Before the last preseason game the Chicago Bears elected to hold out rookie 7th round receiver Marquess Wilson. That was because with #3 receiver Earl Bennett still recovering from his concussion symptoms, Wilson was the next man up on the depth chart. The Bears needed some insurance if Bennett was unable to go week one.
I was also under the assumption that Earl Bennett was going be the slot receiver for the Bears. His skill set is often talked about as being a good fit for that position, so I just figured that was the plan. When I first saw the info about Wilson passed along Twitter from Adam Jahns of the Sun Times, I asked him about Wilson's slot WR expericnce. I was surprised by his response.
Receiving that Tweet from Jahns was a real light bulb moment for me. Of course there's no "slot" receiver in the West Coast Offense. The play caller will scheme whomever he wants into the slot via formation.
I was disappointed in myself for not realizing this before, because in my coaching days, I ran what some would call a very, very basic version of the WCO. Shame on me...
I'll attempt to use some snapshots of my own playbook, to explain how the Bears could get anyone they want in the slot. These may be dumbed down or elementary to some of you, but it will show how easy it is to get the player you want matched up in the slot against a safety, linebacker, or the nickle corner, depending on a defense's tendencies.
Later on I'll use some of Marc Trestman's playbook from his time coaching in Arizona, to further show what he's trying to do. And just to make things clear, his willingness to put anyone in the slot isn't new to football, it's just not something we've seen in Chicago of late.
Before I debut some of my playbook, I'll explain what the X, Y, and Z are in traditional coach-speak. The X and Z are the two wide receivers. The X is usually lined up on the line of scrimmage, and has been called the split end. The Z is usually lined up off the line of scrimmage, and has been called the flanker. The Y is the tight end. They are called X, Y, and Z, because in a base formation, they are lined up in that order, either right to left, or left to right.
In the West Coast Offense the Y is usually told where to go by the strength call. For example if a coach were to call the formation "Red Right", the Right tells the Y to line up next to the right tackle. The X lines up split wide on the left, and the Z is split to the right. So from left to right, they are lined up X, Y, Z. In my terminology, the Red told the backs to line up in an I formation. See the picture below.
Calling the two WRs and the TE, the X, Y, and Z is fairly standard in football, but what coaches call the other skill players is up to them. The two backs could be 2 & 3, A & B, H & F, or any combination of letters or numbers. The 3rd WR could remain the Y, or he could be a W. A second TE could be a J (for Joker), or H (for H-Back), or he could remain F if he's on in place of a fullback. Verbiage varies from coach to coach, so don't get too hung up on that later on when I throw up some of Trestman's plays.
Using my terminology, if the Bears wanted to get Brandon Marshall (we'll call him the Z) in the slot, I would call Red Right Slot. The "Slot" tells the Z that he's in the slot, and it tells the Y that he's split out wide. Pretty basic I know...
In the Bears' case, they could keep the tight end on the field as the Y, or they could sub in a 3rd WR. But imagine the mismatch the Bears would have with 6'5" 270 pound Martellus Bennett across from a cornerback. Or would a defense keep a corner on Marshall, and walk a safety up for Bennett? Should a defense go nickle, and line their nickleback up on Marshall?
Let's say we want to get Alshon Jeffery (X) in the slot, then the call would be Red Right Over. The "Over" is telling the Z that he's lined up over on the other side of the formation.
Red Right Over is different than Red Right Twins. Notice how in both the above and the below formation that the Z is still off the line. A team could easily flip this by adding a tag word in the sequence of the play. For example. something as simple as Red Right Twins "Trade", would tell the Z that he's up on the line and the X is off. The reason the off receiver is important, is because that's the guy you can motion.
If the Bears want to sub in Earl Bennett as a traditional looking #3 slot receiver, they could insert him in place of the TE, and call Red Right Off (see below). The "Off" tells the Y that he's off the line, and since he's off, that would put the Z on the line. That slot WR could alter his split and get closer to the Z, or he could split the difference between the tackle and the Z. He could also go in motion as well.
When the Bears sub in a 3rd wide out, they've been pulling the fullback off the field, and keeping tight end Martellus Bennett on the field. Bennett has only missed 2 total plays in two weeks. The Bears have also split a 2nd TE or even a running back out wide, to give a different look to the D. The formation possibilities are really quite large.
While I have no idea how voluminous Trestman's playbook is, in my scheme, we started off the season with six different backfield formations, ten different variations on each of those for the X, Y, and Z, on we could go either strong right or left, for a total of 120 different formations that we could call.
As the year progressed, we added a couple of shotgun looks, and a trips formation. A coach's terminology is a new language, but once you have it down, it's quite easy get the look you want.
Here's a play from that Marc Trestman Arizona playbook I referenced earlier.
In his terminology, "Red" is a traditional Pro Set, or a split backfield. Notice the Y is to the right, as per the play call, and in a pro set, the fullback (F) always lines up with strength too. His "Slot" call, has the Z in the slot, and on the line of scrimmage with the X off. Those little dashed lines are option routes for the receivers to run, depending on the look from the defense. Notice he also wants his X and Z to be 6 yards apart, and for his QB to take a 5 step drop (that little 5 next to his drop).
I'll just guess on the Z's responsibilities here (since I'm not in Trestman's head), but if the defense is showing a single high safety, he should run the corner route. If a defense is showing 2 deep safeties, he would then run the in route at 10 yards.
On the above play, "Jack" tells the backs to line up in an offset I formation with the fullback to the strength (for those that care, I called this Green), and the Y is to the strength call as always. On this play he starts his Y split out, with the Z in the slot, then motions the Y back into the slot. Notice he gives his X and Z notes on how to play it based off either a Cover 2 look or bump (man) coverage.
Can you guess what drop the QB is taking on that play above? While not a big part of the WCO, they still have some 7 step drops in the playbook.
Here in the above play he calls "Queen" formation, which is his offset I with the fullback opposite the TE (this was my Blue btw), and if you were paying attention, you'll know exactly what the "Slot" call tells the Z to do. Something else I'll mention, the little numbers next to the pass routes, is the QB's read progression. Now this could obviously change if the defense is showing blitz, or if they get an unexpected coverage.
Now Trestman's getting into more of a three wideout look. His "Wide" call tells the halfback (H) to split out wide to the strength side. His "Slot" call in this particular formation tells the Z something different than in the above Red and Queen formations. On this formation the Z remains off the line, with the X on.
A coach could also sub in a 3rd WR to the H position, and/or keep the tailback as the F. It all depends on the personnel that they send out there, and everyone has to know their particular job given the play call.
Notice the fullback's responsibility on this play. He checks first to help with pass protection, then if he can, he releases through the line and curls over the center. This is a traditional Tampa 2 beater, since the middle linebacker is dropping deep middle third at that call. If a defense is in man coverage, the FB then will dart either right or left depending on where the defender is.
Now comes the test, did I mention there would be a test?
What formation (according to Trestman's old playbook) are the Bears in on the following play? For those that recall, this is the play that I broke down in last week's Sackwatch.
They appear to be in an offset I to the TE side...
I see Marshall up to the left on the line of scrimmage, with Jeffery off...
If you said Jack Right Slot you win a peppermint!
When you're watching the Bears play the Steelers this Sunday night, check to see who is spending time working out of the slot in the Trest Coast Offense. It won't be an exclusive "slot" guy ala Wes Welker, but instead expect to see Brandon, Alshon, Martellus, Earl, Matt, or maybe even Dante Rosario lined up in the slot..
You can see the kind of versatility Marc Trestman has with this team based off his scheme.