STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
When Marble Falls High School head football coach Brian Herman thought about how to describe the slot-T offense, which he has spent weeks implementing, he compared it to another sport: heavyweight boxing.
“It’s a toughness mentality,” he said. “It’s playing defense with offense. It’s an attitude. It’s being physical. It’s being tough and grinding.”
It’s also about deception, a sleight-of-hand style of football led by the quarterback.
“He has to deal the cards and be a magician,” Herman said. “We use a lot of deception techniques. We block a few, we fool a few, and we make them miss. When (an offense) can throw the ball and run the ball, that’s when you have something special.
The Mustangs coach learned the slot-T during his 2002-04 stint at Liberty Hill from one of the offense’s most knowledgeable coaches, Jerry Vance. And Herman has become one of the offense’s biggest advocates, creating the “Texas Slot T Offense” DVD series.
The foundation of the slot-T is the offensive line. It’s made up of the quick side (two to one side of the center) and the strong side (three to the other side of the center, including the tight end or split end). The line — which still must be strong, fast, and tough — opens creases for backs and receivers.
The backfield consists of the quarterback under center and the fullback right behind him. Off to one side of the fullback is a halfback. The tailback settles on the other side of the fullback, behind the quick tackle.
The swing man — a slot-T receiver — is off the quick side of the line.
When the center snaps the ball, the offense can execute a number of fast, explosive plays. With the proximity of the backs to the quarterback, all possibly headed in different directions, the slot-T is designed to give defenses fits as they try to figure out who has the ball.
After the snap, the linemen remain a key piece as they run through the opponent’s front seven and look for another defender to block and clear a running lane.
“It’s all about an attitude,” Herman said. “We want good athletes who can play tough and physical. We want them to explode at the line of scrimmage and explode off the ball.”
The Marble Falls linemen are unlearning how to pass protect for the spread offense, which the Mustangs ran last season, and learning how to block for the slot-T, which is more run heavy.
Herman noted that teaching the linemen a different way to block is more challenging than he expected.
“We have to be people movers,” Herman said.
Fans will see speed in every position, he said, especially with the linemen. What they won’t see, however, is experience. Most of the offensive linemen will make their varsity debuts Friday, August 30, when the Mustangs welcome Fisher Canyon Lake for the season opener at Mustang Stadium.
Herman returned to the boxing analogy but threw in some baseball when describing some of the roles of the backs.
Tailbacks can get in space to catch passes and run for plenty of yards after the reception thanks to their quickness and electric speed.
“They’re more of the home run hitter,” Herman said. “The jabs come from the fullback and the halfback, but the knockout comes from the tailbacks.”
Fullbacks are the big bruisers who are great at power runs and traps.
Halfbacks are usually converted guards and considered the workhorses because of their ability to block.
“(The halfback is) the most selfless because he has to do a lot of dirty work for everybody else,” Herman said. “He has to lead block.”
This style of football is predicated on the run, and Herman knows some fans won’t be excited by it. Teams who have used the slot-T for years average about 27 points a game.
“Those three-yard and four-yard runs in the fourth quarter, they become seven, ten, twelve, twenty-yard runs. It takes the toll on the defense,” he said. “We want to break the will of the defense.”
The clock, if a slot-T offense can take the lead, becomes the scheme’s best friend. It’s not unusual for units that do it well to keep the ball for nine minutes of a 12-minute quarter.
Herman noted the Mustangs have been working on this offense for weeks, and he and the other coaches know they must continue to teach as the players become more comfortable and begin to see the results of their hard work.
If you can’t make the game, catch it on KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune or at KBEYFM.com, the home of Mustangs football. Tune in starting at 6:30 p.m. on Friday nights for the “Coaches Roundup” then a pregame show at 7 p.m.
Kickoff for the Canyon Lake game is 7:30 p.m. at Mustang Stadium, 2101 Mustang Drive in Marble Falls.