FF101: Day 2

Submitted by Space Coyote on August 17th, 2010 at 2:33 AM

Previous Classes

FF 101 - The Fundamentals: Syllabus & Day 1

FF 201 - 3-3-5 Defense: Day 1, Day 2


FF 101: Day 2 – Offense

Major Edit: I modified some of the formation names for more simplicity and universality. Let me know if any more questions arise.

Author’s Note: If you played football, whether in real life or video games, you may already know a lot of this.  Hopefully this won’t turn you off from the course too quickly.


This day in class we will look at the mindset and philosophy it takes to be successful on offense.  After that I will discuss deeper in depth the positions, the breakdown of their positional units, and some further terminology to help you get acclimated with formations and play calling.  We will end with a few simple examples.


“We have an offensive concept, an overall season plan, and strong beliefs about techniques and strategy.  But we also copy what others have done successfully and adjust our plan from week to week.” – Joe Paterno. 

Offense is very different than defense – obviously.  On defense you rely on eliminating space with the help of the boundaries, you react, you pay for errors and try to hide weaknesses, and you stymie the unexpected (by the way, all generalizations are false, including this one, but you get the idea).  On offense you attack, you strike, you surprise, you thrive in space and exploit errors and deficiencies.  There are things that the two have in common though such as speed, adaptability, opportunity, utilizing strengths, having balance, and execution.  Execution: probably the most important aspect of football.  This is the mindset of offensive football, an approach in which you play to win, win, win, humiliate through finesse and raw toughness and everything in between.   Offense is a different species, and there are many different breeds of said specie.  The goal is always the same though, to degrade and exasperate the opponent and to score touchdowns.  The killing comes later.


Obviously philosophies defer greatly.  Philosophies depend on offensive talent and personnel as well as defensive talent and personnel.   Some things remain fairly constant across philosophies though.  Finish every play, every route, every run, every block.  When you’re a receiver don’t take plays off, stretch the ball horizontally and vertically.  As a running back, help out your quarterback by blocking and running well and help out your lineman by being patient and explosive.  As a lineman, get to your spots and block through defenders.  No matter the case, execute the game plan and the offense should succeed.


Positions can be broken up into three groups, with small subgroups included.


Offensive Line:Offensive Tackle (T), Offensive Guard (G), Center (C)

Backfield:Quarterback (QB), Running Back (RB). 

                Running Back: Tailback (TB), Fullback (FB), Halfback (HB), Wing (W/WB)

Receivers: Wide Receiver (WR), Tight End (TE)

                Wide Receiver: Wide Receiver (WR), Split End (SE), Slot (SR), Wing (W), Flanker (Fl)

                Tight End: Tight End (TE), H-Back (HB/H)


So most of you knew most of this and all I probably did was confuse you more.  Anyway, to clarify, a split end is a lot like tight end playing wide receiver, and a h-back is a lot like tight end that isn’t on the line of scrimmage (LOS), a wing, or wing back, is either the third RB in the back field, the third receiver in a single back, single TE formation, or the forth receiver in a single back, four receiver set.  Flanker is like a wide receiver, typically off the line.  I will get more into their specific functions, attitudes, and goals when I break down their individual units.  

For now, I will introduce some terminology that is common in football play calling and position play calling.


1: Quarterback

2: Wingback (at times considered Z receiver (see below))

3: The Fullback

4: The Tailback


This comes into account when calling plays, such as a 34 Trap (‘3’ means the fullback running to the ‘4’ hole.  The weakside guard does a trap block) or 47 Sweep (‘4’ stands for Tailback running a sweep to the ‘7’ hole) for example.



X: The WR that is on the LOS.  This usually means this is the split out that is away from strength (typically denoted as the side with the TE).

Y: This is typically your TE, or the last man on the LOS toward the strength side.

Z: Typically your flanker, or the receiver that is off of the LOS.  This can be toward strength or away, near the offensive linemen or far from them.

W: This receiver usually subs in for one of the RBs on 4 receiver sets.  Also considered different nomenclature for the Z-receiver on occasion.


Eligible Receivers

I was asked a question about eligible receivers which I will attempt to explain here and supplement a little below.  On every play there are 5 eligible receivers (6 if you count the QB for plays such as throw backs).  At least seven players must be on the line of scrimmage.  More can be on the line of scrimmage but it decreases your number of eligible receivers.

The eligible receivers consist of anyone lined up off the LOS and the two players furthest outside that are lined up on the LOS.  Technically then, if 6 guys were lined up on the LOS to the right of the center, and none were on the LOS to his left, the center would actually be an eligible receiver because he is the last person to the outside on the LOS.

