Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Five Wide Offense

You really have five WR's on the field at one time!!!!!

A post on the Huey board about this very topic intrigued me enough to write a post about an offense that I do have some association with.  Now, I was just the defensive coordinator (who stole a playbook when I left) at the time, but I always paid attention to what my cohorts on the opposite side of the ball were doing.  The Five Wide Offense (FWO) was a very interesting concept at the time we were running it (late 90's early 2000's), because almost everybody we faced was a run the football, grind it out type of offense.  When I first joined the staff, we had a stud QB who could really zing the pigskin around, plus a very good group of WR's (we had 2 that signed D-1AA scholarships and the other 2 went D-III and NAIA).  Our OL, was suspect for most of the time, and we were not very good at running the football.  By the time I left, the offense had morphed into more of the traditional "spread to run" or "spread option" as our QB was more of a runner, and our receivers were not all that good.

What intrigued me about the offense was the setup and layout of the offense and just how simple it was for the players to understand.  I'm going to take you through and look at the basics of  the offense from the ground up.  Now, most people think FWO and think "Oh, you're just in Empty all the time, you're gonna get kilt!".  Well, that's not necessarily the truth.  As a matter of fact, from what I remember, we were in 2x2 and 3x1 a majority of the time.  Five wide, does not mean Empty, it means you are using five WR's on the field at any given moment.  The formations just put these five receivers in various positions that can create a mismatch or alignment problem for a defense. 

That kind of empty makes me sad...


Offensive Line
The OL when I was a part of this offense was never very good, especially at run blocking.  We had a lot of finesse guys, or what I would call "tight ends that couldn't catch".  The OL was set up very similarly to that of a flexbone OL in that the center was one of the better OL, but maybe not a tremendously athletic OL.  The guards were whatever you had leftover after selecting the tackles and the center.  The tackles were lanky, rangy guys that could match up with speedy DE's or OLB's that would blitz off the edge.  Obviously the best OL was saved for protecting the blind side of the QB.

In the diagrams below you will see the positions, and they are the X, A, W, Z, and B.  The W is purely a possession guy.  He does not have to be a speed demon, but is probably your best pure route runner of all five.  The Z is a "wild card" type guy.  He's a slot that can run the ball, but is good when matching up against underneath coverage guys.  Don't sacrifice on athleticism here.  The B and the A are almost universal in that they are basically RB's that can catch.  These guys need to be able to run and catch the ball.  They are by far the most versatile athletes within the offense.  The X is the stud, speed burner you have that can give defenses one-on-one match up problems.  He's by far your fastest receiver and probably the second best route runner you have.

I was fortunate enough to go through a couple of types of QB's in this offense.  Our first QB was your prototypical passer.  He was big (6'4" 200 lbs) and had a cannon on the left side of his body (yep, he was a Southpaw).  The second QB was more of a runner, or scrambler who was only 5'9" tall and about 175 pounds.  This guy would have been a great triple option QB, but he could also throw the hell out of the football.  The offense was made to fit around both of these guys, but some essential traits were still needed.  The QB obviously had to be a leader, but physically he had to be able to throw the football and throw it well.  There are some throws in this offense, that some of our younger QB's couldn't make.  They had to be developed to do so, and if you don't have the time to do that, then this is not your cup of tea.  The QB must also be able to make some plays with his feet, but he DOES NOT have to be RGIII either.  He just needs to be able to move and slide around in the pocket as you are usually only going to have five blockers.  He also needs to be able to get rid of the football QUICKLY.  With only five blockers, you end up seeing a lot of blitzes, and the QB has to see this and adjust to whoever is the hot route.

Formations and Alignment

There were four basic formations to the offense, and they were all named for weather events.  The alignments were very simple, if no direction calls were given, the W, the Z and the B would all align to the wide side of the field.  The X and the A only had to know where the W, Z and B were, because the X and the A would align on the opposite side of the offense.  If a direction call was tagged to the formation (example: Hurricane Left), then the W, Z and B all went to the call side, and the X and the A simply aligned on the opposite side.  This made alignment very simple for the players to pick up and to be honest, we very rarely ran out of left handed formations.  Here are the basic four formations:

Thunder was the base set for the offense.  All routes and run plays were based from this formation.  Alignment-wise, the W would align as wide as the game plan or route tree called for and the Z would simply split the difference between the tackle and the W.  The X aligned the same way as the W did, while the A and the B flanked the QB, and had variable alignments.  If running routes out of the backfield the A and Z may align as wide as behind the tackles, whereas if running the ball inside they may align behind the guards.  The guard-tackle gap was the base alignment, and that was adjusted in or out based on the play being run.

Hurricane was by far the most popular of all our formations.  I would venture a guess that we were in this formation close to 50% of the time.  The only thing that changed between Thunder and Hurricane was that the A adopted the same alignment rules as the Z would.

