay home and play position-defense, which slows the pursuit.

Whenever we run the counter-trey, our QB boots away. If no one follows the QB, he will signal our coach by slapping his heel, which means "Run the Boot!" Our 'Boot Left' complementing the counter-trey right is termed 'Black'--one simple term defines the entire play to our players. (Diag. 2)

To execute the Boot, the QB receives the snap and reverse-pivots out of the shotgun (the same as he would on the counter-trey), except that he now fakes the hand-off to the F back for a two-count while getting depth and width away from the fake.

The QB gets '8 x 8' (eight yards deep and eight yards out from the front side tackle) during the two count fake. The QB puts his hand in the F's belly, looks back at F's fake, and hides the ball in his own stomach. The fake sells the play. If F gets tackled on the play, he gets a candy bar during films!

As the QB completes the fake, he thinks run first, pass second. If "the grass is green," the QB runs the ball; it's the safest thing to do. If the QB passes, he looks for the shortest, easiest pass to ensure the success of the play.

The receivers on the boot align themselves in depth so that the QB can easily see them. The slot back (H back) hooks the end man on the defensive line for a two-count then releases three yards deep into the flat. The end man may be the defensive end, or may be an outside linebacker who has stepped up on the line.

The H must hook the end man. As this is a great play on the goal line or in short yardage, an untouched end man will run right to the QB and defeat the play. The H uses a basketball type 'pick and roll' to delay the defender and get into the flat. H is the primary receiver for a pass.

The tight end (Y) runs an eight-yard deep "drag" from the backside. Y runs up the field before dragging to the play side. This eight-yard depth aligns the Y deeper than H and slightly behind him--an easy line of sight for the QB. Y is the hot receiver on the Boot.

The wide receiver (X) on the play side runs a five-step slant to the middle, as if he is going to block the defensive safety (just as in the counter trey), then cuts sharply back to the corner. He is the number three receiver.

If he is not the receiver, X will execute a "comeback block" on a defender, pursuing the receiver or QB; head in front, shoulders above the waist.

We then use Z as the drag receiver, and have Y stay home to block. Our term for this is zoom (or Zing) Black Waggle. (Diag. 3).

There are two ways to block the boot. One is to have the linemen simply run their counter-trey blocking scheme, just don't go downfield. The defense, reading the blocks, may react and run with the linemen. This will simplify matters, as linemen do not have to learn another scheme.

We can vary our scheme slightly by having our line "slip" to the play side (the linemen step to their outside play-side gap, blocking a man on them, or in the play-side gap.)

The linemen simply put their hands on the defenders' numbers and keep the defender from running up the field. We let the backfield fake encourage the defense to run away from the QB.

Our center or backside guard (whoever is "uncovered") pulls play side and is a personal blocker for the QB. The pulling lineman gets depth and width (5 x 5) from the tackle and blocks the first defender to show.


The lineman will get his head on a swivel and look for pursuit from the D or backside. He lets the defender come to him for the block.

In a goal-line / short yardage situation, all the linemen may be covered, so that no one will pull. Since we use this slip and pull-blocking scheme for other plays, the learning scheme fits naturally with our offense and takes little practice time.


In this counter run play utilizing the boot-blocking scheme, the QB hands off to F as in the counter-trey, F sprints four steps to the outside, gives the ball to Z on a wide reverse, and continues on a fake run. Z may run Zoom or Zing motion to be in position. Y blocks the DE.

The QB and pulling lineman are personal blockers around the opposite end. Z crack-blocks at the second level.


The shovel pass combined with the speed option is easy to install with the counter-trey scheme. Few adjustments are necessary to execute the play.

Our term for this play with three options is "Triple". From a base set, the QB takes three steps at 75% speed, sets up the DE and gives the QB time to make a decision.

The H back follows the pulling guard and tackle and is ready to cut up field upon receiving the shovel pass. F arcs and takes a pitch relationship of five yards ahead of the QB and two yards back, waiting for the pitch on the speed option. As he takes the snap, the QB, running those three steps parallel to the line, focuses on the DE.

If the DE runs up field or out from the play (following the Y), the QB makes a shovel pass. If the DE sits, the QB and F accelerate, turn up field, and run the speed option.

The tight end, Y, 'arcs to the force'--blocking the defender who would take F on the pitch. Many DE's will follow Y and open the door for the shovel pass. The pulling guard makes a blocking decision based on the DE. If the DE sits in his spot, the guard blocks him out; if the DE runs up field or out, the guard turns up and blocks the first defender to show, usually inside.

The front side linemen block down, sealing the inside gaps, just as on Power 6. This scheme is similar to the play Utah has used with great success in recent years. (Diag. 5)


Combining the shovel and speed option with crossing action will confuse the defense and slow pursuit. Our "Boss 6" has the H back following the pulling linemen right on a shovel pass scheme. The QB and F run the speed option left. The QB reads the DE. If the DE follows the pulling linemen and H, the QB and F run the speed option left. If the DE sits or takes the QB or F, the QB flips a shovel pass to H. (Diag. 6). Your team already has the blocking schemes and has practiced the speed option and shovel pass; this is easy to install.


The Counter-Trey by itself is a terrific play. Misdirection in the backfield combined with blocking angles and pulling linemen means that an offensive team can compete with a more physical defensive opponent.

Because the blocking schemes are limited, linemen get more repetitions and become more execution proficient at a faster pace. The creative coach can concoct a myriad of backfield options that give his squad great versatility and can get the ball to any skill player at any time. Boots, shovels, and reverses all complement the Counter-Trey.

By Richard Geddes, Head Football Coach, Liberty High School, Colorado Springs, CO
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Author:Geddes, Richard
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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