Thoughts On Developing “Timing” In Your Pass Offense

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By Bill Mountjoy, Life Member, American Football Coaches Association

The following notes come from the “Father of the Modern Passing Game,” Sid Gillman. These have meant a lot to me throughout my career and I thought they were worth sharing with the members of the AFCA.

Timing Of The Pass

  1. The timing of the delivery is essential. It is the single most important item to successful passing.
  2. Each route has its own distinct timing. As routes and patterns are developed on the field, the exact point of delivery will be emphasized.
  3. Take mental notes on the field on timing of the throw.
  4. If you cannot coordinate eye and arm to get the ball to its intended spot properly and on time, you are not a passer.
  5. Keeping the ball in both hands and chest high is part of the answer.
  6. Generally speaking, the proper timing of any pass is putting the ball in the air before, or as the receiver goes into his final break.
  7. If you wait until the receiver is well into his final move, you are too late.

With the above firmly in mind, how do you go about developing that timing? The following research from two of the best passing-game minds (who followed Gillman’s thinking) come to mind.

Howard Schnellenberger

Howard Schnellenberger held head coaching positions with the Baltimore Colts, University of Miami, University of Oklahoma, University of Louisville and Florida Atlantic University. He won a national championship with Miami in 1983. Schnellenberger also worked extensively as an assistant coach at the college and pro levels, including as part of the staff of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Schnellenberger says the following: “If you give a receiver a second to get started. He can get a yard for every tenth of a second after that. If a guy is going to run a 5-yard out, he can get down there and break in 1.5. If he runs a 10-yard yard out, he can do it in 2 seconds. If he runs a 15-yard comeback, he can do that in 2.5 seconds.

  1. The quarterback should be taught to throw a three-step-drop pass in 1.3 seconds. This times out well with the 5-yard out because he can release the ball before the receiver breaks in 1.5 seconds
  2. The quarterback should be taught to throw a 5-step drop pass in 1.8. This times out well with the 10-yard out because he can release the ball before the receiver breaks in 2.0 seconds
  3. The quarterback should be taught to throw a 7-step drop pass in 2.3 seconds. This times out well with the 15-yard comeback, because he can release the ball before the receiver breaks in 2.5 seconds.

Bobby Bowden

Bobby Bowden is best known for coaching the Florida State University Seminoles football team from the 1976 to 2009 seasons. During his time at Florida State, Bowden led FSU to an Associated Press and AFCA Coaches Poll National Title in 1993 and a BCS National Championship in 1999, as well as 12 Atlantic Coast Conference championships since FSU joined the conference in 1991.

After a difficult 2009 season and amid questioning fans, Bowden stepped down, just weeks after his 80th birthday. He was allowed to make his final coaching appearance in the 2010 Gator Bowl game on January 1, 2010, with a 33–21 victory over his former program, West Virginia. He had a career record of 389 –129–4.

Bowden taught the following: “The golden rule for Rhythm Passing is that the quarterback must be set two steps before the receiver makes his final break.”

Everything is taught on steps. When you grade the film the next day you can count. For example: “Hey wide receiver, the quarterback is taking three steps, and I told you to take five steps and you took seven. No wonder the rhythm wasn’t there.”

Bill Mountjoy has 33 years of high school football coaching experience in Virginia, as well as five years experience coaching on the college level.


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