Examining Key Reads And Tip-Offs

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Virginia Tech
A quality linebacker such as Virginia Tech’s Rayshard Ashby must be good at reading keys. (Ivan Morozov)

“In 1957, Army felt very confident of beating Navy on the basis of two pieces of information which, at first notice, might seem inconsequential. From scouting and the study of movies, Army could tell the direction of the slant of the Navy line by the position of the heel of the defensive tackle. If the tackle’s heel was up off the ground, he and the rest of the internal linemen were going to slant to the defense’s right. If the heel was down, the slant would be in the opposite direction.

That’s from the “Tip-Offs” chapter of Steve Belichick’s Football Scouting Methods. Army lost that game 14-0. A big part of that was Navy figuring out a series of backfield alignment keys to decipher Army’s running direction. By the time Belichick wrote his book back in 1962, football scouting had become so granular that most of the tip-offs he discusses are just like the examples above—they’re minute details of position and footwork. As far as VT fans go, they might be most familiar with the case (or non-case) of Clemson maybe stealing something like this from the Hokies’ Blake DeChristopher back in the 2011 season.

As impressive as these tip-offs are when they work, the bedrock of football is breaking down an opponent’s play-calling tendencies. If a coach has to choose between scouting an offense’s footwork idiosyncrasies and what the offense likes to do on third down,