Why the I? An Overv...

[Sticky] Why the I? An Overview...  


Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 847
October 30, 2018 7:24 am  

OK, so the post I had about possibly putting together some materials has kind of evolved into an "I Formation" thread, so I thought I'd copy and paste some of the stuff I'd posted over there and put it here in one spot where other coaches can find it easily.  I hope it's useful.

The I formation dominated football for decades.  It began its rise to fame in the early 60s at USC, where dominant Tailbacks like OJ Simpson and Marcus Allen ran over, around, and through competitors for countless rushing yards and wins.  It only grew in popularity from there.  In the 90s, it seemed like everyone and their brother ran it, but many ran it very poorly and gave the offense a bad name.  It's no longer sexy.  It's no longer "cutting edge."  People who only know football from what they see on TV think it sucks because the QB isn't having to catch a pass 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

So why should you learn it?

Because, quite simply, it is still the foundation of modern offensive football.  Every spread offense, every West Coast Offense, every H-Back set you see on Saturday or Sunday--they all trace their roots to the classic I formation.  The I is not just a playbook and it's not just one stubborn mentality where you have to be bigger and stronger than your opponent to make it work--any offense works when you have that.  Rather, think of the I as a platform that will allow your players to showcase their abilities and give you something that you, as a coach can be easily adapt to different philosophies, types of talent, and opponents.  It's great for the undermanned school that may only have 1 kid they trust to carry the ball.  It's also great for the talent-laden team who has studs everywhere that need opportunities to do their thing.  In essence, everything worth doing can be done from the I formation: running the ball, dropback passing, sprint out passing, option, RPOs, you name it.

I will caution you that what makes the I work isn't the formation itself.  The I gives you great angles to attack inside and off tackle, and having 2 backs gives excellent pass protection and option potential... but it's not magic.  The magic lies in teaching it, coaching it, and adjusting it correctly.  If you want to be good in the I, you need to get good at coaching kids on fundamentals like how to downblock, how to kick out, and how to run with the football.  If you're a Double Wing or Single Wing coach, you'll find that a lot of the concepts you know there will translate.  If you're a spread coach, you may salivate at the idea of throwing downfield at 8 and 9 man boxes.  You can apply whatever you already know to it... but there is probably still a lot of room for you to learn as a coach and grow.  By the time you've really learned the I, you'll feel like Neo seeing the Matrix when you're coaching other offenses and be able to trouble shoot and adjust things accordingly.  And the best part is... it's really not that complicated.

First off,  I want to stress again that "the I formation" is just a formation.  You can actually use it to run different styles of offense and is best thought of as a platform that can be used to deploy any kind of offensive attack you want.  It's usually thought of as a running formation where the TB gets all the glory, but it can also be used as a platform for triple option (like Air Force sometimes uses) or even a passing offense.  Old school passing offenses like Air Coryell, Steve Spurrier's Fun'n'Gun, Bobby Bowden's "Fast Break," and Mike Holmgren's offense in Green Bay all based out of the I back in the day.  Others, like Tom Osborne's great Nebraska teams of the 80s and 90s, blended pro-style with option to create some of college football's best rushing attacks of all time.

The most well-known and popular version is the Pro I and that's what we'll primarily discuss first.  That's what USC made famous in the 60s and 70s and what teams like Stanford still base out of today.  It was popularized by Jon McKay, an all-state SW "triple threat TB" in HS who struggled to have much success in a T formation offense as a college RB.  When he got into coaching he remembered how much better he was in his playing days when he got the ball with some depth so he could see the holes develop and then come downhill to hit them with a head of steam.  From there, he dusted off the old 3 back Maryland I formation and tweaked it to be more "modern" with a Flanker and a SE.

The I formation he made popular was basically a mix of the Pro-Style offense of Paul Brown from the NFL (which operated out of split backs--this is the offense that fed Jim Brown and Marion Motley the ball back in the day) and the Single Wing.  The philosophy, as he explained it, was to make running the ball similar to having your best hitter take most of the at-bats in baseball or letting your best shooter take most of your shots in basketball.  He figured that if you could get away with putting your best hitter up in 7/9 spots, you'd be crazy not to play those odds--and football allowed him to do that with the I formation TB.

Ideally that TB is a stud, but even if you don't have a stud, you've still got at least one guy on your team who's more dangerous with the ball than the rest.  Find him and put the ball in his hands so he gets the lion's share of the touches.  At USC, McKay had a bunch of stud TBs, but their skills were all different--some were big and fast, some were just big and mean, and others were small but shifty.  They were all successful.  Many made All America teams and won Heismans.  Once you are in the I formation, you will never again worry about your best athlete not getting the ball enough.

