Mandatory Play Player Nightmare?

Hey Coaches, got problems with Mandatory Play Players/Minimum Play Players or whatever your league calls them?  Hopefully I can give you a little help.

First, here is a little bit about how my league does things.  We are a Pop Warner League; Pop Warner designates the amount of Mandatory Plays that must be given before the 4th quarter of each game.  It depends on the amount of players you have on a team.  Pop Warner designates (at my level) 16-25 players must get 10 plays each, 26-30 players must get 8 plays each and 31-35 players must get 6 plays each.  A “play” must be an active play from the line of scrimmage.  Penalties do not count unless the penalty is declined, extra points and kickoffs don’t count either and neither does spiking the ball or taking a knee.

My particular program is a first come, first serve program.  On XX Date all returning football program players (including flag) from the prior year sign up on a first come, first serve basis.  10 days later all others that were not in the league the prior year sign up on a first come first serve basis.  We take all kids up to 35.  I have never had a team with less than 35 kids and at least 10 per team have never played football at all.  I coached 2 years of Tiny Mites, 2 years of Mighty Mites as a defensive coordinator for the little guys (5-8) and have been head coach now for 2 years in the Jr. Pee-wee Program both years having a full 35 kid roster.  Last year, my first as a head coach, our team went 13-1, undefeated regular season (only allowing 6 points against us), won our regional championship and went on to win 3 more regional games  before losing right before the State Championship game and a Superbowl birth in Disney.  This year so far we are 2-0 as well.  Both years I am here to tell you we had a minimum of 10 players that have never played and plenty of them MPR players.  I am not trying to toot my own horn; I am trying to let you know that it can be done with players that are “not so good”.

I am here to tell you that no matter how bad a kid is, you MUST make him useful to your football team.  That is the only way you will be successful with MPR Kids.  I see so many teams throw them out at wide receiver, or put them at safety.  If you do that against my team, I will simply ignore that kid and play 11 on 10 football.  I am here to tell you that that is definitely not the way to go about it.  Every kid can do SOMETHING, even if it is bear crawl into a gap and plug a hole.  Reach block, crack block, drive block, wedge block, there are many things you can teach a kid to do and make that their entire life during the football season.

Here is the way I go about it.  First I run a defense that is flexible and has the ability to change, possibly be weak at some points but still be able to maintain its ability to stop someone.  It all depends on the team dynamic but this year we went with the 3-3 Stack.  The great thing about the 3-3 Stack (or at least the version we run) is that you can also go with a 42 or a 6 front and keep the “cover” group as 1st stringers.  Here is an example:  When we have our first stringers out there (our best 11), we run the base 3-3 Stack (RED TEAM).  For those not familiar with this particular defense it is a tap and go “Stack” group with 3 down lineman and 3 tap and go stack backers directly behind them.  When we have our second stringers we run a 42 front with entirely new kids.  Now we have 2 A gap players pinching hard, 2 Tackles and 2 stack backers behind the tackles.  We take the best out of this 6 man group and make them the 2 stack backers.  The other 4 kids are not PURE MPR players but you can get 2 of them in the A gaps and teach them to pinch hard.  This is our (BLUE TEAM), our cover group of CB’s, OLB’s and S are still the 1st stringers.  Then we have the (WHITE TEAM).  This is when we go to a pure 60 front and put all the kids in the gaps and pinching hard to the football while still keeping our “Cover” group the same.  Now what we do is we mix the “pure” MPR players between the blue team and the white team.  For example our Blue Team has 2 MPR players in the A Gaps pinching hard.  Our WHITE Team has probably 4 or 5 total pure MPR players in the Gaps on the inside.

Now offensively we take those same 6 WHITE team members and create a wedge offense.  So the Guard, Tackle and TE on both sides are MPR players that are taught to Wedge on my starting center, starting QB and 2 good WB’s.  (We run a Double Tight Double Wing).  The entire offense has 3 plays; The Wedge, the Wedge HB Sweep, and the Wedge WB Sweep all with Criss Cross action.  The line does 1 thing; WEDGE!  The FB and other backs are the only ones that know anything else is going on in the backfield.