Storm was the next most popular formation we ran, and is a standard 3x1 trips formation with back offset weak.  Here the Z reduced his split by 1/3 and the B aligned halfway between the Z and the EMOL.  The A simply took up his home alignment in the backfield as he would if running from the Thunder formation.

Tornado was the least used formation that we had, however we did use it, and was particularly favorable later on with our running QB and using the A and B as "sweepers" to run the jet sweep and complementary plays off of jet action.  The W, B and Z simply aligned in Storm, and the X and the A aligned in Hurricane, so there was no new teaching of alignments to get in our Empty set.

Running Game

The run game varied over the years I was there from a more traditional inside zone and outside zone scheme to more QB iso and power runs, zone read, traps and jet sweeps in the later years.  I really think the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can do in the run game in this offense.  In the early years our bread and butter play was simply the draw to either the A or the B.  This was very good to us because of just how much we threw the football (our OC was a Spurrier guy, so we averaged about 70% passing to 30% running when I first got on campus).  Later, our bread and butter became the jet sweep and a QB trap play off of jet action.  Since our QB was such a threat to run the football, teams couldn't just attack and take away the sweep, because it would leave the middle of the defense vulnerable to QB trap.  QB draw also became a good play for us as well.  Anyhow, the run game is pretty much what you want out of it.  As mentioned earlier, we were 70-30 pass to run in my first two years there.  The last two years I was there, we moved to almost 50-50 and were quite balanced really.

Passing Game
The passing game, at that time, was unlike any I'd ever seen. I had always been a part of a route tree, or mirrored route concept system.  This concept system was unlike any I'd ever seen, however, it is eerily similar to what you are seeing nowadays in NCAA football and the NFL.  The first season I was there, our OC numbered the concepts zero through nine.  Midway through the season he was calling them things like "Middle" and "Wheelies" and the numbers were thrown by the wayside.  Later, he simply named all of his concepts, and as you can see some of them were pretty strange, but our kids understood them and we rarely had busted assignments due to guys not knowing what to do.  Here is the route concept tree from the Thunder formation.

Shoot was our bread and butter pass play.  We gained more yards and scored more touchdowns off this one concept than any other in our playbook.  The routes as they were named going from right to left are Post (W), Slant (Z), Swing (B), Shoot (A), and Takeoff (X). As a side note, these are not what I called these routes, these are the names taken directly from the playbook.

Smash easily was our second or third favorite route concept.  The routes are Slant, Corner, Takeoff, Corner, Hitch.  In this diagram, the A and B would probably have widened out behind the tackles in order to get a better release to run their routes.

Middle was a route concept that was later developed into a good sprintout concept.  The routes are Post-in, Wheel, Post, Swing, Slant.  We did not run this much as a drop back concept, but as I stated earned large dividends when sprinting out to the strong side of the formation to this concept (which I will explain later).

We did not use Zebra all that much, but later started sprinting out to the weak side (X/A side) and that later influenced some of my sprintout passing that I did from the flexbone.  The routes were Hitch, Post, Slant, Takeoff and Comeback.

Panther was a pretty popular route concept the entire time I was around the offense.  Our Z receivers loved it because they always seemed to be open on this one (we saw a lot of cover 3 in those days).   The routes are Post, Hitch, Shoot, Slant and Post.

Oreo was one that was run some with our pure passer, but not much.  Later with the running QB we sprinted to the strong side to this look for some good gains.  The routes that go with the Oreo concept are Out, Takeoff, Comeback, Post and Out.

Taco was one that when we began moving our QB around, we ran this to both sides with a TON of success.  I have no clue why it was called Taco, but that's what they named it.  The routes are Takeoff, Out, Post, Wheel, Post-in.

Hamburger was a rarely used concept, but I like the Smash-like qualities on the front side of the formation.  The routes are Now, Hitch, Corner, Hitch and Takeoff.  I know we would throw this if the defense was playing way off our W, yet later we simply tagged the receiver we wanted to run the Now route and ran it that way, which ultimately led to our not running Hamburger very much.

The JV DB coach used to always call this one "Stained Shorts" and he was right!  Streak we used quite a bit, but not as much as many would think.  It's also not the traditional Run-n-Shoot Streak concept either.  The B on this play was almost always open.  We hit the B for some serious gains off of this one.  The routes are Takeoff, Takeoff, Slant, Takeoff, Takeoff.

Tunnel is one we ran a bunch too, especially early on with teams trying to blitz our less-mobile QB.  The routes are Tunnel, Wheel, the B would block anybody trailing the W, Wheel, and Tunnel.

Now comes the really good part, and that's how these routes translated from formation to formation.  Our Shoot concept was our favorite and that is the one I will focus on for the next post.  I'm also going to talk about how we adapted to our running QB by giving him a pass/run option in the sprintout game and pass protection.  Stay tuned for more on the FWO!