7-on-7 football increasingly popular in training, recruiting high school players

Offseason 7-on-7 drills increasingly popular in training, recruiting prep players
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Coaches say it isn't real football and they are correct.

There are no pads involved. There's no hitting. The offensive line isn't on the field and it doesn't give an accurate depiction of what will happen when fall camp rolls around for high schools and colleges in a month.

Nevertheless, 7-on-7 football has become almost essential to high school teams' summer routine. It's proven to build chemistry. A quarterback and his wide receiver can get acquainted with route-running and timing. It isn't the end all to recruiting but it serves a purpose. And competition abounds at huge tournaments played in the heat and humidity.

It's become a big thing — the current big thing. High schools around the state play 7-on-7 football during the offseason. Colleges embrace the idea — with BYU, Utah and Weber State all holding big 7-on-7 events.

"It's great for your passing game," Judge Memorial coach James Cordova said. "It's good for your defensive secondary to work on things as well. It helps the teams more that employ a predominant passing game, and it helps you find out who your marquee receivers are. But as a coach, you kind of have to be careful with it and take it for what it's worth. When it's all said and done, it's not realistic football."

The art of 7-on-7 is 100 percent passing. A quarterback, his receivers, running backs and tight ends go against a defense made up of cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers. There are no linemen. There is no blocking or tackling. As football has become the dominant sport around the country, 7-on-7 has grown with that popularity.

It's said to have originated in Texas, but the genre has spread throughout the country. Recruiting websites cover the biggest events. ESPN has even aired some of the tournaments in the past.

The University of Utah's Ute Shoot is known as the biggest tournament in the state and it has the longest tenure as well. BYU's tournament was 10 days ago, with many high schools attending. Most of the Division I Utah schools have 7-on-7 incorporated into their team camps in some way.

"It's a great way to see the athletic skills of a player," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "Watching kids live is a positive. But we always have to keep in mind that it isn't real football. Quarterbacks don't get hit and routes run by receivers are much different without pads on. But 7-on-7 is a great way to get an evaluation of a player after watching him on film."

Despite some coaches' criticism, the benefits of 7-on-7 are clear. Practice starts in a month. Teams that do 7-on-7s see their passing games take a huge leap because coaches don't have to spend a bunch of time implementing their schemes at the beginning of camp.

Teams and players are able to develop chemistry by participating in 7-on-7s — on and off the field. Receivers are able to fine-tune their route-running responsibilities. And receivers also have the opportunity to play in space — making catches and showing off speed and athleticism by turning them into touchdowns.

"It helps in a number of ways," Utah State receiver Alex Wheat said. "When you play 7-on-7, it really helps you run better routes and do things and work on things you wouldn't normally do in a real game. But we're all competitive, so eventually we all want to hit and tackle and be tackled."

Despite tailoring heavily toward the offense, 7-on-7s benefit the other side as well. Defensive backs learn how to cover fleet receivers in space, and without the benefit of a pass rush. Secondaries work on schemes and formations. Syracuse High safety Kavika Fonua has offers from BYU and Utah. He credits the 7-on-7s for much of his ability to defend without help.

"It's good and it's bad because when it comes down to it, it's football and you have to hit," Fonua said. "But you still have to cover people and you still have to be football savvy with your schemes, and that's how 7-on-7s help. It makes you more athletic, too. It helps you a lot with knowing where to be on the field."

tjones@sltrib.com —

A 7-on-7 primer

What is 7-on-7? • An offense of a QB and receivers without linemen against a defense made up of linebackers and defensive backs

What are the big Utah events? • The University of Utah's annual Ute Shoot passing camp takes place in June.

BYU had a passing camp in mid-June. Utah will put together an all-star team that will go to Las Vegas for a national tournament later this month.

Can coaches recruit? • They don't usually like to based on 7-on-7 alone. But they do use it to gauge the athleticism of a potential recruit.