Introduction to RPOs: Part 1 (Bolt Concept)


Hello all, hope all is going well. I just got done spending a nice Memorial Day with my family and ate some of the best steak of my life. No joke. My step-dad got a smoker from my mom last Christmas, and he has been cooking up a storm since early March. I can’t remember what type of steak we had, but I hope I can have some more before I have to leave.

I have also been learning a lot of football since the last time I wrote last December. I got the chance to volunteer for a Division I-AA football program in the Western United States and I am absolutely loving it. I get to break down film, fill out team scouting reports, sit in on staff meetings for both offense and defense, watch live practices, and run the occasional errand for the coaching staff. They have even given me some of their apparel for me to wear so I don’t look like a hobo in my ripped up hoodie and torn cargo shorts. Even though it has taken a lot out of my budget and paychecks so far, I am happy with where I am at and am getting the opportunity to learn from those who know a lot more than me about the game.

While it is nice, I am glad that I am currently on leave so I can save up enough money to stay up there for the upcoming season. It gives me a chance to enhance my knowledge of the game the way that I want to and I have enough time to write about what I have learned thus far. I am hoping to master every subject I write about so that if I need to explain it to someone else, I will be able to inform them clearly and directly.

That’s the main reason why when I was approached by Royalwithcheese and David Singer to write for the blog, I thought about it for a short period of time and took it. I felt like this was great developmental work for me and if I get the chance to put my knowledge to the test on pen and paper I can reaffirm what I know and don’t know.

Without further ado, lets get to it.

RPO Basics

A RPO is short for a Run-Pass Option, meaning that the QB can either keep it, hand it off to the RB, or throw it to a receiver outside. Most teams like to mesh their quick game concepts with their RPO’s like the stick, bolt, snag, or spacing to it however in the large scheme of things it really doesn’t matter. Whatever works for the particular team that runs it will work, they just have to follow rules for play design, something which I will get into later. This shouldn’t be confused with the standard read option, a RRO, although the concept is based in the same ideological thought: read the defense so they can’t read you. As any other play does, a RPO follows a basic progression. Some will vary depending on coach and personnel. All RPOs will have these read elements attached to it:

  1. Numbers (Pre-Snap)
  2. Leverage (Pre-Snap)
  3. Dive (Post-Snap)
  4. Pitch (Post-Snap)
  5. Stretch (Post-Snap)

These read elements are designed into every play design run or pass. However, RPO’s and other reads give the QB the ability to create the play based on what the defense is giving them now instead of making an educated guess. It’s the perfect unscripted play for a no-huddle offense.

For the visual people, this is what a RPO looks like:

Credit goes to X and O Labs. I drew up the Bolt concept on Visio but it won’t upload to this site. I will post a copy of my Visio drawing to a Disqus comment below and if that fails, move it over to my site (


The QB makes two pre-snap reads before the snap. The first is to determine the NUMBER in specific areas of the field. For now, we’ll just count how many safeties are deep and how many are in the box.

The QB should see two safeties deep which indicates the coverage is either a Cover 2, a Cover 4, or a 2 Man-Under. Since we are going to take it one step at a time, we’ll figure the rest out one we get to leverage.

There are five in the box because the Mike is walked out of the zone. This leaves the offense with a 5-on-5 matchup. 5-on-5 means the QB should be handing the ball off right now and turn it into an inside zone. Once the LG gets help on the double team from the C, the LG needs to push up to the W so the back has a chance to get to the second level. This play goes for big assuming that they execute. Pretty simple read, right?

Let’s say that the QB misses the first numbers read and decides to throw it. It’s three on three to the play-side (right side). Because of this particular matchup, the bubble is eliminated because you can only run off two defenders when you need to run off three. If the M is in the box and the N (S)¬†is apexing the space between the H and Y (S), then the bubble becomes a valid option due to the three on two matchup that occurs. As far as numbers go, there is no doubt that the RB should get the ball.

Next, the QB has to identify the LEVERAGE of the defense. For those of you who don’t know, leverage is the defenders horizontal position to the offensive player he is lined up against. All defenders in this diagram are demonstrating “even” leverage because they are lined up head on their opposing player. If the defender were to shade inside so his helmet is lined inside of the offensive player’s helmet, then he is demonstrating inside leverage. If the defensive player’s helmet is outside the offensive player’s helmet, then he is in outside leverage. Some like to use the position of the feet to determine leverage. Both of them are right, it all depends upon which one you prefer.

Leverage is important because it is a coverage indicator of the defense. From the particular alignment of the defense, we can safely assume that it is one of the three coverages: 2, 2 Man-Under, and 4. The first hint is in the depth of the CBs. Since the CBs are lined up off the ball at a 5 yard depth, Cover 4 is out of the equation which leaves us with 2 and 2 Man-Under. The linebackers have decided to follow the WRs and play either inside or even leverage against the WR’s so, we now know its 2 Man-Under. This screams for us to run the football down their throat, because the defenders outside of the box are not looking inside for the run but rather, on their assigned receiver. The receivers should run them off leaving us with our pre-determined 5-on-5 inside. Now we have to determine the action of the defense to make sure that their coverage holds true.

This leads us to the first post snap read: THE DIVE READ. The Dive Read is the player that the QB reads in when he makes his decision to hand the ball off to the RB. If you think of an E’s responsibility in the traditional read-option (RRO), this player has the same responsibility. If he squeezes, the QB takes it and if the defender stays flat, you hand it off to the RB (T). Because this is 2 Man-Under, the M will follow the Bolt and the QB will hand off to the RB (T). and work against the 5 on 5. If the Mike goes off assignment and decides to squeeze in anyway, the QB would keep the ball and throw the bolt route over the top of him to the Y who will work up the seam and take all the yards in the process.

Now let’s say the Mike squeezes and the Nickel flies in and defends the bolt route. The Next Read the QB has to make now is THE PITCH READ. The Pitch Read is the equivalent of a Triple Option pitch read except that it is now thrown in the air instead of tossed or pitched to the RB. If the Nickel decides to fly to the Y (H)¬†because the defense was bluffing 2 Man-Under and is now playing another coverage, the QB would keep the ball and throw the bubble to take care of the 2 on 1 matchup on the play-side. If the Z gets a mandatory outside release to force the CB’s eyes outside, bursts off the ball, and blocks to the second level as he should, the bubble should be able to get big yards along the perimeter. The H must run a boundary bubble in this case due to the close proximity he shares with the sideline. He will backpedal backwards with his back towards the sideline looking to receive the ball immediately. If the H catches the ball and reads his block correctly, the play should get a first down.

This is what the Bolt RPO looks like when it is run perfectly.

Video of Bolt Concept

Thanks for reading, that’s all for me now. I will talk about the Stick, Stick Draw, Peek, and Search Concept and how to apply the Stretch Post-Snap Read to those concepts within the next two to three days. I appreciate all of the support and if you have any questions or points of clarification, feel free to reply to me in the comments below and I will get to as many of them as soon as I can.

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I am a former film coordinator for a FCS school. Currently serving in the Navy. I was glad to be around the game of football and had the chance to learn from a lot of great people. I wouldn't be where I am without the gracious support of my family, coaches, assistants, players, and friends. I also greatly appreciate you guys who take the time to read my stuff and show genuine appreciation. It means a ton! You guys are awesome! Twitter Handle: @FBDubs