As offenses have evolved to using more three and four receiver formations over the last several years, the fullback position has been declared nearly extinct. Here at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, we use 11 (one back, one tight end) and 12 (one back, two tight ends) as our base personnel groups. In order to run plays that require a fullback, we have combined the tight end and fullback positions into one. This allows us to be as diverse as possible within those personnel groups, which makes us harder to prepare for. From 11 personnel we have the ability to use the tight end as a fullback, true tight end or receiver to create any 20-personnel, 11-personnel or 10-personnel formation. As a coordinator, you are limited only by the ability of your players to learn new concepts and your own creativity. The first way that we accomplish this is by backing our tight end off the ball into a wing position, Y-Off. That is what this article will focus on.
One of our basic philosophies on offense is to run a small core number of plays from as many different personnel groups, formations and motions as possible. We can keep things simple for our linemen and running back by running several different zone blocked run plays and use the tight end as the adjuster. We teach our players the zone concept itself before we install any zone plays. By definition, each lineman is responsible for their playside gap on zone plays:
- Frontside Tight End: Frontside D Gap
- Frontside Tackle: Frontside C Gap
- Frontside Guard: Frontside B Gap
- Center: Frontside A Gap
- Backside Guard: Backside A Gap
- Backside Tackle: Backside B Gap
- Backside Tight End: Backside C Gap
Once our players understand the zone concept itself, we can move onto specific plays within the zone concept. “Force” tells our tight end that he is responsible for the playside force player. The offensive line blocks zone rules. This play can also be run from 10 personnel (slot is now responsible for the force player) or 12 personnel. Inside-, mid- or outside-zone footwork/aiming points can be used in the backfield. If you have an athletic quarterback, you can read the backside end by adjusting the mesh with the quarterback and running back (see Read play below).
Next, we install the “Slice” play. To the offensive line, Force and Slice are the exact same play. Again, this play can be run with inside-, mid- or outside-zone footwork/aiming points in the backfield. Slice tells the tight end that he is now responsible for the backside C gap. He will take a six-inch-width step with his inside foot, while pointing his toe to the sideline, and hug the heel line of the offensive line to his assignment. It is important that the tight end shifts his weight in his stance to his outside foot so that he can step with the inside foot without false stepping. He will attack the C-gap defender with his inside shoulder (pull left, hit left and vice versa). As a change-up, we will chop the inside thigh board of the C-gap defender, especially if the defender is aggressive in squeezing the hole. Slice can be executed from 10 personnel by motioning a receiver into a wing alignment pre-snap and crossing the formation at the snap. It is important to note that in order to block below the waist on this play, the slicer must start within the tackle box and stay within the tackle box on any pre-snap motion.
“Lock” adjusts the backside blocking of the zone play. From the center to the frontside, this play is the same as Force or Slice up front. The backside guard and tackle are now manned up instead of responsible for their playside gap. Lock tells the tight end that he is responsible for the backside linebacker. The tight end will use the same square pull technique on this play that a backside guard would use on Power. He will take a six-inch-width step with his inside foot while keeping his toes pointed downfield. He will then shuffle or skip, depending on the coach’s preference and wrap through the first open window backside of the center. If the carioca pull (crossing over the outside foot as the first step) is preferred, that is fine as well. As he is pulling, the tight end must track his assignment and attack him down the midline, giving the back a two-way cut. Just like Slice, Lock can be executed out of 10 personnel by motioning a receiver into a wing alignment pre-snap. To the quarterback and running back, Lock is no different than the base zone play in terms of footwork, aiming points and reads.
Just like Lock, “Wham” is normal zone blocking up front from the center to the frontside. The tight end is to trap the first down lineman backside of the center. This adjusts the backside guard’s and tackle’s assignments. The backside guard will release to the backside linebacker and the backside tackle is now manned up on the end (same as Lock to him). Since the tight end is blocking a first-level defender, his initial footwork is the same as Slice. He will attack the inside number of his assignment with his inside shoulder and can chop his inside thigh board as a change-up (as long as he aligns within the tackle box and stays within the tackle box on any pre-snap motion). The quarterback and running back will execute base Zone. The only difference on this play is the back must understand that it is difficult to cut back all the way behind the wham block by the tight end.
We prefer to run the “Read” play from the pistol alignment instead of from an off-set shotgun alignment because the defense doesn’t know pre-snap which way you are running the play. From the pistol, the play can be run in either direction and either defensive end can end up being the read key. The offensive line simply executes their normal zone assignments on Read. The tight end will begin on his slice path at the snap. His aiming point is now the outside shoulder of the C gap defender instead of the inside shoulder. He will bluff the defender and then wrap upfield to the most dangerous threat. He becomes the lead blocker if the quarterback keeps the ball. It is vital that the quarterback step off the midline on this play to allow the back to get downhill. The timing of the mesh is vital to the play as well. We teach our backs to move as the ball hits the quarterback’s hands on read plays instead of moving at the snap as he would on zone. This allows the quarterback time to gather the snap, take the correct footwork and make the correct read.
Running Zone away from the tight end can be very effective. Many coaches prefer this play in order to run it at the low shade (Nose) instead of to the three technique (Tackle). This allows for double teams on both interior down lineman. Assignments up front are still the playside gap. If the tight end has trouble getting the backside end cutoff, short or return motion pre-snap to get the tight end into the A or B gap will help him with his angle to get a cutoff.