Most problems occur from: a) the tackle lining up in the backfield, making it so only 6 players are on the LOS; or b) if an extra person is on the LOS, either the extra person (who is lined up inside the outer most person on the LOS) to become ineligible or causing someone who is supposed to be eligible to be ineligible because the 8th person on the LOS is outside the person who is supposed to be the last one on the line of scrimmage.

Basic Formations:

The formations below are very basic in nature.  On Friday through Sunday you will see some formations more complex than these.  This is simply to get you acclimated with my personal terminology. (Note: any player with a letter is an eligible receiver)

*Strong - When the FB is offset toward the TE.  Sometimes known as King.

*Weak - When FB is away from TE side.  Also referred to as Queen.

Some teams prefer to call strength (i.e. left or right) based on the location of the Y receiver, typically the TE.  However, I find this can cause confusion.  In my play calling I tend to call the strength the side with the greater number of eligible receivers.  Therefore “Twins I Left” means the twin set (where more people are) is to the left.  Important to note is that this is not always the same as defensive strength calls.

(Another way of playing by some teams is just have a single call, such as “I-Formation” and then say “Flip” when going from “Right I” (their version of “I Formation”) to “Left I”.  I still prefer my own method as I find it to be clearer in nature.)

There are also some more receiver-heavy formations.

There are some similarities in shotgun play calling, though some nomenclature is a little different.  A few examples are given below.


Flex = Receiver positioning

Gun = Shotgun

Right = Position of running back


Basic Plays:

Very few plays are diagramed below.  The goal is simply to get you acclimated on how plays are called, and what the meaning behind the play call is.  In this set I won’t show detailed blocking for certain defensive alignments for simplicity.

Note: I Right 34 Trap should read "I Right 32 Trap" as the fullback goes through the 2 hole

For simplicity of the play calls, some pass plays simply go by names.  For now I will just go over these type plays, in the future we will look at more complex plays/routes.


This is all an art form, from the necessary dialog of calling a play, to the picture that is painted prior to the implementation of the actual actors playing out their roles on stage.  Offensive football is a treat to watch because of small intricacy adds up into something so grand as to make it so 11 people cannot even bring down a single person.  It can stand for so many things, the strength and intelligence of humanity, as a metaphor for the power of cohesion, or it can just be seen as football.  People love points, and I can’t blame them, but it isn’t where the beauty of the sport begins, but rather where it starts.  In our next class we will begin our look at defensive football.  Have a good day.

Note: In the near future I will try to figure out some way to have an add-on that will include a whole bunch of formations rather than just these basics.  Whether I put it on a download site to as a .pdf or power point document, or if I should embed all the formations (which is a ton, and that’s just scratching the surface) on a simple blog post, I don’t know yet.  I would like to hear suggestions or preferences if there is any demand for such a thing (and maybe how I would go about doing it).  Either way, for a basics package to be complete so that communication can become more fluent on the board, I think a package such as this is necessary.



August 17th, 2010 at 7:05 AM ^

Great work. I'm still a little confused because I thought the h back was in the backfield. Is this just a terminology difference between tb and hb where some people call big tb's halfbacks? Thanks again for these.

Space Coyote

August 17th, 2010 at 7:44 AM ^

Tailbacks have been commonly known as halfbacks as well throughout the years.  In fact, tailback and halfback are fairly interchangeable and no one would really question you.  The H-back (the tight end version) is how I described him above, and is typically referred to as such.  Someone who actually called the H-back the half back would get a lot of confused looks and people.  Therefore, I edited above to adjust this as you make a good point, he shouldn't be referred to as halfback, but rather H-Back


August 17th, 2010 at 7:18 AM ^

Love the series so far.

Thanks for putting all of this together - it will make MGoBlog a more informed and educated forum - and it will make football more interesting and enjoyable!


steve sharik

August 17th, 2010 at 10:54 AM ^

Point of contention: I would suggest using more universal names for formations rather than using yours.  I think it's much easier for you to track this info down and translate your knowledge than it would be for someone who learns yours to extrapolate to what they might hear on TV, read on the internet, etc.  I understand that certain formations have less-known universal names, but do the best you can. 

The reason this is important is that you're educating unfamiliar people who are likely to take what they've learned here and see it as universal.  Example, what you call "Wing Left (Right)" is not called that by many, many coaches, most notably coaches in the Wing-T offense.  (I don't like the Wing-T, but I do respect it.)

Space Coyote

August 17th, 2010 at 5:26 PM ^

For the most part.  I described below why I went to laser, rocket, liz, rip, tiger route.  Laser and rocket so you don't need to say gun left, gun right.  Liz and Rip are actually RR own nomenclature.  Tiger is a trips set with a different alignment.