McKay combined this idea with a QB who was a passing specialist, like in the pro-style offense, who could control multiple defenders through the threat of bootlegs and QB Keeps (and, just as important, fake bootlegs and fake QB keeps), dropback pass, and the PAP--the backside DE had to respect the bootleg or keep and the S had to respect the threat of the PAP, so the QB could control at least 2 or even 3-4 defenders at one time to take some of the load off the RB.

The other key to the offense, besides the OL, was the Flanker, who would be responsible for most of the formation adjustments.  This was ideally a pretty good WR who could go in motion, line up in different places, and insert into the play to block different guys (crack LBs, pin DEs, kick out backside DEs, and run reverses) as well as run routes.

So once you have those 3 positions set (and the QB doesn't have to be that good and the flanker doesn't need to be that fast), you find another WR who can catch a little and block a little, then find your 7 best blockers and put them at the OL, TE, and at FB to open holes for the TB to do his thing.  They don't need to be super talented or huge--they just need to be well coached on how to block.  You put in a small number of run plays and just practice those over and over again to perfection, teaching the TB how to see the creases develop and anticipate which hole to hit so your best runner becomes even better as the game and season goes on.

The base plays for the pro I are Power, Counter, Iso, and Toss Sweep.  Throw in a Power Pass, a Bootleg, and a few basic dropback and sprint out passes and you've just about got the whole thing.  Trap, Inside Zone, and Outside Zone can also be useful additions, but you want to be careful about adding too much or asking your players to do stuff they just aren't particularly suited for.  Instead of adding plays, you can use formation tweaks (unbalanced, Twins, flanker lined up as a WB, motioning, nasty splits, etc.) to leverage a defense.  Once you start moving your FB, Flanker, and maybe TE around you can create just about any look under the sun.

It's nothing flashy and new, but it works if you know how to teach it and how to adjust it.  The under center snap makes bad snaps almost non-existent, and while the TB is lined up deeper, he still hits the hole quicker than a RB does in the shotgun because he can start moving towards the LOS on the snap while the QB brings the ball back to him.  The under center QB allows for better deception as long as you've got him faking and hiding the ball, rather than just handing the ball off and standing there like he's waiting on some popcorn.  Having both RBs in the middle of the formation allows you to deploy both to either side of the field equally well, and the FB (who's your best pulling G, but lined up in the backfield) creates a second gap on the move wherever he inserts into the play. Unlike most other offenses, you will never, ever have to worry about your best player not getting enough touches or being taken out of the game once you put him at TB in the I.

And that's just the most popular version.  As I said earlier, it's an excellent option platform, but the philosophy and teaching there is very different.  Basically, take the Flexbone, but take your best A-Back and line him up about 6-7 yards deep as a TB to use as your pitch back and an occasional complimentary runner on Toss Sweep, Iso, and Counter.  All the other complimentary plays and veer coaching points from the Flexbone carry over just fine.  You lose the motion and the ability to always run to a 2 receiver side, but you make up for it in simplicity and specialization.

Then you had passing offenses using it as their base because they still wanted their best TB carrying the ball when they ran it, but they also wanted to have a 7 man protection (and different types of 7 man protection to block wherever the rush is coming from) to give their QBs time to throw downfield.  Steve Spurrier's base offense during his glory years was lining up in the I, then running Lead Draw and PAP off the Lead Draw, as well as other dropback passes that stretched the field deep.  Don Coryell was similar and actually learned the I formation and its running game from McKay at USC.

So... anyway... that's a start to the I.  The further posts in this thread will go a little more in depth, starting with the classic Pro I look that McKay made famous at USC.

Dusty Ol Fart
Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 7622
Club Admin
October 30, 2018 7:43 am  

Looking forward to the next installment.  πŸ˜‰

Not MPP... ONE TASK!  Teach them!  πŸ™‚

Bob Goodman
Joined: 10 years ago
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October 30, 2018 7:45 am  

If you want to be good in the I, you need to get good at coaching kids on fundamentals like how to downblock, how to kick out,

Not so, because I've seen many decent-to-excellent youth teams running "the" I formation that did neither of those things at all.

Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 1497
October 30, 2018 8:09 am  

Not so, because I've seen many decent-to-excellent youth teams running "the" I formation that did neither of those things at all.

That's probably more a commentary on the quality of the defensive coaching than anything.

Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 847
October 30, 2018 8:12 am  

The base scheme of the Pro I is a small handful of core run plays:

Runs: Power, Counter, Iso, and Toss Sweep
Compliments: Power Pass, Counter Bootleg, Toss PAP (either a bootleg or a pop pass), Iso Keep Pass
Nice but not always 100% good fits: FB Trap, Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Double Option

The passing game should largely be based around your QB's skill level.  Focus on the routes he can throw well.  I'll get more into the passing game later.

