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Back to Old School III: Lights, Camera, ...

The third part of the Single Wing series.  Parts one and two may be read here and here, respectively.

In this section, I'll draw up a few of the traditional Single Wing plays.  This is by no means comprehensive, but it should show how the plays are designed and how flexible the formation truly is.

First, getting back to the formation, I should now point out that the Single Wing takes on many shapes.  For example, the backfield may be altered just slightly:



Figure 5 - Another Variation on the Single Wing

By moving the Quarterback up a touch, the running lanes are completely changed on the strongside.  It gets harder for the linebackers to see what's happening in the backfield once the play begins. because the backfield players are closer to the road graders.  Now you have the option of three different pulling "guards" - the two Guards and the Quarterback.  Reverses and traps are also easier to disguise.  The penalty is that the Quarterback has fewer options because he's so close the linemen.  But such a little change allows for big differences in execution of some plays and can keep a defense guessing.

Other changes include: splitting the Ends wide, placing the Quarterback on the opposing side, dropping the Tailback <i>deep</i>, or any combination thereof. But from here forward, I'll stick to the basic Single Wing.  I will allow myself the luxury of moving backfield players around just a bit for the sake of drawing play arrows, but the changes won't substantially change the play.  We'll all be thankful as my drawing skills are tested.

We'll look first at a simple power play.  The ball carrier will be highlighted in each picture to help the plays make sense.  Linemen motions won't be shown, partly because there are a lot of options and partly to reduce the clutter.  (Linemen assignments are actually very fascinating reads if you have the time, though.)


Figure 6 - Power Run

Here, the Wingback helps the End, the Quarterback blocks according to the defensive formation and the fullback seals the outside.  Since the motion is directed to the strong side, the weak side doesn't really need any help.  Those defenders are chasers.  This is a classic 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust play; if the offense can consistently gain on this, it'll be a long day for the defense.  The backfield blockers can be reassigned depending on the defensive formation and the strengths/weaknesses of various players.  It's a very easy play for a Single Wing team to run and adapt to their players.  But let's make one little change:


Figure 7 - Wingback Reverse

If the offense has established an effective power running game, this reverse can be a killer.  Typically, a steady diet of power runs will cause the weakside defenders to cheat toward the strongside to assist on the play.  This play exploits that tendency.  Note one particular feature about this: the Wingback crosses the running lanes of all three other backfield defenders.  That makes this reverse a particularly difficult reverse to read since the overwhelming motion is to the strongside.  Not only that, but you can fake the reverse while still wielding plenty of blocking power for the Tailback.  This is a linebacker's nightmare.

Now focus on the Wingback himself for a bit.  Having a player flanking the End gives incredible versatility to a formation.  He's in a good position for blocking (and even pulling like a guard).  He can run pass patterns; when both he and the End run pass patterns, the coverage assignments get very tricky very fast.  He is also set up nicely to run the ball on occasion, particularly for a fast reverse.

That should give you a basic idea of the Single Wing.  In essence, it shifts the focus of the offensive line away from the Center and onto a player who isn't burdened by a snapping motion.  The Wingback provides a lot of versatility as a blocker, runner or receiver.  Having two potential (athletic) targets ({cough} Jones, {cough} Berry) for the snap makes the defense pause to figure out who'll get the ball. 

Now we'll have some fun with some plays you've probably never seen before.


Figure 8 - Quick Kick

That's correct: this is normally a third-down punting formation known as a Quick Kicking Formation.  It's inconceivable to our modern football minds that punting would occur prior to fourth down, but it used to be quite common when football was very defensively oriented.  Imagine this scenario: 3rd down and 23 to go from your own 10 yard line.  The odds of a first down are very slim.  Unless you get at least 15 yards, the opposing team will enjoy terrific starting position.  On a normal punting play, a defender is waiting deep to catch the ball and run on the spot.  Need a reminder? (If you're pregnant, have a heart condition, or just plain feeling queasy, you might consider the anti-emetic versions of the following plays. -- ed.)


Cal Football - Desean Jackson Punt Return TD vs Tennessee (via WebWideLeader)

Brandon James Punt Return TD vs Tenn. (via tbiv81)

That hurt me more than it hurt you.  But you get the point: there might be a method behind the 3rd-down punting madness.  In particular, the defense won't have a punt returner lined up on 3rd down.  All you need is a half-decent kick that get the ball rolling downfield and you have the possibility of a 50+ yard punt with no return.  I certainly don't expect to see this from UT, but it's fun brain candy if nothing else.

Now here's my favorite Single Wing variation: the return of the Wedge!


Figure 9 - The Wedge

For a little history, the Flying Wedge was banned from football due to the sheer number of injuries/fatalities in the game.  (Trivia:  the ban was enacted when Teddy Roosevelt threatened to outlaw football due to the rate of injuries.  This resulted in the single most significant change of rules to football and permanently separated football from rugby.)  The Flying Wedge was the principal reason for the rule of 7 men on the line of scrimmage as it made the formation impossible to run.  But a Wedge is still possible and is often run at the high school level by Single Wing teams.  Remember the benefit of not having the center in the middle of the line?  This is a fantastic example of the gains of having a guard as the focal point.

As the ball is snapped, the lead guard pushes straight downfield, no matter what the defense.  Even if there's nobody lined up directly in front of him, he pushes straight forward and sets the tip of the Wedge.  Since he doesn't have to bother with snapping the ball, he can get up quickly to form the tip of the Wedge.  The other Guard and the Center fall in a little bit back.  They, too, push straight forward once they get in position, no matter the defense.  The Quarterback comes in to help - particularly for the Center - and reinforces the three key linemen.  The remaining linemen fill out the Wedge with the same mentality: set the Wedge and push forward, no matter what the defense.  The reason that I show the Tailback running to the side is that the Wedge can be a set-up play.  If the offense runs the ball up the middle enough, the defenders will look to stop the Wedge.  That gives a chance for a handoff (or direct snap) to the Tailback for a sweep.  With all the clutter in the middle, most of the defense will not see the Tailback with the ball and a potential home-run shot is in play.

I seriously doubt we'll see a 3rd-down kick or a Wedge play this year, but they are fun to look at and they show that we tend to think of football strategy in much narrower terms than is posisible.  Tomorrow, I'll introduce a case study to show how the Single Wing can be used in the modern game.  As it turns out, you're already very familiar with the Single Wing; you just might not have known that.