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Running-Game Structure in Modern Offenses

This is an excerpt from Coaching Canadian Football by Football Canada.

The offensive system should have the flexibility to adapt and be complementary to the athletes' skills. If you are able to recruit players, target and secure players to fit your system. If you're in a situation that is not recruiting-based, such as high school, rep, or house league football, your system needs to be flexible enough to fit the skill level of your athletes. An effective and complementary running game should be able to attack a defense in a multitude of ways. It is no longer only about outmanning or strong-arming a defensive unit; it's about putting a segment of the defense in a situation in which players have to make split-second decisions based on the formation and the action between the tailback and quarterback that create mismatches. An example of this is a run-pass option play, called a zone read by some coaches.

The ace tailback with a five-receiver set, having evolved from the two-back set, is now common. But I am happy to see that the tight end and fullback still find their way into a number of offensive sets. Spreading out the defense—not only with offensive linemen splits, but with motion and receiver sets—can really put a defense in a bind, and from there weaknesses and mismatches can be exploited. The fullback in the two-man backfield set has really been a victim in the metamorphosis of the passing game. We now see the H-back play a very large role in the offensive design. The H-back is really a hybrid of the fullback, tight end, and wide receiver, and when the right player is identified, he can really serve as a difference maker in the running game. The H-back's skill set demonstrates toughness, great feet, and agility. The H-back possesses a physical stature and strength that will allow him to block a defensive end or linebacker, while having the quickness and ball-catching skills of a wide receiver. He can even line up as a fullback and lead block for the tailback, so the H-back truly is a jack-of-all-trades in offensive football skills.

I do not think the running game should be limited to either a one- or two-back set, and the H-back can give you the option of multiple sets with the same play. The tailback comes in all shapes and sizes, and it has been proven that, at the pro level, this player can be a 62, 225-pound player with great vision, feet, speed, and agility, or the diminutive 58, 160-pound guy who can make you miss in a phone booth.

In many cases, I find that the tailback position in youth football is the most undercoached position on the field when it comes to blocking techniques, steps, defensive sets, and running routes. Coaches often take the fastest, most instinctive player, give him the ball on almost every play, and let him go. The development of this position should start with learning techniques, ball security, footwork, and body position, as well as understanding what the offensive line does on each and every play. Some coaches might think this material can be introduced and worked on in training camp and then omitted in the regular season. Not so. Watch a great running team in their individual periods at practice, and you'll see the running back coach drill the basic steps and pass protection techniques every day. The running back in Canadian football must also be very skilled when it comes to pass protection, and like all the other elements of the game, technique is very important and must be coached and practiced.

Learn more about Coaching Canadian Football.

More Excerpts From Coaching Canadian Football