Build the entire offense around Power and attacking bubbles.  Power is the base play that sets up everything else in this offense.  It plays the same role that Inside Veer plays in the Flexbone, Inside Zone Read plays in the spread, or Buck Sweep plays in the Wing-T.  In this respect, it has a lot in common with the Double Wing and Single Wing.  All of your adjustments and playcalling work off Power to either keep it alive against anything you see or punish the defense for doing something that takes away Power.  It is the key and it is the play you will hang your hat on above all others in the Pro I.

The If/Then sheet for the Pro I is pretty straightforward.

A or B gap bubble?  Run Iso (or Trap)
C gap bubble?  Run Power
D gap bubble?  Toss Sweep (or double option) or maybe Power as a sweep.

Basic play calling:

BSLB making the tackle on Power?  Run Counter.

3 tech blowing up the double team?  Trap him (or just, you know... don't run at him).

S or DB/overhang LB making the tackle on Power?  Run Power Pass--even with a bad passing game, you need to have this play if you're a Power team.

BSDE chasing down the play?  Run a bootleg off a Counter action--same as above regarding the pass.

Have at least one play that goes away from the FB so he doesn't just take the defense to the ball every time.  That's usually GT Counter, but it can also be a split inside zone play or something else, like a toss sweep or outside zone.

Some technique things that make it work better:

1.)  Make sure all OL keep their eyes on their inside gap and inside arm free to pick up run throughs, especially the backside A gap run through.

2.)  Make sure your OL work towards the 1st LB head up or backside of the C on their down blocks.

3.)  Back the OL off the ball as far as possible (hand on the C's heel).  Have all OL open completely flat with head in front on down blocks as a default.  If you get the rare head reader who doesn't step upfield, then adjust to put their head behind the block and inside shoulder on him.

4.)  Have the RB aim for A gap and jam it in there if there's a hole.  This sets up the blocks and keeps it going downhill.  He can slide out behind the T if A gap is congested.

5.)  Make sure your FB is running a "banana path" where he steps up into the LOS for 2 steps (basically up to pulling G depth on trap) before turning out and fitting with head inside the kick out block and his outside shoulder/outside foot up on the block.

6.)  Have the QB run the handoff as a "hockey-stick" path where he hands off playside and then keeps rolling that way to fake Power Pass and influence the DE and secondary.  Make sure the QB is always carrying out a good Power Pass fake when he doesn't have the ball!!!!!

7.)  Skip pull the BSG with shoulders square and have him track the PSLB while looking for a lane to turn up into, like a RB.  TB can just follows his butt through the hole.

Some adjustments to tag to Power:

1. DE blowing up the kick out?
a.) Pin a 7 tech with the TE and run Sweep, or motion a Flanker in to block down on a 6 or 9 to run Sweep
b.) Tag the play to fan block him with the T and have FB and BSG insert for a B gap Blast play (also good for handling a stud MLB)
c.) Tag the play so that the FB logs the DE and the RB bounces outside.
d.) Tag the play with a "G" tag to tell the C and backside OL to all scoop their playside gap while the T and TE block down.  PSG will pull and kick out the DE while the FB will lead for PSLB.

2.  BSDE chasing and screwing up the play?
a.)  Run Counter and a Counter Pass, as suggested above.
b.)  Run Power as a toss to the RB, who'll catch off tackle and cut up.  QB simply tosses, then turns around to get in DE's way (LSU used to do this under Les Miles)
c.)  Motion a flanker into the box and have him kick out/at least get in the BSDE's way.

3.  S or OLB coming up hard in force?
a.)  Run Power to C gap instead of D and have the TE arc release while PST blocks.

4.  Stud MLB killing the play?
a.)  Tag the play to fan block the DE, as described above, and double team the MLB with the BSG and FB shoulder to shoulder in B gap.

5.)  DL and LBs just shooting gaps and getting penetration?
a.)  Make sure they're using proper down block technique (opening flat, eyes on inside gap during the play, inside arm free)
b.)  Cut splits down to 6" so there's no gap to shoot inside--this will compress the lanes for Trap and Iso, though.

6.)  Backside DT getting penetration and affecting the play?
a.)  Use the "G" tag described above.

Some formation stuff you can do:

1.  Go Tackle Over with Twins to the same side.  This is usually good for pulling an overhang or OLB out of the box and opening up the off tackle area.  Doesn't change the blocking.  TE Trade is in the same vein and good against teams who set their 3 tech to the strength.

2.  Nasty Split the TE to 2-3 yards wide in a 3 pt. stance.  This puts the DE in a bind.  If he comes down to a 5, pin him and run sweep.  If he widens, kick him on Power.  If you add a Flanker inside him, you can mess with what a defense can do.

3.  Don't underestimate the power of changing personnel to put another big body (or if you have a big flanker, maybe he can fill this role) at TE, WB next to a TE, or even Power Back in the Power I to further help at the POA.

