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YOUTH FOOTBALL USING THE WING-T
By Bryan L. Schaumloffel
This is probably the number one email I get from people that visit my web page. Youth sports have grown incredibly in the last ten years. Youth sports is no longer dominated by Little League Baseball and the dreaded "soccer" moms of the world. Most of the emails that I get are from coaches concerned with what Wing-T plays they should use. One of the first things coaches need to understand about the Wing-T is that it is not the plays but the system that makes the Wing-T work. Taking a handful of the "best" Wing-T plays and running them will not get you the best results. Do not get me wrong, the Buck Sweep is a great play, but it is super play when combined with the Trap and the Waggle. I will try to give a basic review of the plays that I feel would work best with youth league teams. Like all offenses a coach can fall into a pitfall of having too many plays. The Wing-T is no exception, the key is to limit your offensive attack to the basic Wing-T package. This basic package will allow you to attack all areas and weaknesses of the defense and provide you with answers to all problems a defense can give you.
The Sweep Series: This is the "Bread and Butter" of the Wing-T system. When you think of the Wing-T you think of the Buck Sweep (fig1). In fact it is one of the first things I try and ingrain in my players heads, "RUN THE SWEEP TO WIN!" A few weeks ago I went to see the New York Jets play. At half time they had four Pee-Wee football teams playing. To my delight three of the four teams were running the Wing-T! It was an offensive juggernaut as the only team that was not scoring touchdown after touchdown was the team running the I formation! Truth be told the only plays the teams were running where the Sweep, Trap, Waggle, and Counter Cris-Cross. That is the best part of the Sweep Series it is an offense within itself.
Coaching Points: The question that usually follows what plays should I run is, "Should I pull the lineman?" I think the answers is yes! The Sweep series has the most pulling out of any of the Wing-T series. The Sweep Series plays can be run with or without pulling lineman. Traditionally the Sweep and the Waggle pull both guards in the direction of the play. On the Sweep the first guard kicks out the first man that shows (usually the force defender) and the second guard leads up through the hole and walls of the scraping linebacker (fig. 2). On the Waggle the first guard logs the defensive end and the second guard escorts the quarterback to the flank (fig. 3). If you choose to pull only one guard (usually the backside guard) he will pull and kick out on Sweep (fig. 4) and pull and escort on Waggle (fig.5). The advantage of blocking with one guard is that it adds an extra blocker to the front side of the line which helps secure the play side interior line of scrimmage. The disadvantage is that you are losing the block of the guard that picks but the scraping linebacker that usually is the defender that stops this lateral based play (fig. 6). I have seen many youth teams that pull no lineman, they just let the confusing backfield action take care of the defense. What seems to happen is the ball is given to the fastest player and he is able to out race the defense to the corner with little or no blocking. Instead of the trap they run a straight dive to the fullback after running to the outside several times with the Sweep. With the Waggle, the defense gets used to chasing the half back on the Sweep a simple fake takes care of half of the defense and allows the quarterback to take the opposite flank.
The Power Series: This series combines both power and finesse to the offense. One of the criticisms of the Wing-T is that it is a lateral based offense, meaning that plays often go East or West before going North and South, which is opposite of the I Formation which goes North and South most of the time (fig.7). The Sweep and the Waggle do take time to develop as the halfback and quarterback do race to the outside before turning up or throwing. The Wing-T Power plays try to address this problem along with other problems a defense can throw at you. With the Power Play the whole front side blocks down securing all gaps. This the answer to a team that is going to try and stunt the defensive linemen or blitz the interior linebackers, by having everyone block down it accounts for every gap and catches the stunting defensive players in the "wash." This play is also your companion play to the Sweep. What I mean by a companion play is that it looks similar to another play but takes advantage of the defense's adjustment to stop the initial play. For example, on the Sweep the defensive end will begin to widen on the snap of the ball in anticipation of the Sweep. After being down blocked by the wingback the defensive end will start to attack the wingback's block (fig. 8). When this happens we run the Power Play(fig.9). Instead of blocking the defensive end the wingback will now influence him by faking to block him down and then by going to the second level linebacker. As the defensive end widens we will blow him out with block of the fullback (fig. 10). When these plays are working the defensive end can not be right. Does he widen to stop the Sweep or crash down to stop the Power Play? The second play is the Counter Cris-Cross (fig. 11). This is another of the Wing-T's trademark plays. All this play really is a inside reverse, off the Power Play. The quarter back will hand off to the halfback and then the halfback will hand off to the wingback (fig.12). This play really drives the defense crazy!
