Editors Note: The H-back has been a valuable position in modern offenses dating back to the single-wing era of the football. It returned in full force during the implementation of zone blocking offenses of the 80s, and then again fell a little bit to the way side. In the past decade or so, the reemergence of the H-back position has come on full force. Almost every modern offense utilizes an H-back to some degree, both spread and pro-style. The reason is this: it can be used as a lead blocker similar to a FB, a reach blocker in zone schemes similar to a TE (by stretching the front you are opening lanes to run), and as a vertical pass threat, aligned in the slot matched up against LBs, or closed to the LOS. The H-back position brings a lot of run blocking variety into play, adds numbers to the box, but doesn't necessarily diminish your ability to pass. That is why you'll see it's importance in almost any modern offense. And that is why we'll discuss it below. One thing note discussed below is a Wham blocking scheme re-popularized by the Harbaugh lead 49ers, but that just goes to show that an H-back can be used to benefit Power schemes, zone schemes, and every blocking design in between.
A topic that gets brought up fairly often is the use of the Y-TE, U-Back, and FB. Throw in a slot receiver in that grouping and you have a broad range of strengths and variety that can find a weakness in almost every defense. The Y (online-TE) allows you to be a little stronger at the point of attack while displaying some pass catching ability. A UB (U-back) has versatility to stretch the edge, motion out into the slot, or lead into the hole. A FB helps provide a strong downhill running game and another running threat in the backfield. The SR (slot receiver) gives you some options in the screen game and may force a NB onto the field, thereby spreading the defense giving preferable run game match-ups. What I want to explore today is some of the primary run game threats with these players in the game and how that can effect what the defense is trying to do. In this piece I'll primarily looking at formations from under center, but it is important to note that the U position has found strong favor in the spread run game in the past decade or so for the same reasons it is seen as favorable below. The focus, below, was originally on Al Borges's Michigan offense, but it translates well to most offenses in the B1G this year.
The first formation we'll look at is the Ace Wing, which will incorporate 12 personnel with a single TB, two TEs (a Y and a UB), along with two WRs. From a defensive standpoint, one of the difficulties of covering this offense is that the defense has to defend every single possible gap. Often times, what this means, is that defenses are forced to bring down an 8th man in the box. It also often means that the DL will be fairly spread out. Let's take a look.
Because it's a draw play, the OLBs need to respect the pass. There OL keys won't look completely unlike pass keys anyway, and neither will the QB initially. Both TEs simply look like they are releasing into a route, but what they are really doing is trying to get inside the OLB and seal him outside and use the LB's pass drop momentum to carry him backwards.
Here we have 11 personnel. One of a favorite personnel to pass out of, run plays out of this personnel group tend to lean heavily on zone concepts.
The defense, used to man blocking concepts, is looking for pulling OGs and the down block from the center. Now the center is reach blocking and no one is pulling. The offensive line reads have become more complex simply by switching up the scheme up front.
Note that by forcing the defense to cover multiple receivers, the draw play is now of greater effect. You may also now be able to run things like power with a single lead blocker in the form of a pulling guard. So most run plays in the play book are still theoretically open, or at least a variant of that play can be run.
Twins wing is going to be 22 personnel, meaning 2 RBs and 2 TEs in the game.
Note here that Michigan has flipped their TE, or what is commonly referred to as an unbalanced line today. Michigan runs the power to the strength, as per usual.
Out of the strong I (meaning the offset FB is to the strong side) we will once again look at a power play, but this time the counter lead power.
This video shows a lead counter, where the pulling OG will kick the DE and the FB will lead into the hole. Denard's footwork is still shaky, and he kind of messes up the handoff, but the blocking scheme is correct.
Conclusion and Further Work
So out of 4 different personnel packages I've shown 4 different run plays. Note that, especially if it's the OT pulling on the counter lead power, that the defense has a different key on every play, or at least he's reading something different from his initial key on each of these plays. But with the versatility of the players, 22 personnel can become 21 personnel or 12 personnel, and 12 or 21 personnel can become 11 personnel. Of course, it can potentially work the other way around as well. This means that Michigan will have the capability of putting out a personnel group and run pretty much anything optimally. Utilizing pre-snap shifts will give the defense less time to communicate offensive trends from various formations, and utilizing a U-back will allow the offense to run anyone of these plays regardless. So that's the advantage of having this sort of versatility, but it's not where the advantage stops.
In part II we are going to look at how this all sets up the play action pass game.