4.  Go with Twins and widen your #2 receiver way out wide, past the opposite hash to the field.  This will pull the overhang player out of the box so he can't fall in.

5.  As the opposite of #4, you can also bring your WRs and Flankers in closer, to about 5-6 yards outside of the EMOL, and use them to push crack on the S.  Usually the S is a much better tackler than the CB, especially if that CB has to do it all night long.

6.  Utilize your Flanker as a WB or extra blocker--even if he's not that big or strong.  This is something about the I formation that's forgotten.  As I've mentioned above, he can motion into the formation to block down on a DE or ILB, kick out the BSDE, or even lead through the hole on Power.  Don't think he just has to stand outside the fray all night long.  The Flanker's blocking was essential to the dominant USC I-Formation offenses of the 60s and 70s.

7.  Move the FB out of the box at times to spread the field or line him up as a WB and run a "1 back Power" with a tag where the DE is based out, rather than kicked out.  It'll hit more like Iso.  TE with FB in a Wing to the same side is also very good for getting the edge on Toss Sweep or running PAP, especially if you use Twins opposite.

Bob Goodman
Joined: 10 years ago
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October 31, 2018 6:56 pm  

That's probably more a commentary on the quality of the defensive coaching than anything.

I don't think so.  Haven't you seen the coach here at DumCoach who famously doesn't try to exploit angles?  And others who just can't because of their splits?

It's not my cup of tea, but just keeping the natural holes open & not letting the opponent cross your face is an effective way of making space for your runners.

Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 12408
November 1, 2018 3:51 am  

Strange, all of those adjustments seem vaguely familiar.  πŸ˜› I once had a list of every adjustment we had to power. That is a great write up on the adjustments. I am assuming everybody is just down blocking?

Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 1497
November 1, 2018 7:23 am  

I don't think so.  Haven't you seen the coach here at DumCoach who famously doesn't try to exploit angles?  And others who just can't because of their splits?

It's not my cup of tea, but just keeping the natural holes open & not letting the opponent cross your face is an effective way of making space for your runners.

Your original statement was a negation of blockandtackle's comment about the importance of teaching good fundamentals like downblocking and kicking out. You said that you had seen many good teams running the I that did neither of those things. My point is that if they did neither of those things, then that was more reflective of the defense's weakness rather than the soundness of the offense.

Widening splits and opening natural running lanes still requires the teaching of good fundamentals, btw (which was the original point). Not to mention, it exploits angles by stretching or exaggerating them. You will still face odd techniques, which will necessitate downblocks, and certain defensive fronts will require a kickout block as a blocking tag.

Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 847
November 1, 2018 8:50 am  

Strange, all of those adjustments seem vaguely familiar.  πŸ˜› I once had a list of every adjustment we had to power. That is a great write up on the adjustments. I am assuming everybody is just down blocking?

Sorry if I gave you deja vu there, Rob.  This just seemed like the place to post it.

And it's pretty much downblocks on the playside.  I'll teach them how to "help block" (what I like to call a "combo") if they have a head up/outside shade, but I don't like teaching true double teams because I feel that leads to kids turning their heads and missing stunts and run throughs.

I'm going to write something up in more detail on how to teach Power when I get the chance and post it here.

Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 847
November 21, 2018 3:39 pm  

It's been a little while since I added to this thread.  I'll get into teaching the Power play next, but since I've already outlined the running game, I wanted to get into throwing the ball.  The I is very underrated as a passing platform due to a lot of clinic speak from spread guys who seem to think you literally cannot throw the ball from 2 backs and under center.

A pretty thorough passing game for the I would be something like this:

2 Core Pass Protections: 1/2 Slide (or run a BOB protection instead) and Full Slide Sprint Out protection.  You can tweak these to allow the RBs to release.  I'll get into more detail on teaching the pass protections in a later post.  Always think "protection first" in the passing game.  It's hard for any QB, even at the college level, to master the concept of "hot throws," and it's usually just a lost cause at the youth level and is increasingly harder to execute at the HS level and above due to evolving defenses.

2-4 PAP off the base runs: Power Pass, Counter Bootleg, and *maybe* Toss Sweep Bootleg (or Toss Sweep Pop Pass), and Iso Keep Pass (look for a backside deep ball here).

3-6 Dropbacks:  Smash strong w/Curl and Flat weak, Mesh (best man beater in football), and Baylor's "Deep Choice" can be adapted here easily for a home run play.  Those should be the big 3 passes.  I'm also a fan of Mark Richt's "Shallow Cross" (it's quite a bit different from the Air Raid version) as a good "move the chains" kind of play and a Flood.
*If you're going to install a spread set for specific passing situations, 4 Verts with a tag to tell a single receiver to break underneath can be extremely versatile.

