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The play I designed for Washington Legendary coach Joe Gibbs when I was 17 years old

As a teenager, I dabbled in both scouting and coaching. When I was 17, I designed a football play I thought would work for a touchdown for the coach and team I loved more than anything – – Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins.

From the time I was in sixth grade, school never interested me. I was obsessed with football and mainly the Redskins. I was that kid who hid the sports page under my math book. Every time the math teacher looked away to write something on the chalk board, I would peak at the standings, stats and schedules. 

It got to the point I was so obsessed with the Redskins, I did not even have any time for my homework. I remember having 37 math assignments that I had not handed in. The day before the quarter ended, I would stay up all night racing through all the assignments and handing them in the next morning, hoping to at least get a passing grade. 

I will never forget this one parent teacher conference. The teacher said to my mom and dad, “If he’d put as much effort into his school work as he does the Redskins, he’d be a straight ‘A’ student.” You should have seen the look on my dad’s face. It would have been one of those Snicker’s “Not going anywhere for a while,” commercials in today’s world.

My focus instead was on football – – mainly on the Washington Redskins. I ate, breathed and lived for my favorite team. One day, this new play Gibbs should run just hit me…

The Redskins should play-action off the Counter-Trey. 

The Counter-Trey was the invention of Gibbs. It was Washington’s bread and butter signature running play. The play began with the left backside offensive tackle and guard pulling and then the running back would take a counter step to his left before going back in the other direction and taking the hand-off from the quarterback. The running back would then follow the backside pulling offensive tackle and guard as his lead blockers. It was a brilliant play design and it perfectly illustrated how just one step of misdirection could give an offense a distinct advantage.

The strategy behind the play-design was the one step of mis-direction caused the opposing linebackers one step of misdirection and that one step is all Washington needed to gain a blocking leverage advantage downfield. It also sucked up the safeties, who read run, as they raced towards the line of scrimmage trying to tackle Washington’s running back.

This is where I saw opportunity and I designed my play I sent to Gibbs. 

I used my notebook for school to draw up this new play idea using X’s and O’s. Gibbs had been running the Counter-Trey for years by this point. It almost became automatic for opposing defenses to react to. As soon as they saw that backside offensive tackle and guard begin to pull, they reacted and played right into Washington’s hand. Defenses immediately began to flood towards the line of scrimmage trying to stop the running back. 

My suggested play-design was to motion wide receiver Ricky Sanders pre-snap to the left side of Washington’s side of the field. Upon the snap of the football, the QB would go play-action (QB keeps and hides the ball instead of giving it to the RB) off the Counter-Trey. So all the same actions were the same as Gibbs’ signature play, only there was one difference…the QB still had the ball. 

My play design was to drag Ricky Sanders back side on a deep post pattern drifting towards the middle of the field. The QB then would launch it to Sanders for a touchdown. 

The “look of the Counter-Trey” would clear out deep middle of the field (because the safeties read run), leaving Sanders to only have to get inside of the corner and beat him in a foot race to the football. 

One day after school, I found this letter waiting for me in the mailbox. 

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK. 


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