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Football 101: The West Coast Offense

Quarter and Running Backs

By Mark Lawrence

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Quarterbacks in the WCO

Finally, the most important position in the West Coast offense has to be the quarterback. The ideal size of a quarterback in this offense or any offense should be about six foot three inches and weigh about 210 pounds. The quarterback needs to be taller than the center.

Playing quarterback in the West Coast offense requires several skills and traits some of which can be developed through practice and sound coaching, and others which are inherited (genetic gifts).

One of the most obvious requirements for a quarterback in the West Coast offense is have the ability to pass. It is important to realize that arm strength and being able to pass are not synonymous. Some players can throw a football 80 yards, but they aren't good passers. Good passing involves accuracy, timing, and throwing a ball with enough touch so that it is catchable. Good passing also requires understanding both the West Coast offense and the receivers in the West Coast offense, and having a great sense of anticipation.

While it is certainly admirable to be able to throw a ball on a line for 35 yards, if the ball is off target or arrives in such a way that it is difficult to catch, such an ability is of dubious value. The fundamental goal of passing a ball is to make sure it's caught by the intended receiver.

One of the more important criteria for assessing the potential of a quarterback to play in the West Coast offense is to what extent does he have the ability to throw a complete inventory of passes from screen passes to times, short passes to medium-range passes and down-the-field throws. Not having a complete inventory of passes in his arsenal does not eliminate a quarterback from a West Coast offense team's considerations, but it can be a meaningful factor.

Fullbacks and Running Backs

Two other positions important to the West Coast offense are the fullback and running back positions. The ideal size for the fullback position should be about six foot one inch and weigh about 245 pounds. The running back should be large enough to take punishment and retain stamina. The main goals for the fullback and running back position in the West Coast offense are to be able to block and catch. In this offense these positions also have to able to pick up blitzing linebackers. The most important value for these positions is to be able to catch. These positions in the West Coast offense will probably have more catches than rushing attempts.

Running a Pass-First Offense

In the past, the knock against passing teams is that they had no consistency. You might win some games, but eventually a pass first offense will come back to haunt you. Bad weather, a strong pass rush, lack of ball control, too many turnovers, and a host of other reasons were offered as obstacles to sustained success. Duffy Daugherty famously said Three things can happen when you put a football in the air, and two of them are bad. Through the 1970’s, this thinking was supported by the fact that the truly great teams ran the football much more often than they passed it.

However the game has since changed. I believe the fans wanted to see more action within the football games. Pass minded coaches like Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, Bill Walsh, and LaVell Edwards won championships with passing offenses. What I believe caught the attention of many observers was that Walsh and Edwards’ offensive philosophies was unlike previous air attacks that threw only in long-yardage situations or to surprise the oppositions. Instead Walsh and Edwards’ approach was to:

These tenets formed the basis for what is now called the West Coast offense. This high-production, low risk offensive attack has proven itself over the years and is now used successfully by many teams at all levels. The West Coast offense appeals to high school coaches because it does not require players up front who can blow people off the ball, down after down, which is needed in a run based offense.

The West Coast offense is a finesse attack that features both ball-control and big play potential. Ball control in way of short, intermediate, and play-action passing results in first downs, moving the chains down field and maintaining possession of the ball. A series of short passes soon add up to sizable gains, putting the defense back on its heels. Moreover, receivers who can run with the ball can turn short passes into long gains or even touchdowns.

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