1-2 Sprint Outs: For youth ball, especially 12u, this is probably where you should focus your efforts in the passing game.  Use a Flood concept here and run it both strong and weak--tag 1 receiver to adjust the routes and get him open against the coverage you're seeing.  Give the QB a simple 1-2-Run progression here.  You want the ball to either come out quickly or for him to turn it into a QB sweep and get yards.  If he's going to take a hit, it might as well be on the other side of the LOS.  Another key to the Sprint out game is to make the backside routes automatic: #1 will run a post, #2 (if there is one) on a drag.  The frontside routes stay the same as they are in the basic concepts.  Again, you can tag the play for him to look at the backside receivers.

*3-5 Quick Passes:  Stick, Slants w/RB Flares, Hitch/Seam, Fade/Out, All Hitches--1 defender reads off the flat player. 
*You can actually use pre-snap RPOs off your base runs (especially Iso) for a lot of this to streamline your calls and playbook.

At least 1 good screen pass that works off your most used pass action: either a sprint out shovel pass or a slow screen off the drop back action.  I also like a throwback screen to the TB off the Toss Sweep and maybe a Tunnel screen if you've got a good WR, with bubble screens included as pre-snap RPO looks with older (12+) kids on the backside of your base runs.  I'll go more in depth on screen passes and how to block them and when to call them later.

So, all together you might have 7-12 pass plays, counting quick passes and screens, with 4 runs.  Not a huge playbook, but plenty to keep a defense in conflict and feed the ball to your best athlete.

The I is actually a pretty good passing platform because of 5 things:

1.) The offense presents an 8-9 man box to the defense, which forces the defense to play more defenders in the box to be sound vs. the run.  This helps simplify the looks you get and helps isolate your WRs on the edge.  If you ask an Air Raid coach or the coach of any passing offense what they like to see and they'll tell you Cov. 3 or man and you'll see a lot of that in the I.  If they play 2 high, you can usually just wear them out between the tackles with Iso.

2.)  I like the ability to get 7 man pass protection so your QB can really work the ball downfield in big chunks--you may trade off a little bit of completion percentage for yards per attempt.  You can do different kinds of 7 man protection, too.  My favorite would be the 1/2 slide or a BOB listed above for drop back stuff so you can still release 1 or both RBs out into routes if there's no pressure, but still keep them in as additional blockers if you need 6-7.

3.)  The PAP is really where the I is strongest because of the pull the TB and full flow action has on a defense--when you run the PAP, you're looking to score TDs or move the ball in big chunks.  Power Pass is the kind of play that can make even a mediocre QB look good, since the throws are relatively easy and the pulling BSG causes the defense to usually sell out vs. the run.  Same goes for a bootleg off Counter (FB can leak into the flat on the Counter boot and it's money while the OL false pull away) or just a naked bootleg off the Toss Sweep.  If you motion the flanker into the formation on a PAP, he can usually slip out uncovered on the other side and has great YAC potential, too.  If you run veer out of it, the Veer PAP is easier to protect, IMO, because both your backs are already in position to block.  If your TB has a halfway decent arm, you can also run HB Pass as an RPO off the Toss Sweep--read the CB and throw a streak if he comes up or run if the CB runs with the vertical WR.

4.)  The Sprint Out game is also strong, since you can use both your backs to block the edge and get 2 extra blockers from D gap on out.  There, you can go a long way with just using a strong side flood and weakside flood as your bread and butter, while the QB has the option of tucking and running.

5.)  You can also run some pre-snap RPOs out of it if you go 3 wide.  For example, from that set you can run the Iso up the middle, with a bubble screen to the Twins side and the quick isolation route of your choice (fade, slant, or hitch) to the single receiver.  The QB just looks at the way the defense is aligned presnap and decides where to go with the ball.

As I mentioned earlier, on the backside of bootlegs, sprint out, and PAP--anything where the QB is moving out of the pocket, really--I like to give the receivers the same backside rule I would in any other offense: #1 on a post, #2 on a drag, #3 (if there is one) on a shallow cross, then use a tag to tell the QB to pull up and throw the backside post when I see the S being too aggressive and rotating out of position to defend the post.  A lot of TDs can happen this way and it keeps it simple.

As far as passing concepts, Twins sets and 3 wide are your friend.  When you want the ability to get 4 vertical receivers and spread the field a little, you can still motion the FB or TB out and maybe split the TE out wide to create those formations.  From there, you can run pretty much anything that a spread team would run through the air.  Simply motioning a man out and running 4 verts with a tag to tell 1 receiver what route to break underneath or calling complimentary 2 man combos (like Smash to one side against 2 high and Curl/Flat to the other against Cov. 3) can make for a nice basic spread passing attack when you want to use this situationally.

