Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Flexbone Offense-Philosophy, Myths and Things to Consider


Ok guys, here we go.  This will be the first installment on the flexbone offense.  I'm going to simply go step by step with things and keep building as we go.  Now some things to keep in mind are:

  1. I'm not Paul Johnson.  I don't claim to be, he has his system and it obviously works, but there are others out there that have just as good of option schemes.  Please don't turn your nose up because I don't call midline 10 and 11, or I don't call the tackles over formation "heavy".
  2. There are no magic bullets.  You are not going to read this, install the flexbone and win a state championship next season.  You might, who knows.  This is meant to be "technical reading".
  3. This is not a publication about a "Saturday offense".  No, I'm writing about an offense I took from college coaches, and manipulated and simplified for the high school game.  Take it for what it's worth.
Other than those tidbits, this should be informational and help you decide if the flexbone is right for you.  On another note some of my resources through the years have been:
  1. Tim Stower's book Coaching Football's Spread Offense If you are interested in the roots of the offense, and a basic "handbook" to the flexbone offense, I suggest you purchase this book.
  2. Tony DeMeo.  Learned a lot from DeMeo through the years such as leverage pitching, reads, and drills.  His shotgun version of the flexbone has been a killer in college football, and he is a big promoter of his "smart splits".
  3. Paul Johnson.  How can we leave out ol' PJ.  Great coach, innovator and proven winner.  Anytime you can hear him speak at a clinic...GO, he's an interesting dude.
  4. Ken Niumatalolo.  Great guy, inspirational speaker and is taking the triple option to new heights at Navy.  He, much like PJ, is a good speaker to go listen to at a clinic.
  5. Coach Iannuci's blog, The Three Back Option Football Spot.  Very informative coach, and very knowledgeable of the flexbone offense.  Before reading further, go bookmark his site.

"Fear the Veer!" The philosophy behind the flexbone offense is the triple option play. The triple option is three running plays in one. It is power, straight-ahead football, combined with finesse, turn-the-corner outside running game, all rolled into one. The flexbone offense is also balanced, forcing the defense to play balanced. The presence of four immediate vertical threats also commands the respect of opposing defenses. These facets, when combined make the flexbone offense one of the most difficult offenses to defend in modern-day football.
            Multiplicity through simplicity is another trademark of the flexbone offense. The flexbone and its plays change very little throughout. Blocking schemes are universal and can be slightly altered through the use of tags, allowing multiple plays to be run, with different variations. These variations keep defenses on their heels, playing timid and soft as they try to adapt and react on the run. The ability to run one play, with multiple ways to vary the play gives the coach the ability to dictate how the offense will attack the defense.
Series Based Offense
Series based offense is an offensive scheme based around a series or set of core plays or play. Series based offense is the heart and soul of many offenses available to coaches today. The flexbone is no different than any other series based offense in that it has a core play series, with other play series based on attacking what the defense is doing to take away the base series. This prevents the traditional grab bag coaching, or play calling coaches often fall prey to. Adhering to this style of offense is a must for any coach looking to install the flexbone.
Why the Flexbone?
The flexbone offense allows teams with inadequate or undersized players to compete on a level with teams far superior than themselves by utilizing the defense's brute strength and superior athleticism against itself. Typically flexbone offensive lines are smaller and quicker than traditional offensive lines, making finding players that fit the scheme much easier. The skill positions can also be lesser athletes, to a degree, than some other traditional offenses.
            This offense does not allow the defense to key on just one player, especially through the use of the triple option run game. Another advantage to the flexbone offense when coupled with the triple option is that the defense must defend three plays rolled into one, making the defense play assignment football. This advantage slows down the defense, putting them in a reactionary mode instead of being able to attack the offense.
            The blocking schemes utilized in the flexbone offense are universal, with little to no adaptation to various defenses. The simplified blocking scheme allows for less thinking on the line of scrimmage, and allows the offense to attack the defense. The blocking schemes have concrete rules, that have stood the test of time, and will handle even the craziest "defense of the week" that a coach may see throughout a football season.
            The flexbone offense utilizes a double slot, balanced, base formation, shown in Figure 1-1 that presents the defense with two glaring problems. The first is the ability to handle four immediate vertical threats in the passing game. The four vertical passing threats keep defenses from loading the box with eight and nine defenders to attempt to stop the run. Second, the balanced formation, forces the defense to play balanced or risk being caught with not enough men to one side of the offense or the other. Balancing keeps the defense from cheating and utilizing an overload to the field, or some other type of defensive overload to gain an advantage over the offense.