Lock to the weak side is no different than Lock to the strong side. From the center to the front side blocks zone assignments. The backside guard and tackle are manned up and the tight end is responsible for the backside linebacker. When lined up on the backside of the play, the tight end will enter through the open A gap (vs. a three technique) or B gap (vs. a shaded nose or 2i technique).
Read to the weak side means normal zone rules to the offensive line. Since the tight end is already aligned to the backside, he simply arcs outside the defensive end (read key) and leads on the most dangerous defender.
A few notes to remember when designing a game plan with Y-Off formation(s).
- Tight end motion can be used to get desired match-ups, such as running a play to a shaded nose or three technique, or at a particular defensive player. It is easy to install tight end motion across the formation, short motion or return motion, as well as motioning the tight end (or a receiver) from a slot or outside receiver alignment to a wing alignment at the snap.
- Gap schemes such as Power and Counter, as well as Man schemes such as Iso or Wrap, can also be run with the Y off the ball. Again, you are only limited by the ability of your players to execute and your own creativity when it comes to installing plays.
- All of the plays discussed above can be run from 12 personnel by stacking both tight ends on the same side of the formation (one on the ball and one off the ball) or from a balanced formation with one tight end on the ball and the tight end on the opposite side of the formation off the ball.
- We believe that every running play in the offense should also have a minimum of one play-action pass that looks the exact same for at least the first three steps of the play. Below are some examples of play actions off of zone concepts.
Slice play action is a very effective seven-man protection scheme. The offensive line is responsible for their playside gap (just as on slice). We teach them to use the exact same technique that they would use on slice for three hard steps in order to keep their pad level low and not give the play away to the defense. On contact or after three steps (whichever comes first), they will snap their head out and execute normal slide pass protection. The tight end will use the same technique as slice but will adjust his aiming point to the midline of the C-gap defender. The quarterback will sell the handoff and then setup in the playside A gap. The running back will sell the fake and then help to the frontside of the protection, checking the edge first and then cancelling gaps to the inside, picking up the most dangerous defender. If desired, the back can be put on a check release to give the quarterback a check-down option. It should be noted that this protection is vulnerable to a four-man weak side pressure. To counter that, the back can be told to scan pre-snap to help on the weak side if needed.
Lock play action is another seven-man protection scheme. Assignments for the offensive line are the same as lock. Techniques are taught the same as the Slice play action with three hard steps showing Lock. The only adjustments that need to be made are for the backside guard and tackle. Since they are manned up, they must adjust their aiming point to the midline. Also, the tight end is responsible for any backside edge pressure if they clear their base assignment (the backside linebacker). The backfield action for this play is the same as Slice play action and the back can be on a check release if preferred. The same four-man weak side pressure issue can be taken care of with the scan technique of the back discussed above.
Assignments for Zone play action away from the tight end are the same as for the Zone play. The offensive line and tight end are responsible for their playside gap and will sell the running play for three hard steps. Backfield action is also the same with the same possible adjustments by the running back (check release or scan backside).
Many coaches prefer to get four vertical threats in the route immediately. To accomplish this, the tight end can be put on a free release and a six-man protection can be used. If you are a team that uses turn protection (half-man/half-slide) as one of your dropback protections, it can also be used in play action. Techniques are adjusted just as they would be for the play actions mentioned above. The back’s assignment mirrors the tight end’s assignment on Lock play action. He must be taught to recognize four-man pressures from either side pre-snap and adjust accordingly.
The threat of a Boot or Naked can make your running game much more effective. Even if your quarterback is not a very good athlete, these are still essential elements to an offense. It is important that the boot looks the exact same as the Zone play for as long as possible. If the tight end is aligned to the play fake (away from where the quarterback is rolling to), he will execute slice technique at the snap. Just like on Read, he will adjust his aiming point to the outside shoulder of the defender. If the C-gap defender works upfield, based off the athleticism of your quarterback, he may have to stay in to protect him. Regardless, the tight end cannot be in a hurry to get out in the route. Once your quarterback breaks contain, he has the option to run or pass.
On Boot with the tight end aligned away from the play fake (to where the quarterback is rolling to), he will execute his cutoff technique for at least three steps, preferably five steps. An important coaching point is for the tight end to get his hat to the playside number of his assignment to force the defender to react. If he is impatient about getting into his route, the defender will have a chance to react to the play too quickly. Again, the tight end must be taught that his No. 1 priority is protection and if the defender does sniff the play out, he has to stay in and protect.
While many coaches consider the fullback position obsolete, we feel that in order to be as diverse as possible on offense, it is essential. By aligning the tight end off the ball, we can still threaten the defense with four vertical threats while also keeping the threat of runs and play actions that require a fullback.
Justin Iske was on the staff at Southwestern Oklahoma State University from January 2015 until December 2017. In his two years at SWOSU as the Offensive Line Coach and Co-Offensive Coordinator, Iske coached 10 offensive players who received all-conference recognition and helped lead the Bulldogs to a bowl game appearance. Prior to arriving in Weatherford, he was the offensive line coach at Fort Hays State University for four seasons. Other stops in Iske’s career include: Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Fort Scott Community College, Arizona Western College, Southwest Minnesota State University, Northern State University, Midland Lutheran College and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The 2017 season marked Coach Iske’s 22nd year coaching college football.