If you want to throw the ball out of the I a lot and be more of a pass-first kind of offense, you'll likely want to do more offset I things where your FB aligns behind the G or even the T depending on what his responsibility is on the play.  That way he can get out into his route a step quicker and threaten the flat, which is why the pros are seldom seen in the old straight I anymore.  You can either tell him where to go ("King" for line up strong and "Queen" for line up weak) or just build his alignment into the play like a lot of spread teams do with their H-Backs (align playside on Power/Power Pass and Toss/Toss Boot, align backside on Counter/Counter Pass, align whichever he wants on Iso), and align to the side he needs to be on on the drop back passes and sprint outs.

Joined: 5 years ago
Posts: 265
November 22, 2018 10:37 am  

Great primer on the β€œI” coach. 

I know this installment dealt with the β€œPro” version of the offense.  Maybe in another post you can touch on the fullback run game and the option?

Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 847
November 22, 2018 5:17 pm  

Great primer on the β€œI” coach. 

I know this installment dealt with the β€œPro” version of the offense.  Maybe in another post you can touch on the fullback run game and the option?

I'd be glad to.

One caution that I'll make about running option football, though, is that it's very coaching intensive because it's very technique intensive.  Contrary to what a lot of people may think, the reads aren't the hard part.  The hard part is getting everyone to block in space and execute at a high level.  Teams who think "well, our OL sucks so we'll run the option so we don't need to block anybody" are always terrible.  Don't be like them.

Because the option is so coaching intensive and requires your players to be highly disciplined technicians, it's usually not a good fit for youth offenses, unless you really know how to coach your WRs how to block well and teach your players all the little details that make the option truly dangerous.  IMO, you need at least 3 coaches who are on point (one for WRs, one for OL, one for QBs and RBs) if you're going to run the option well.

With that said, the I is a great platform for the option.  IMO, it's a great fit for a Flexbone team who doesn't have a pair of good A-Backs who can block, catch passes, and be pitch backs and you don't need to worry about timing up motion, either.  Here, you just take the fast kid you've got who may not have great hands, park him at TB, and make him your full-time pitch back.  It also has the advantage over the SBV in that you can specialize your personnel.  QB and FB need to be your best runners.  TB needs to be a fast pitch back who can run outside--it doesn't matter as much if he's small or can't block or catch well.  The other skill positions simply need to be solid blockers in space who can sometimes catch a pass.


The option game in the I is pretty much the same thing as the Flexbone, but without motion.  If you use a TE, you can use him to load the ILB on veers or arc him to #3 in the veer count.  If you don't use a TE, you can still run some End Over stuff, similar to a Flexbone team, that helps force the defense into some tough adjustments on the edge.  You are honestly probably better off using a TE.  You can also play with your TE's split (Tight, Nasty, or Wide) to create different looks for the defense without having to sub.

The core plays you'll probably want to use are:

Midline to attack an A gap bubble (have TB lead through B gap for QB if it's a keep) OR Trap (if your QB isn't a strong downhill between-the-tackles runner)

Inside Veer to attack a B gap bubble (you'll run this strong unless the defense makes an unsound adjustment with no force player outside the DE)

Lead Option (there are a few different ways to run this) to get the ball outside when it's clogged up inside with stunts

*Midline Triple (this is a maybe, but it's a great "Bear killer" if you can teach your QB how to "leverage pitch")

FB Dive (run this when the PSLB is scraping over to play the option)

QB Follow (this is a great goal line play--it's basically a QB Iso off the veer action)

Iso (FB Dive, QB Follow, and Iso are blocked exactly the same, making the teaching easy--use this to get your TB going downhill)

Counter Trey (for when the BSLB is fast flowing--you can run this with either the QB, TB, or FB)

Toss Sweep (just have everybody reach block across the front--this is analogous to Rocket Sweep in the Flexbone or Quick Pitch in the SBV)

*maybe Belly--PST and TE blocks down, PSG pulls to kick out the PSDE, FB leads up for PSLB, and everything on back scoops.--this is better than Power in this type of attack because your Option FB is a runner first and may not be the bruising blocker he'd be in the Pro I.

As far as when to call what play, I've outlined what gaps and parts of the field each hit.  In trying to decide which option or called run to use, remember the simple adage: Hard to block, easy to read.  Hard to read, easy to block.  Aggressive defenders are usually easy to read.  Soft "assignment football" defenders tend to be easy to block.  Call plays that attack those defenders accordingly.

Tags are key to adjusting the blocking in this offense.  Some tags you may want to install once you've got the basic Triple down:

"Switch" tag: End and Flanker switch responsibilities
"Load" tag: #2 receiver will "load" the ILB inside while the #1 receiver to that side blocks #3 and you don't worry about the deep defender yet.
"Buster" tag: Double team a stud 3 tech who's blowing up the Mesh.

