Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” That is one of the main themes behind the development of this website. The aspects of coaching that we have learned in the past influence what we do now and in the future. The objective of this column is to spark thinking on different offensive topics while providing perspective from the past and the present. This will be an ongoing discussion on the evolution of offense as we look for ways to improve and enhance our offensive attack.

Consistently high performing offenses evolve. Many coaches are of the philosophy of “revolution” instead of “evolution.” This happens in one of two ways. It happens intentionally – coaches go to clinics or buy a book or DVD and see the latest and greatest schemes, plays and concepts and want to adopt them as a whole, radically changing what they do. They fail to realize that the coaches they learned from developed that idea over years and learned from their successes and failures. The coaches who have developed the idea have a depth of knowledge that can only be gained with experience, and many times the developers fail to go deep enough so that others can replicate it.

This process also happens unintentionally with a coach getting an idea here, or an idea there, and bringing them in little by little failing to think about how that play may fit into the structure of their offense. I have fallen into this trap before. Following the 2003 season with a team that underachieved, I did a self-study of our offense against the top of our conference over a three year period. In the run game, I found 32 different run plays were called over the eight games included in the study. Our average gain and run efficiency were poor. Looking at the numbers, there wasn’t even a play of two that could be labeled as a base running game. Obviously, we had focused too much on scheme and we weren’t getting the execution we needed. This prompted us to reorganize our offense and tweak our structure and terminology so that we could create some flexibility to grow and adapt in the future. We also became a concept-based team using the structure to create a teaching process so that our players could learn and play fast in a multiple offense.

Furthermore, in adding an idea here or there or completely changing, some offensive coaches haven’t built a system flexible enough to handle radical changes and the terminology changes that go along with it. The new idea is exciting for coaches and even players, but players must learn the new system and seniors become “sophomores” again. A lot of the time talent makes those schemes work, and when a coach has only learned on the surface level what makes that play work, they are searching again when talent graduates.

What we would like to convey in this website is a thought process for looking at offense. I don’t claim that we do it better than anyone else, but I do believe in building on a sound foundation, and in sharing how we do it, I hope to spur thinking that can help in evolving your offense, or if you choose to radically change your system, provide a process in which you can streamline your adaptation and reduce your learning curve by focusing on the right questions you should be thinking about.

The ideas shared in this column will provide the depth of knowledge needed on different offensive topics so coaches have a better understanding and plan for implementation if they decide to use some of these ideas. We will provide an opportunity to answer any questions that may arise, but we desire that coaches gain not only a depth in their knowledge, but also width. American Football Monthly and Gridiron Strategies have the largest database of content available on the market. We will provide links to some similar ideas and offensive topics along with a perspective from defensive coaches and their answers and strategies for defending whatever topic we may be discussing.

The past has an influence on where things are now. I also find that content relevant a while ago comes back transformed in some way because coaches learn new ways to implement it. I had a retired coach on my staff years ago who loved to tell stories. Some of the younger coaches would grow impatient with his stories or diagrams or suggestions for plays because they were from an old system that was not relevant to what we were doing. Unfortunately, they were focused on the wrong aspects of what he was saying, evaluating the knowledge he was imparting at the surface level and not digging into the true message he was trying to convey. There were always valuable nuggets lying under the “dust” of his stories and play diagrams. Fortunately, I was able to see that and listen for the core of the message and not worry that the play he was discussing was 30 years old.

Having access to these articles in the archives hopefully initiates thought as to the direction in which you are evolving as a coach, and where your offensive system needs to go next.

Getting Started

To kick things off, I’d like to consider the offensive system as a whole. It doesn’t matter if we are talking spread, I formation or wing-t. Every offense needs an operating system. Think of it like it is a computer. Your terminology and structure is the operating system. Your plays, schemes, and concepts are the software. They should exist separately from each other. A computer company wouldn’t want to have to install a new operating system every time it wanted to update its software. Offense is the same. Terminology is simply the structure that allows you to bring in a new concept here, delete one there and keep the system moving forward and operating efficiently. How the terminology is organized and structured is very important to teaching and coaching.

In creating a system, the objective should be to make it user friendly for both the coach and the player through clear and concise language.

In terms of creating an offense, language and structure need to be determined for the following areas:

Procedures – This is not just snap count in today’s offense. I had the opportunity to talk with Jon Gruden in January, and he identified this as one of the best weapons an offense has in its arsenal. Tempo has become so much a part of the game that we actually incorporate it as part of every play call.

Personnel – Personnel substitutions are also becoming more prevalent at all levels. Advantages can be gained for an offense in how it builds itself around and utilizes the skill sets of its players. In most situations, even at the levels that recruit, personnel doesn’t always fit exactly like it did in the previous years. Good offensive coaches have the ability to recognize the talents of their players and build their system around players’ abilities. Having the ability to use multiple personnel creates many advantages. Therefore, a system of utilizing different personnel is necessary, even if you decide to use it in limited situations.

Formations– Aligning players for success against a defense is an important aspect of offensive football. Defenses try to align to keep themselves sound and gain man advantages. Though an offense may decide to hang its hat on a few formations, having a system in which you can simply pull up your menu of formations and utilize them from week to week or year to year is important in the evolution of your own offense. Ultimately, opponents will develop answers for a team that utilizes a smaller set of formations. Having the ability to add wrinkles with different alignments rather than different plays makes it tougher on the defense while an offense can maintain its repetition of the same schemes. The challenge is to create a system that becomes cumbersome because of memorization or extra verbiage. This is an area of offense that should be built for both now and the future. It is one of the most important structural parts of your “operating system.”