Now I hear the outcries.  Coach!  Coach!  I will see that and kill it doing this or doing that!  And my reply is… No you won’t.  Because those kids from day 1 have been drilled to go forward and pinch that gap on defense.  Those kids only practice the WEDGE, that’s it!  We teach them the same skills as all the other players but when we are out there for the majority of the practices from the very first practice they are firing off the ball and being taught (in a fun way) to beat that O lineman and make a tackle, or ignore the defense and get into your tight wedge.  You now have to use 3 guys to defeat 2 A Gap MPR Players on defense, you now MUST bring in more players on defense to defeat the wedge!  All of the MPR players are now helping your team by doing something that they can do well.

So far this season our WHITE offense has score more TD’s than any other.  5 TD’s so far in 2 games just using the Wedge Plays.  Remember I am using good backs and QB’s.  But I am here to tell you that my WHITE wedge players are BETTER at the wedge than my other teams by FAR.

And here is the kicker to all of this madness.  If you are truly facing a good team and you know you will be in a battle.  You only have to now run 3 plays with WHITE on offense and 3 plays with WHITE on defense and your done!  That’s it!  (If your league has more than 4 and 4 or whatever).  It is better than placing them in there for 8 or 10 plays or whatever on 1 side of the ball and having to try to get 3 first downs with MPR players to be able to get their plays.  Or give up huge gaps on your defense by placing them in there for x amount of plays while they drive on you!

Now don’t get me wrong, they are still MPR players.  Things happen.  Offenses drive on my WHITE defense.  But so far no one has scored on them, they have driven and gotten yardage, but it’s only for 3 plays total!  I never start with WHITE on either side of the ball unless I KNOW for certain we will easily beat the team.  So put your studs in there, shut down the inside gaps then rotate them in there at the start of one of the opponent offensive series.  Before they can adjust you are done with your 3 plays normally.

You are also accomplishing things with this system.  You are teaching kids to play both sides of the ball.  Mommy and Daddy have now seen their kid play on offense AND defense.  I have had less complaints than most teams.  I also am very liberal with my kids.  I am a defensive guy and I HATE to get scored on.  However, when I am up by 3 scores I play my MPR players LIBERALLY!  And by liberally I mean ALL The time!  Even if we give up a score or 2 as long as we are comfortably in the lead I will play them fully.  At the very beginning of the season I tell the parents that will be the case.  I am open and up front about MPR’s and what will happen.  I tell them flat out that some players that are new or are struggling (a diplomatic way of telling them) they will still get in there and play as MUCH as I can get them in there as long as we are in a comfortable lead.  If we are in a tight game however, the goal is to have fun by winning the game.  No matter how much fun you have if you lose the fun gets lost.  YOU MUST STICK BY THIS!  Do not try to “go for the shutout” and keep your starters in there when you are up 24 to 0.  You will pay for it in the end with angry parents and kids that are not getting the game experience they need.  So far in my first 2 games this season all of my MPR plays have been finished 2 minutes before halftime and they have all played nearly every down of the 3rd and 4th quarters  (on a rotational basis).  What we also do is play our starters and then liberally substitute 1 or 2 kids in there for some of the starters as the game progresses to also get the starters their playing time.  We had a game in the playoffs last year where we almost didn’t get our starters the minimum plays!  I didn’t realize until the 4th quarter and almost got penalized for it.

Make a MPR player useful!  Don’t make it hard on yourself!  I know there are kids that simply do NOT want to be there.  There are kids that cry every time they get hit or are not physical at all.  I am here to tell you the first time you run a wedge with those same kids and the crowd roars as they score a touchdown, those same kids will want to get in there and do it again.  I recently asked all of my kids where they thought they best fit in my football program and every single one of the WHITE MPR kids said they want to play exactly where they are.  They didn’t pick LB or QB, they said WHITE WEDGE and DEFENSIVE LINE!  Make it fun for them and they will work hard for you.

Anyway that was really longer than I thought!  I hope you are able to gain a little bit from this.  There are other systems that I am sure will work.  Some people only have 1 or 2 MPR’s and they won’t have too many issues.  But with programs like mine where you are going to get a LOT of them, make them useful to your football team.  It works!

Submitted by Michael Marcatos

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