You could actually teach a speed option as just another tag on veer, if you like, too.


For passing, you probably want to focus on the classic Veer Post/Wheel PAP, as well as a Pop Pass off the Veer look and a Bootleg off the Toss Sweep or Counter.  In "gotta pass" situations, you'll be sprinting out most of the time and letting your QB use his legs in the open field, which is similar to what I explained above.  The throwback screen off Toss Sweep is a nice addition, as is a backside slant off the Veer action for when the backside LB is sticking his nose in.  I still like tagging the play to tell the QB to look at the backside post when necessary.


The foundation of OL play in this offense is the Veer scheme and your OL fundamentals may need to be coached a little differently.  You still want them backed as far off the ball as possible, but the key to blocking in this offense is a great initial surge off the ball.  Ideally you can put 6 "TE" types on the field who can get into opponents' hips with a mean streak and go up to the second level.  You will need to work veer (inside) or loop (outside) releases with your Gs and Ts daily, as well as scoop blocks, base blocks, and reach blocks--if they can do those things, you'll be ok.

They should take wider splits (in HS you start at 3' and try to widen as far as an outside shaded defender will go with them--in youth you may want to only start at 2') and put much more weight on their down hands to get a big surge off the ball--the trade-off is that this makes pulling and pass protection harder, and some coaches may even use 4 pt. stances to get more of that surge up front.  You want them attacking their opponents' thigh boards with their shoulders ("Hear what the hip has to say!") and just getting a good piece of the defender with leg drive.  As fast as stuff hits in the veer offense, that's good enough.  All you need them to do is maintain the lane that's there prensap and push the read out just a step or two wider so the QB gets a cleaner read.

The core veer scheme has simple rules.  For the perimeter blocking (which is key) you'll use the veer count system:

ENDS (TE and SE) will declare the deep defender to each side.  He is eliminated from the count.  The End will block him so the defense is "circled" on the perimeter.
Then you start the option count from the 1st DL on or outside the PST.  He's #1 and will usually be the dive read.
The next underneath defender behind him or outside is #2 and will usually be the pitch read.
Flanker will identify the next one outside fo that (#3) and block him.
If you're using an End Over set, park the Flanker inside of the Overshifted end and have the Over guy block #4 in the count.
If there is no #3 or #4 (like when you're running at a 4-4 Cov. 3 defense) you'll work up to the 3rd level and inside (in that case, the Flanker would block the FS)

The option count is a huge help to making this offense go.  It makes it very easy to keep blocking assignments consistent across different formations and it also allows you to easily teach some tags that will adjust the perimeter blocking to screw up teams who play "assignment football" or even double team particularly pesky 2nd and 3rd level defenders at times.

So that's the perimeter, now for the interior OL, which is simple in technique:

PST will take best release to the second level.  That means they'll "veer" inside when B gap is open, get vertical 2-3 steps, then pin the PSLB, or "loop" outside a closed B gap with an arc release to pin the PSLB that way.  His block is key.

PSG will simply base the first DL past the C with his head in the hole.  You want to avoid trying to run this to a 3 tech, but when there is one there, he needs to just base that guy out with his head inside so the FB can cut up off the "action key."

C and every OL behind him will simply scoop through his inside gap, cutting any DL that shows and working up to the second level if they don't.  They need to open completely flat and rip that backside arm across the DL, to "make that 1 tech a 3 tech" and "make that 3 tech a 5 tech."  The big thing is that they must cut off penetration.

As I said earlier, the base Inside Veer scheme is the key to this whole offense.  From there, you simply teach the PST to base out the 2nd man on the LOS the C and now you have your Dive, QB Follow, and Iso schemes.  Teach the T to base out while the G veer releases through A gap and blocks the first thing that shows to get your Midline scheme.  Then teach the full reach scheme for toss sweep and maybe lead option.


For the backfield, the FB should start at 4 yards.  You can cheat him up a little bit if he's slow into the play, or even move him back up to a yard if he's hitting it too fast.  He should be in a 3 pt. stance with a lot of weight forward and take off out of the blocks like he's shot out of a cannon, aiming for the crack of the PSG.  No dancing.  No hesitation.  He just runs over the football with a good pocket (make sure if he's going to the right, he steps with his right foot first and vice versa if it's left).  The mesh point is on him, since the QB has to be watching his reads.  The FB also needs to know that he's always a runner or a blocker--never just a faker.  If that ball is not in his belly when he hits the LOS, he needs to run through the hole and try to pin the first defender that shows.  If he gets the ball, he needs to get his eyes to his "action key" (the first DL inside the T--he should look up and spot this guy presnap) and he's allowed to make one quick cut to run away from that guy while running downhill.