Movement– Movement ties right into formations. It is a great way to dress up what you are doing and create variations. When used right, it allows you to create advantages in numbers, leverage or match-ups. Motion and movement can also help you to identify what the defense is trying to do in how it adjusts to your movement.

Plays – Plays fall into a few areas. Thinking about it as general as possible, it’s either run or pass. I’ve worked with a number of different coaches and structures from an option offense to wing-t to I-formation to spread, and this exposure along with my own research has helped me gain a sound understanding of labeling plays. I’ve moved from a complete number system from my wing-t days to code words in a completely hand signaled no-huddle system, and have learned a lot from working along that spectrum.

Run Game Concepts and Tags – I’ve set my offense up with words and numbers. There are advantages to both, but I did find that as we moved to a no-huddle system, we preferred using words and we eliminated back numbering and hole numbering. I’ve used numbers as series before and series also became concepts labeled with descriptive words. Instead of “Power” being 46/47, it was simply Power Right and Power Left. Multiplicity was added for us by labeling blockers we were adding into the blocking scheme by their letter. To us, a two-back Power to the right is “F-Power Right.” The beauty of the system we developed with a one-back A-gap Power is that adding a fullback or h-back type of player into the blocking scheme doesn’t affect the offensive line.

One of the main principles of our entire offense is that we will keep it very simple for the guys inside so they can play fast and come off the ball. Variations to what we do affect the line very little, so they only need to understand two closely related zone concepts and two closely related gap concepts. We have also found ways to tie the teaching and fundamentals of zone and gap together so that there is even more synergy in how we block our run game. Focus then shifts to fundamentals and execution of the proper technique.

Passing Game Concepts and Tags – The passing game can be set up in a multitude of ways. Some teams start with the primary route and number it using a tree. Some call a number for every receiver, so 787 may mean a corner for the X, post for the Y, and corner for the Z. In using this system, I found both limitations and confusion. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the passing game is organized around concepts in which players understand the rules for a route combination based on their alignment as number 1, 2 or 3 and/or their relationship to the front side or backside of the concept. Concepts can have variations and tags added to the package to make it very multiple. In this area, I’ve moved completely to a concept-based passing game and have found great advantages in both teaching plays and calling them on game day.

Thinking about your own offense

Utilizing information and finding a way to implement an idea into what you already do is key to keeping your offense evolving and one step ahead of your opponent’s defense. In this column, I will offer information on how we do it, and suggestions for how you can either incorporate our ideas into what you do, or an exercise in thinking for you to look at what you do and how you might be able to streamline it. I will talk about each of the components that I have mentioned in this article in the coming weeks and months and give detailed information and examples. My suggestion is that you take an inventory of all of the components of your offense. My process of evolving as an offensive coach was not just to gain an understanding of what everyone else is doing on offense and defense, but to develop a complete understanding of what we do and our philosophy behind it. Here’s a few things for you to consider:

General inventory of our offense:

  • What is our offensive philosophy? What is our philosophy in each of these categories: Procedures, Personnel, Formations, Running Game, Passing Game?
  • List all of the terminology that is used throughout the structure of offense.
  • How many words are used in each of the categories: Procedures, Personnel, Formations, Running Game, Passing Game?
  • Are there opportunities for confusion in our structure? For example, do we label a pass play in with an NFL team name, but also use an NFL team name for a formation?
  • Did we create a structure that is clear and concise with its use of words or numbers?



  • What procedures exist in our offense now?
  • Are there advantages we are not thinking about in varying our tempo or having the ability to use cadence as a weapon?
  • If we were to utilize no-huddle, how will we communicate and is our system set up for communication in a no-huddle procedure?


  • Are we fully utilizing the personnel we have?
  • What skills does each of our players have that we can build around?
  • Do we have a system of substituting personnel packages into a game?
  • Is it flexible enough to have the answers we need from year to year?
  • Is it simple enough for the players and coaches to use?



  • How many words make up our formation system?
  • What do they mean?
  • Are there terms that cause confusion?
  • Can we align quickly and without error?
  • Is our system flexible and multiple enough to move our offense along the spectrum of a compressed multiple back offense to spread shotgun if we choose to move in either direction?

Running Game:

  • Do we number our plays or name our plays?
  • What is the specific structure we use to communicate who is carrying the ball, direction of the run, and blocking scheme?
  • How many plays or schemes do we utilize? Can we combine or delete different plays to become more efficient?
  • How many practice reps are available to practice all of these plays?

Passing Game:

  • Do we use numbers or names or both for our passing plays? If we use both, is there a consistent reason for using both numbers and words?
  • Do we memorize a play or utilize concepts in which we teach a rule based on alignment? Which is best for our system?
  • Are passes tied directly to formation, or do we have ways to call the pass from multiple formations or personnel groupings?
  • How many plays or routes do we utilize? Can we combine or delete different plays to become more efficient?
  • How many practice reps are available to practice all of these plays?

Hopefully, these questions provide a starting point for you to do some quality control. The links below provide access to articles in the AFM and Gridiron Strategies archives. The perspective of other coaches is always a help in either validating your own thinking or developing answers for the problems you are working through. The links provided this week are focused on offensive systems and defensive systems. They paint a picture of how offenses and defenses are evolving to handle the problems that each presents to the other. Over the coming weeks we will focus on more specific topics within all the categories mentioned in this article.

We would like this to become a forum where ideas are shared and questions are answered. Please post any questions that you have.

American Football Monthly – Offensive Articles

American Football Monthly – Defense

Gridiron Strategies – Offense

Gridiron Strategy – Defense