Terminology: Bootleg

27 Jan

A bootleg is schizophrenic or something.

For starters, it’s a misdirection play.  The Quarterback fakes a hand off in one direction then rolls out to the other.

It’s also a play-action pass in that it starts out looking like a running play then, most of the time, ends up being a pass.  The run fake does two things: it confuses the defense and it slows down any pass rush.

And, lastly, it’s an option play — sort of.  Depending upon how the defense’s backside reacts to the Quarterback’s sudden appearance with the ball, the Quarterback has the option to either run or pass.

The defense, in this case, is specifically the force defender.  He’s the lone wolf in a defense’s perimeter who’s entrusted with “forcing” a ballcarrier back into the pursuit.

When he sees the Quarterback with the ball to his side of the field, he has two choices: he can lay back and protect against the pass, in which case the Quarterback can run.  Or he can rush the Quarterback who will then throw to the open receiver.  When executed properly, a bootleg is basically a no-win situation for the defense.

Now bootlegs can be run and blocked in different ways, but a typical bootleg will have the backside Guard (G) pull across the formation to block the defender at the end of the line with contain responsibility, like in the illustration below.

The contain defender has one primary job: keep the ballcarrier bottled up in the backfield.   Blocking him allows the Quarterback to get outside, into the perimeter where he can read the few defenders there and react accordingly.

Like in the photo above, a typical bootleg will also have three receivers stacked at different depths to the side of the field to which the Quarterback is rolling, giving him options at different levels.

The key to any bootleg, though, is the running play upon which it is based.  It has to be working for the defense to be fooled by the run fake, especially if the offense proposes to run a type of bootleg called a “naked”.

A naked simply means that the Quarterback has no protection.  The contain defender – usually a Defensive End – is not blocked because the offense anticipates that he will overreact to flow away from him and give up contain by pursuing in the direction of the fake.

Once he recognizes that the play is a bootleg, it’s generally too late for him to retrace his steps and prevent the Quarterback from getting beyond the edge of the formation.

Nakeds are commonly run by spread offenses that use zone blocking up front to execute their run fake.  They don’t pull the backside Guard because the offense wants to maintain the illusion of a run play.

If the illusion works, the contain defender will be easy to spot.  He’ll be the player putting on the brakes and trying rapidly to change direction.  If it doesn’t, then the Quarterback probably gets sacked.

Besides your basic “boot” and “naked”, there are three other kinds of bootlegs.  Each is defined by how they block the contain defender and, in the case of two, the force defender as well.  They are the Pin Play, the Pin-O Play, and the Waggle.

The Pin Play is run to the Tight End side of the formation.  He’s kept in to block or “pin” the contain defender inside.

The Pin-O does the same thing but it also brings the “offside” Guard — another term for the backside, hence the tag “O” — to block the force defender.

The Waggle, however, comes to us from the Delaware Wing-T playbook.  It is run to the weakside of a formation and has both Guards pulling to block in front of the Quarterback, like in the diagram below.

This version of a bootleg explains why some Offensive Coordinators’ consider a waggle to be a bootleg that’s run to the weakside — the side of a formation without a TE — while a “bootleg” is run to the strongside or towards the TE.

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