The Belly Series: The Belly series is the Fullback package of the Wing-T. Depending on what plays you decided to use it can be the series with the largest number of plays. The primary play of the Belly Series is the Fullback Belly (fig.13). This is the Wing-T's answer to the I Formations Isolation Play. The Wing-T Belly has the halfback lead up through the hole and block the linebacker while the fullback follows him through the hole. Like all plays this can be blocked a number of different ways, but the most common way is to have the tackle and guard cross-block. I feel this is the most effective way to block the play especially at the youth level. The Belly can also be base blocked and we in fact at times call Belly "On" depending on the defensive front (fig. 14). The second fullback play is the Down (fig. 15). This play is very similar to the Belly just run to the tightend side and without the true lead blocker through the hole. In fact the Down is another companion play to the Sweep. Like the Power we will influence the defensive end with the wingback. The wingback will serve as the lead block as he continues toward the second level and blocks the inside linebacker. Instead of the fullback kicking out the defensive end, the play side guard will take a short pull and trap the defensive end out. The fullback will not take a lateral cross over step like in the Belly, but step with his play side foot directly for the inside foot of the tight end. This is a quick hitting play which can catch the defense off guard. The third play I would run from this package is the Tackle Trap, sometimes called the Halfback Counter (fig. 16). This play will look like Belly for the first few steps. The Fullback heads directly for the offensive tackle who is pulling. The halfback takes what we call a "Rock and Roll" step toward the outside and then receives an inside handoff by the quarterback who is reverse pivoting toward the halfback. The rest of line blocks like trap and the pulling tackle traps the first man to show. These are the three plays I would run from this package. There are many more plays that could be run including both a Belly and Down Option, Wingback Counter, Belly and Down Keep Passes. A keep pass is where the quarterback fakes the ball to the fullback and keeps the ball with the backfield action and has a run/pass option while attacking the flank.
The Quick Pitch: This is the last play I would include in the offensive package. With the right running back this play is almost unfair on the youth level! Along with being a great play it is one of the easiest to run. It is one of those plays that works with very little blocking. The play starts with the quarterback reverse pivoting or opening up to the halfback who is in the diveback position. You can either flat pitch the ball or spin the ball in a spiral to the halfback The halfback opens up and sprints toward the sideline, it is the quarterbacks job to get him the ball. The splitend cracks the first person off the line of scrimmage. The offensive tackle pulls toward the sideline and blocks the cornerback (fig. 17). This play can be awesome! Most youth league cornerbacks are still back peddling before they realize what is happening. We tell the rest of the line to release up field and get the safety. We do not worry about blocking the defensive line it is the halfbacks job to out run the pursuit. You could also run a ton of plays to accompany this play like the Halfback Pass, Tightend Dump, and Fullback Counter to name a few.
Formations: What formations do I use?? This is a good question. On the high school level we run a number of different formations. We do this for a number of reasons. First we try and get an advantage over the defense this is sometime done by running certain plays out of certain formations. The other aspect of high school football is the use of scouting and film break down. It is a necessity to change the formations we run and vary what we do from week to week. On the youth level I would really limit the amount of formations that I used. Very rarely do youth teams trade film or scout one another. The basic tightend/wingback to one side with the diveback/splitend to the other side(fig.18) would be the formation I would run ninety percent of the time. Why? Because on the youth level I would want my players to be confident in what they were doing. The possibility of having to line up in ten different places for the same play is setting the player up for failure. The only adjustments I would make to this formation is to add a second tightend (fig.19) or aligning the splitend over to the tightend side giving the formation an unbalnaced look. (fig.20).
Motion: One of the reasons for the Wing-T's success throughout the years is the confusion caused by the motion run by Wing-T teams. When we run our motions we want our players running at full speed on the snap of the ball. This calls for a certain amount of practice time to get the timing down between the quarterback and wingbacks. We run our motion on the snap count. For example our cadence is Red-Set-Go. A runningback in the wingback position leaves on the R of Red during the cadence. We want the runningback to be behind tackle in the diveback position on the snap of the ball. On the youth level you usually see the running back in what I call the "middle school trot," where the wingback will tippy toe in motion behind the line of scrimmage. I personally hate this form of motion. I feel one of the advantages going in motion is that the back is moving so fast that it gives the defense little time to react. By jogging the wingback you are allowing the defense to adjust and react. Many youth league coaches do not want to put in the teaching time or do not know how to teach the Wing-T motion. So here is the question, "Do I need to put my players in motion to start the play?" The answer is maybe. The only reason the Wing-T puts its wingbacks in motion is to get him in position to receive a pitch on the option or put him in a better position to block on the flank. In the plays that I gave you it is not necessary to run the wingback in motion. If you are planning on running the Belly or Down option then you need to put that wingback in motion.
Overview: Like I stated earlier I think the Wing-T offense is a great offense for the youth levels. It combines the power and deception that will score touchdowns. When run correctly the Wing-T is an unstoppable offense.