I actually looked up playbooks and such trying to get  a feel for what was most common for some of the formations.  I do agree with what you said about wing though, and I will for sure change that when I have the time later tonight.  I will probably go away from the Rip and Liz as well, though I'm still on the fence about changing laser and rocket.  For future reference there is also barrel (like double barrel, or both) which is a gun split, and empty which is still empty. Maybe I should stick with easier convention there, I guess I'll see how many changes I make tonight, but I will take these suggestions and change them here and make sure when I finish a comprehensive formation document for them to be a little more universal.

Let me know if there are any other formations that seem uncommon.  Thanks for the input


August 17th, 2010 at 1:30 PM ^

Great stuff. I'm loving the series so far.

But I'm a bit confused with the location of the "X" receiver in some formations.

E.g., when you switch from I Right to I Left, the X receiver is switched to the opposite side as the Y receiver. I suspect if you actually audibled to reverse the play, one receiver would back away from the line, and one would step forward, switching their roles on the play, right? But is it necessary that they do that, or could you leave the strong side receiver (lined up on same side as TE in Y position) on the LOS? Is there some rule that makes that receiver have to back off the LOS if you flip the play's direction?

Also, in the Ace, the X receiver is off the line. I assume it's because with the H receiver you now already have 7 on the line, but is the X receiver still the X if he's not on the LOS (see your definition of the X receiver)?


August 17th, 2010 at 2:41 PM ^

If it's a run play, usually nobody moves.

When you're talking about reversing a run play (say like making a 32 trap into a 31 trap), nobody should move.  What happens in that specific play is that the QB reads the DT/NT positioning.  For a 32 trap to work correctly, you would want the strong side DT in a 3 tech so that the pulling LG can block him out of the hole.  This would mean the weakside DT is playing a 1 tech and the C can seal him off while the RG shoots up and blocks the Mike.

With that explained, if the QB sees the opposite lineup, he audibles into the 31 trap.  Nobody has to move.  The play will still work as intended, as the recievers and TE shouldn't even have to make key blocks for the play to succeed.

if it's a pass play and your TE shifts from left to right, yes, you would need to step off the LOS.  You also become the Z reciever in that case.

The X reciever does not have to be on the LOS.  It's just easier to think of it like that because in the majority of formations, the WR you see on the LOS will be the X.

Another example of something like that would be in something like a Flexbone formation, where you have 2 WRs on the LOS and your TE is off the LOS.  The TE is still the Y reciever, the WRs are still X and Z even though they are both on the LOS.


August 17th, 2010 at 2:10 PM ^

In the Twins I Right formation, the receivers (Twins) are to the right with the Backs stacked (I).  In the subsequent Ace Left formation, why isn't that referred to as Twins Ace Left?  The receivers (Twins) are to the left of the formation and there is only one Back.  Would it be because both recievers are off the LOS?

This is great, BTW.  Thanks.


August 17th, 2010 at 2:57 PM ^

larsonlo, no offense, but I find your terminology for formations to be confusing.  If your goal is to make it simple for your players to understand, then "laser liz" seems like a strange name to give a formation.  Neither word refers to anything football-related.

We would call "laser liz" the following: "Ace gun left."

ace = single back, four wide receivers
gun =  shotgun
left = running back aligns to the left of the QB

I know there's more than one way to skin a cat, and if that works for you and your team, then by all means go for it.  But it just always seemed to me that kids understand things easier when you simplify them and give them things they can relate to.  Everybody kid who's set foot on a playground knows what "shotgun" is and most people know what "left" is.  The only thing our kids might have to learn is the meaning of "ace."

Ace gun left > laser liz...

...because it's more descriptive and has the same number of syllables, in my opinion.

Like I said, it's great if it works for you.  I just think that simplicity is key when working with high school kids.

Space Coyote

August 17th, 2010 at 6:12 PM ^

They simply indicate the position of the running back, Laser being left, and Rocket being right in a shotgun (used because laser and rocket kind of sound like a form of weapon, i.e. gun).   When I originally wrote it up I actually had it written close to how you described.  I had "Flex Gun Left" rather than "Ace gun left", but you get the picture.  

The actual reason I switched to "Liz" and "Rip" was because it actually comes directly from Rich Rod's offensive playbook.  I figured I would use his convention assuming most people would want his terminology over conventional.  However, it appears I should stick with something more conventional and will edit these as such when I have time.

