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Saturday, September 04, 2004

Long Live the Single Wing

Tigerhawk's guest poster, Charlottesvillian, wrote recently about the single-wing offense. This should be required reading for all students of football.

I have thought for a long time that the quarterback-dominated offense has limited the options a team can have, especially in terms of deception, and, especially when facing linebackers who weigh 250 pounds and can run a 4.5 forty. If quarterbacks are fleet, they usually aren't good throwers, and if they can pass, so the legend goes, they are not fast. Michael Vick is an exception, of course, but he's not off to the best pre-season, so those who have reserved his bust in Canton should wait just a little bit. So offenses become easier to predict as the defenses get quicker.

Hold that bit of information in the RAM part of your brain, and think about the recent article in SI's preview issue about how Pete Carroll and Nick Saban recruit athletes. Kids who are fast, kids who are tough, some of whom play QB in high school. These kids are the best athletes on their teams, so their coaches pick them to run the show. They pitch, play shortstop and bat cleanup in baseball (if they still play 3 sports), and they run the point in basketball (again, if they play three sports). And there are many kids like this all across the country.

It's hard to find true innovation at the major football programs, because they always get enough kids to dominate both sides of the line of scrimmage. Sure, they might run some counter treys, some reverses, and an occasional flea flicker, but if you can grind it out and simply have better personnel, you do not have to get that fancy.

The problem is that even the lower DI schools don't get that innovative. Why? Because they're hoping to get the key recruits on offense too, and you won't necessarily win over those recruits with unique innovation. Those key recruits are kids, and those kids dream of the NFL whether they're getting a scholarship to Akron or to USC. The fleet QB wants to play QB, he doesn't want to be Antwan Randle-El (whose career has turned out fine) or Michael Robinson of Penn State, the man without a position. He wants to play a position that is played in the NFL. After all, the college coaches are the ones who recruit the athletes who can play many positions; the NFL GMs aren't looking to do that except in an exceptional case.

As a result, the lower echelon DI schools are lemmings, and their futility is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Temple, for example, doesn't have a great tradition, and Bobby Wallace, who was successful in DII, won't build one if he tries to follow the prototypical offensive schemes that the more successful schools do. So Temple will finish 3-8 perenially, and there will be occasional hues and cries to drop the sport or drop down a division.

I am not that familiar with Division II, but Division I-AA might fall prey to a similar analysis, unless, perhaps, you play in the Patriot or Ivy Leagues. So, in a way, I took to DIII for the ultimate in offensive innovation, an innovation which will be copied, no doubt, at least in part, at the higher levels. And some coach in DIII might take the chance, precisely because it's DIII, it's more cerebral, and while the passion for the game is there, the "must-win" aspect of it is not.

If you've read this far, your logical question is, "what the heck is he talking about?" And, that's a good question, because you must think that everything that has been invented in football, with the long hours coaches put in, has already been invented.

But it hasn't. I'd been meaning to write this post for a while, and Charlottesvillian's post spurred me on to doing it now. The mention of the single wing got me to thinking. And I'm not looking to reincarnate that once-mighty offense.

What I am looking to do is to play about four to six players at a time on offense who all can run, pass and catch. They all don't have to be former HS QBs, but prior experience as a HS QB surely wouldn't hurt. I'd also have the offensive gurus contemplate running all plays from either the same formation or, at least, different formations, all of which are symmetrical, so that the defenses can't anticipate based upon weak- or strong-side tendencies. You'd also have quick linemen, even if they're smaller, who can pull, sweep and run the counter trey. And you'd dazzle the opposition with players in motion, so that you might have different "utility" players taking the snap on successive downs, and you don't know what the player who receives the snap is going to do with the ball. Deception. Execution. Keeping the bigger, more-talented teams guessing.

Of course, this type of offense would require a great deal of unselfishness and choreography, but at the end of the day you'd be maximizing your athletic ability and you wouldn't place all of your eggs in one basket -- that of the star QB. The system would be paramount, and inevitably you'd have several stars, but the bottom line is that you'll have many skilled players generating all types of offense.

I don't know whether you could create this offense, whether you could sell it to any recruits, or whether it would work. What I do know is that in today's game, you need a sterling QB or two to have a shot at a national title, and it's hard to find more than one of those players. And it's also hard to find outstanding RBs, QBs and WRs on all but say the top 10 teams. So why not innovate? At least part of the time. Get the ball to your great athletes and see what they can do with it. And, in the process, don't worry about the possibilities if an injury would happen to the star QB, star RB or star WR. With all of these good athletes, you'll have several kids who can help take your game to the next level.

Because unless you're a perennial top 25 team, you're always going to be looking for the once-in-a-generation player who could help take you to the next level. And, unless you find that type of savior, or maybe a few of them, even in this bowl-happy era in which we live, you'll always be looking to even get into a pre-Christmas bowl game sponsored by some company that won't outlast the next stock market crash. And once in a while, you'd be lucky to do so.

Call it the Multi-Flex, the SportsProf Formation, call it whatever you will. But with all those good athletes out there, you would think that someone might want to try it.

The West Coast Offense can't possibly be the last innovation on offense, and neither can the Cover 2 be the last innovation on defense.

So what's next?

Bet on the Multi-Flex.

And long live the Single Wing!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, sorry to dredge up a year-old post, but I stumbled across this in my Net wanderings and wanted to share. I'm a HS football coach in Eastern North Carolina, and I've been playing around with something similar to what you're talking about. I've tinkered with an offense based on a trips-open shotgun formation, more or less using that as the only real set. Anything else would simply be a derivation of that.

As far as the single wing elements, I've drawn up some plays putting the Z-receiver in motion and snapping it directly to him, then running the offense off of that, passing and running, as well as direct snapping the ball to the halfback and throwing and running from there, including using the QB as a receiver/back.

I'm just a lowly assistant at this point in my career, but I'm still young (23), so the Football Gods willing, I'll be able to run my offense at some point in the future. So if you hear about a funky offense coming out of the plains in Eastern NC, know that the SportsProf dream lives on.

Coach Cassino
Northeastern HS

9:16 AM  
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