Figure 1-1 Base formation, balanced
             Lastly, the flexbone offense does not rely on specialization with the positions it uses. The only two positions on the field that require any specialization are the Quarterback, and the fullback, better known in the offense as the B back. This lack of specialization makes for interchangeable parts, allowing players to learn multiple positions. 
Common Myths and Misconceptions about the Flexbone Offense
As with many things in football, there are some common misconceptions about the flexbone offense.  Many of these are simply fallacies coaches who have coached against only one flexbone team have made up over the years.  Here are some of the common myths and descriptions of how these items are false and misleading.
To be successful, an offense must be balanced
The idea that having a team that runs for over 300 yards a game is a bad thing is absolutely preposterous.  Being able to run the football opens up the playaction passing game and allows the offense to hit the home-run when the defense is selling out to stop the run.  A few years back the district champion was a flexbone team that averaged 351.8 yards per game rushing, and a mere 21.1 yards per game passing.  This team went several rounds deep in the playoffs every year with statistics close to these.  The first year this particular team ran the flexbone they averaged 38 points per game, and only threw for two touchdowns during the regular season.  Their final record that year was ten wins and three losses; somehow balance does not seem all that important anymore.
            The other reason that this idea of balance is a fallacy is that the flexbone offense is based around a running play that is three plays mixed into one.  What better way to keep a defense guessing than by calling a play where the before the snap not even the Quarterback knows where the football is going.  The point here is, there is more than one way to keep a defense off balanced, other than simply by mixing the run and the pass. 
Flexbone teams cannot throw the football
This myth does contain some truth, but very little to be honest.  Yes, most flexbone teams are not known for their passing efficiency; however the basic offensive formation, as shown in Figure 1-1 is the same as the legendary Run-n-Shoot formation used in by many teams in the early 90's to put up large amounts of points in both college and professional football. 
            Yes, flexbone teams do not always do well in the drop back passing game.  The main reason for this is lack of practice time when it comes to pass protection.  Flexbone teams spend a large portion of their time involved in working on the run game, so this does not allow the offensive linemen to become comfortable in pass protection.  However, there are some ways that flexbone teams can pass and still be effective.
            The major pass play in the flexbone offense is that of playaction passing.  When a defense has been shredded in the run game, the usual tactic is to tighten the secondary in an attempt to get the run support in on the action quicker.  When the defense adjusts the secondary closer to the line of scrimmage, they run the risk of being out of position against playaction passes.  As will be shown later, the flexbone offense uses pass routes that mimic the blocking scheme to further put defenders in a quandary.  A timely playaction pass can be the knife to the juggler for an over aggressive defense trying to sell out to stop the run.

            Another good passing play, for the flexbone offense, is the sprint out pass.  The sprint out pass is a pass that puts the Quarterback on the move from the snap.  The pass protection utilized in sprint out passing is much simpler and less stressful on the offensive line than that of traditional drop back pass protections.  Also, by putting the Quarterback, one of the offenses' best athletes on the move, puts the defense in conflict as to whether the Quarterback will throw the football or choose to keep the football.  Sprint out passing forces the defense to account for this run threat, thereby removing a defender from being able to drop back and defend a pass zone or cover a receiver man-to-man. 
A fast Quarterback is needed to run the option
Some of the best option Quarterbacks are not that particularly fast when it comes to running speed.  However, where these Quarterbacks are fast, is in the thought process that occurs in the reads of the triple option.  Yes, it does help if the Quarterback, when he decides to keep the football, is a threat to go all the way; however, this is not a requirement of the position.  What truly makes a deadly option Quarterback is quick thinking and reactionary skills that can be utilized in reading a defender. 
This would be an interesting choice at option QB!

Defenses are too fast for the option
Speed is one thing that hurt the triple option, but that was years ago.  Offenses have caught up to defenses and are also putting plenty of speed on the field as well.  The triple option is one of the best ways to neutralize a fast defense, because a defender cannot run to the football, until they know who has the football.  The triple option slows down the defense because the defense must first figure out who is carrying the football, and by the time they figure that out, it is usually too late. 
Some Things to Consider When Choosing the Flexbone Offense
There are some items, that a coach must weigh when looking into whether this is the offense for their team or not.  Choosing the right offense based on talent is very critical in determining the success a team will have.  The flexbone offense does have some requirements that a coach must think about.
            The first of these criterion are that more than one B back is needed.  The recommendation here is to have at least three and as many as five if possible.  The B back position is one that will take a beating.  The B back will be getting tackled on every triple option play that is called, and since the triple option is the heart and soul of the offense, the B back could be tackled as many as thirty times a game.  It does not matter whether the B back has the football either, if run properly the B back should be tackled on every triple option play.  Over time, this can wear down a player, so it is best to have suitable backups at the B back position, so that the starter can rest. 

            Similar to the B back, the Quarterback position is one that must have a suitable backup.  If possible there should be a minimum of three players that can play the Quarterback position on a flexbone team.  The Quarterback position will also see some punishment, although much less than the B back position.  Option Quarterbacks can be taught how to take hits, but it is inevitable that when a large portion of the offense is placed on the Quarterback, both running and throwing the football, injuries can occur.  Do not neglect the backups!  The backup Quarterbacks must know the reads and be able to fill in when and if the starter does go down with an injury.
            Since so much of the offense is based around the Quarterback and the B back, it is imperative that there be plenty of these types of players so that if an injury does occur, there is little to no loss in offensive efficiency. 
            Another, often overlooked item, that coaches must take into consideration is time.  Teams that choose to run the flexbone don't often see instant success.  The flexbone offense is an offense that only gets better the longer a coach runs it.  Many coaches, get out of the offense after having games with multiple turnovers, or seeing their Quarterback struggle with the reads.  Coaches also get frustrated by calling the same play, the triple option, over and over again with little to no success early on.  The reads in this offense are no different than any other reading offense in that these reads take time to develop.  This is especially true if coaching players with little option football background.  This offense is not for the faint of heart and takes a true dedication by the coach to master and teach.  However, once the offense is mastered and run to perfection, then it truly is a thing of beauty!   
            The flexbone is becoming more and more popular in both high school and college sports, especially with the recent storied success of Georgia Tech. University at the FBS Division in collegiate sports. There is something to be said about an offense that at any time can run three plays at once, attacking three different areas of the defense. Read em’ and Run!

 In the next post, I'll discuss the positions within the offense, their requirements and formations.