The Route Tree

The route tree or passing tree is a number system used for the passing routes common in the NFL, NCAA and High School levels. Each number (0-9) excluding number five indicates a specific running pattern (route) that the wide receiver has to run.  Wide receivers should also be able to run the different variations of screen passes as we as all nine routes that make up the tree. Every team is also different so they might tailor their route tree the way they want it.  On the high school level where I coach we use numbers zero, one, two and nine to identify a specific route in the play call.  We also use number three, four and six but we call these combination routes where the X receiver and Z receiver each have a different route in the play call.  Combinations routes are used to exploit certain coverage’s the defense might be in.  Some of the most popular combinations routes are the smash route and wheel route.  The number system in the route tree allows easy play calling and the quarterback can manage his receivers during audibles.

The route tree

The route tree

Hitch (0 route) – Wide receiver will run six yards, stop, turn back towards the quarterback and come back two steps to catch the ball.  After the receiver catches the ball we teach them to secure the ball and get back outside to run up the sideline.

Out (1 route) – On the out route the wide receiver runs five yard and makes a shape cut towards the sideline.  The wide receiver should snap his head around quick after he makes his turn expecting a quick throw from the quarterback. It is very important you do not round this route off because it makes it easier for the defensive back to make a play on the ball.

Slant (2 route) – The slant route is also another quick pass.  We teach the receiver to take three hard steps then slant towards the middle of the field.  In order for the slant route to be successful the receiver has beat the defensive back to the inside.

Comeback (3 route) – The comeback might be one of the hardest routes to defend but if a receiver gets lazy running the pattern it could easily be intercepted.  To run a comeback the receiver should get the defensive back thinking he going to do a fade and then break it off like a curl towards the side line. Again just like the curl we teach 14 back to 12 yards when running the comeback.

Hook or curl (4 route) – The hook is basically the same as hitch but it’s a longer pattern.  We teach 14 back to 12 which means the receiver will run 14 yards and turn and come back to 12 to catch the ball.  The other difference between a hitch and curl route is that depending on how the defensive back is covering the wide receiver, the receiver has the option to turn towards the quarterback or away to catch the ball.

Dig (6 route) – The six route in the NFL is considered a dig in which the receiver will run 15 yards and make a sharp cut across the middle of the field.  The dig route is just like the out route except you run across the field rather than towards the sideline.

Corner (7 route) and Post (8 route) – The corner route requires the receiver to run 10-15 yards and turn and run towards the pylon in the end zone. At the breaking point of the route, the receiver should use a shoulder or head fake as if they are going to run a post route.  If the defensive back bites on the fake it will allow the receiver to create separation and get open easier.  A receiver running a post route will do the same a corner but instead of breaking and aiming for the pylon, his aiming point is the center of the goal post.

Fade (9 route) – Also known as the go route the fade is designed to stretch the field.  The receiver can either use an inside or outside release and run vertically down the field.

Running routes is a skill and a craft.  A great receiver is strong, fast and very knowledgeable.   As each receiver learns and masters each route of the passing tree they can then become creative in the ways that they run their routes


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