As for Tiger, it's a type of trips formation, just the placement of the X-receiver is different than my terminology for trips (inside receiver on LOS).  That is how I was taught that convention: trips, tiger, trio (outside receiver on LOS).  I agree simplicity is best for high school kids and I would never go into a coaching situation in high school having a trips, tiger, and trio set.  I would pick one and go with it.  If there is a more common name out there for these different sets I haven't used them, so I guess I would need some help from you there.

Edit: I will refer to the trips formations as "trips in" for when the inside guy is on, "trips T" for what was Tiger, and "trips out" for the outside guy on.

steve sharik

August 17th, 2010 at 11:13 PM ^

...are for 2+ backs in the formation.  When it is 1-back and/or spread, the backs don't need alignment tags.

Here's and example using your Rocket formation:

"Rocket16 Read" means Rocket formation, outside zone to the right (6 hole), and it's zone read b/c of the "Read" tag.  Do we need a RB tag?  No, b/c the fact that it's outside zone read to the right tells the back that he must line up to the left of the QB.  "Rocket Left 16 Read" would be redundant.

Space Coyote

August 18th, 2010 at 12:19 AM ^

I think the easiest form is to be slightly more redundant.  I understand that on pass (play action) and run plays the running back is essentially told where to go, which basically dictates where they line up.  I think here though, the redundancy is helpful.  So I'm going to adjust accordingly.  

Space Coyote

August 18th, 2010 at 12:11 AM ^

Mostly because I feel like it will be the easiest for those around here to pick up on, and if they forget, just thinking of the words to describe the formation should give them a reminder.  I like the laser and rocket because instead of gun right you just use one word, but I can easily see how that can be confusing (also, I've seen rocket and laser described as a formation rather than the placement of the back in gun) so I've made the switch here.


August 18th, 2010 at 1:31 AM ^

I hope I didn't come across as saying "You should change it."  I was just trying to add to the discussion and throw it out there for general knowledge, in case any other burgeoning coaches or avid learners want to read/learn.

PS: "Rocket" has been part of the terminology at both of my coaching stops - but in one place it's a screen pass, and in one place it's an off-tackle running play with a double-team on a 3-tech or 4i tackle.

Space Coyote

August 18th, 2010 at 1:27 PM ^

I think I should change it basically because your reasoning was valid.  And yeah as far as rocket, where I played rocket was a formation (a shotgun trips type formation) and another place it was to say the location of the running back in shotgun.  So apparently the use of rocket is very inconsistent so it's best to stay away from it here.

big sister

August 18th, 2010 at 10:27 AM ^

I'm already learning lots!
So, for clarification, a slot receiver is one that lines up on the line of scrimmage? Shotgun formation is when the qb lines up further behind the line?
And I don't think this was in this post, but is the wildcat when a position player directly takes the snap? Is the quarterback usually on the field for this?


August 18th, 2010 at 11:45 AM ^

Wildcat was originally the formation at Arkansas that had Darren McFadden (Running Back) taking the snaps in the old Single Wing formation. It has since been used to describe anything where a non-QB takes the snap, which isn't really correct.

The Single Wing formation involves an unbalanced offensive line (2+ more linemen on one side of the center than the other) and a RB-type player taking the snap. Usually, you will see the 5 usual linemen, a TE, and an H-Back lined up behind the line between the TE and Tackle. Then, you have 2 "receivers" on the strong side of the field and a single "receiver" on the the weak side of the field. One of those "receivers" is the QB so that when the play is called in the huddle, the defense cannot adjust its personnel to new players coming in.

The most common play is an Off Tackle type run. Other plays have been thrown in to keep defenses honest, but they aren't used as much. An example of this is when the Dolphins started out with the Off Tackle run, but then reversed the ball to Henne, who threw the ball deep to a wide-open receiver because the defense had completely bit on the run.

Space Coyote

August 18th, 2010 at 1:25 PM ^

The slot receiver is usually off the line.  Basically, a slot is in the "slot" or gap between the outside receiver and the offensive line.  Shotgun is when the quarterback lines up about 4-5 yards behind the center and takes the snap, and wildcat is pretty much as mentioned above.  I'll get more into wildcat and stuff perhaps on the next cycle of things.


August 18th, 2010 at 1:41 PM ^

As someone who never played and had zero interest in the sport until my freshman year at Michigan I have always been missing some of the basic fundamentals.  I look forward to future "classes".


August 28th, 2010 at 2:41 PM ^

I've followed football my whole life, and have considered myself fairly knowledgeable.  However, since I never played the game, your explanation of the eligible receivers was the first time I ever learned who was eligible and why.  The rest of the entry was very helpful as well - thanks for this, looking forward reading the rest of the entries.