For the mesh technique, like a point method mesh.  I feel like it's just easier and cleaner to teach.  Have the QB step back at about 5 o-clock on his first step, point the ball to the FB with both hands with his eyes on the dive key.  While reading the dive key, he also needs to see the pitch key with his peripheral vision to just have a sense of where he is, but the first part is to see what the dive key does.  You don't want the QB getting too deep or bowing his path here--this isn't a bootleg.  He wants to stay as tight to the LOS as possible so he can get North and South and force a good commitment from his read--it's fine if the Mesh is made up in the hole, but you never want it made deeper than a yard into the backfield, as that will get plays strung out to the sideline and killed.

Teach him "give to live"--you want him thinking Dive first and Keep second, then Pitch a distant third.  If the dive read's inside shoulder does anything besides squeeze down, he should seat the ball in the FB's belly.  If the dive read does squeeze down, the QB will pull the ball, step around the dive key, and then immediately get his eyes onto the pitch key while aggressively getting North and South.  Make the pitch key to come to him and pitch only as a last resort.  This saves fumbles and makes the teaching a lot simpler.  Even if you pitch it 5 or 6 times all season, the defense still has to respect the threat of that pitch back on each play.  When you see them not respecting that threat, simply pull your QB aside and tell him to look for the fast pull and pitch on the next play.

*One wrinkle you need to coach up on veer--if your dive key is ever blocked (like if a 5 tech DE stunts to B gap and gets in the T's way, forcing the T to wash him down) the QB needs to understand this is a PULL read.  That's because the T got tied up, so there is a LB scraping free to tackle the first thing that comes t through--if you just give the dive, he's going to be smacked in the mouth at the LOS.  So the QB pulls the ball, the FB knows that since the ball's not in his belly he's now a blocker, so he gets around the T and blocks that scrape exchanging LB, which keeps the play alive.

If it's a Give or Keep, you want your runner working the "veer lane," which is an imaginary diagonal line that runs from the PSG's outside leg, behind the block of the PST on the LB, and then to the hash, then the numbers, then the sideline, in that order.  You know your blocking is on point when there's a huge veer lane on each play.

Finally, for the pitch phase, you need a good pitch relationship.  Have the TB drop step with his outside foot, then maintain a 5X2 (5 yards wide, 2 yards behind) pitch relationship with the QB.  For the mechanics of the pitch, you can either do the conventional "heart to heart" 1 handed flip pitch that ends with the QBs thumb pointing down or you can do the new-school "basketball chest pass" lob technique, where he tosses the football with both hands on an arc'ing path.  I've only coached the 1st and liked it, but people who use the second swear by it.  Regardless of which technique, when the QB makes the pitch, try to have him "step to the pitch" with his outside foot and take some weight off his shoulders, which helps soften any blow he might take from a charging pitch key.


Practicing the option offense is the key to making it work.  You basically need as many reps on the option-specific skills as possible.  An offensive practice plan would look something like this:

Warm up with QBs jogging across the field 5 yards apart and making option pitches back and forth to each other.
"A Frame" Mesh Drill (QB and FBs)
Veer Drill with reads (QB, FBs, and TBs)
Perimeter Run/Pass Drill with Reads (All Skill position players)
Half Line Team (aim for having 2 huddles going, one to work the right side, one to work the left side, with your top 2 Cs, QBs, and RBs rotating between each side halfway through)
Full Team

Focus your OL Individual period on getting good at veer/loop releases, base blocks, reach blocks, scoop blocks, and the sprint out protection.  If you run Trap, make sure you do a trap drill some until your kids get that down.  I don't like double teaming with the OL on option plays if I can help it, as I feel it wastes a blocker.

For youth or a small school HS ball, you may want to do a full "Offensive" practice day and a full "Defensive" practice day so you can get all this in at once.  On any remaining practice days, divide the remaining time up and work special teams, too.

Anyway... that just scratches the surface of option football.  It's a real rabbit hole that gets pretty deep into technique, which is why I always caution youth coaches against taking it lightly and thinking "oh, we'll just run all this other stuff and some veer, too."  Veer's not "just another play."  It's really like 3 plays in one.

Joined: 11 years ago
Posts: 56
November 30, 2019 3:11 pm  

I went to a clinic one time.. Really made for youth. And the speaker was all about the b gap. This is 10u stuff... But he said if b gap is open (white for wide) run inside. If b gap is closed (red for reduced) run outside, power or toss. I know that is over simplified, but for my simple mind and 10u, i thought was great advice.

Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 9415
November 30, 2019 3:55 pm  

My 7/8s ran the I and i got some "old man" feedback. Asking why i dont go more modern with direct snap. I said the basics of football can be learned in the I. Anyway we had a great season with pro I, basically eco i form. Veer, iso, power,  counter, sweep, play action and some other small tricks.

The "I" works and is very fundamental, my kids enjoyed it.

I can explain it to you, I can't understand if for you.