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 D814992-2By Ian Gardner, Quarterbacks Coach, Desert Edge HS (AZ)

Find out how flexbone teams are able to get the blocking angles and reads that they want through these four simple variations.


By Ian Gardner

Quarterbacks Coach & Pass Game Coordinator

Desert Edge HS (AZ)

Twitter: @igardner33



 D814992-2Early on in our season in 2014, as an offensive staff we had to make changes to our offensive scheme and personnel. We noticed we were developing running back depth and several of these backs showed they needed to be on the field more and together. We decided to package and run our offense out of three-back personnel for the rest of the season. In our three-back personnel, we identified them as A, B, and H. The A-back was our primary running back. The B-back was more of a second running back, but also could be moved around and play slot receiver. The H-back is your traditional utility player that many teams are using; he blocks well, runs routes and catches the ball, and at times, even carries the football. The keys for this personnel grouping - they had to be athletic, smart, block well, and have good ball security.

Why the Triple Option?

For us, we had to create plays in our offense that could take advantage of our personnel. That means a QB who is a good runner and the depth we had with running backs. We wanted to have more read options built in to our offense and be more versatile, but still keep our offensive blocking schemes simple for our offensive line. We had several dual option reads in our base offense, but we thought going to triple option would both allow us take advantage of our personnel and provide something for our opponents that they wouldn’t see as much of during the season. We strongly believed this would give us the best chance to succeed and win more football games.

Triple-Option Basics:

We basically ran two formations with three-backs in the backfield – Diamond and Navy (Diagrams 1 & 2). The Y receiver is to the strength, and the X is away from strength. The B-back went to the strength side and would align in a wing position or in off-set gun depending on the formation. The H-back was our adjuster. It is very important to understand, in our offensive scheme the type of run play called dictates how our A-back and sometimes our B and H-backs align.  


This past season, we were successful running power read, counter read and outside sweeps in our 3 back formations. We used the same formations to run these schemes as we use for our Veer and Belly options. This greatly reduced tendencies that the opposition might have been able to identify. In addition, we feel this gave our QB more opportunities to be successful in the run game with multiple schemes out of 3 back sets. 


We ran two different triple option plays this past year: the Veer and the Belly. In our “Veer” concept, the A-back would align in pistol alignment. In the “Belly” concept, the A-back would align off-set gun, aligned about one yard behind the QB and splitting the outside leg of the guard. We could also tag “B Belly” or even “H Belly”, meaning the B or H would be getting the ball, and would align in his “Belly” alignment. In the Navy formation set, we would Arc (full motion) or Orbit (return motion) our B back to get into a pitch relation with the QB. This was a timing thing, and was a big part of our daily mesh drill during practices. We tried to get the B about one to two yards behind and five yards in width from the QB. It was the B’s responsibility for getting into the correct pitch relationship with the QB. One adjustment we made was to incorporate the throw option of the reads by the QB. We would align our B out in the slot instead of the backfield and gave him bubbles and flat routes instead of pitch relation.  

Blocking Rules:

The offensive line, with the exception of the offensive tackle, is blocking our zone scheme to the call side. This means each of these players executes a quick, short step with play side foot while staying square. It is critical that they stay in their cylinders as they get vertical and don’t turn their shoulders and chase defenders. We teach them to handle the first level defenders before looking for linebackers.

The back side tackle is responsible for down blocking and is looking to create running room for our ball carrier. If he has a defender inside, he is looking to drive him down as far as possible. If there isn’t a defender inside, he will look to the second level and block the LB. His job is to cave his defender down as far as possible (Diagrams 7 & 8).


Option Reads:

The QB has two reads in our triple option. The first read (give/pull) would be the defensive end. We teach him to make this read off of the 1st player head up to outside the back side tackle. We tell him that “if the read player can tackle the RB, pull the ball.” The second read player (pitch read), was the “hanger” or the alley defender, which is usually an OLB. We teach the QB to be looking to run the ballfirst and get downhill, and not to look for the pitch. Our expectation for the QB was to pitch it quick if we got edge pressure right away. We found the opportunity to pitch the ball wasn’t high as we pitched it three times last season, but it still kept defenses honest.   

We teach our backs on Veer and Belly to bend, meaning to keep it in the back side B or A gaps. This allows us hit it quicker downhill and at times getting under the defensive end. This is much different than the typical zone mesh where ball carrier’s path and vision is to the play side. There were times, however, the ball carriers had good vision and kept it play side because of a stunt or movement by the defensive line.

In the Veer, the back is attacking downhill. As the QB takes a two-step 90 degree turn, he gives the ball carrier room for the mesh point. In the Belly, the backs will side step, keep shoulders square, and ride the mesh with the QB. The QB will take a small step toward the back in belly mesh. The QB was responsible for setting up the mesh and getting his shoulders square and eyes to his read. It is critical that the QB get the ball extended beyond his back hip, allowing more time through the mesh point for his read. As always, we stress the importance of carrying out the fake for the running backs and quarterbacks. 

Note: We practiced mesh drill two times per practice for 10 minutes each; one time during pre-practice and a second time during the middle of practice. We had our centers snap and coaches play the read players during these two periods. We strongly felt we had to commit to mesh work for us to be successful in our reads and in the triple option. 


Alignments: Sling, Wing, King and Queen…


Coach Gardner details his Sling, Wing, King and Queen alignments in the full-length version of this clinic report, which is only available on X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders. Insiders members, please login now (click here to login). Here’s what you’ll get with the full-length report.

  • Coach Gardner’s “Sling” and “Wing” alignments that he’ll use to present the allusion of a three-man surface while keeping the versatility of the H-back.
  • Coach Gardner’s “King” and “Queen” alignment, a complement that is used in his slip and bluff option concepts and the play-action schemes off of them.
  • How slip and bluff concepts provide for extra blocking at the point of attack on quarterback pulls.
  • VIDEO: Watch game film on all these concepts.

Join the Insiders: Get instant access to the full-length version of Coach Gardner’s clinic report. Plus, you’ll get all of our research, videos and drills. Get your Insiders membership here.


Once we committed to full time three-back personnel groupings, our offense took off. Our Belly and Veer scheme was one of our top running plays last season. We learned and adjusted our teaching and coaching as the season went on and learned quickly how to adjust new defensive concepts. No matter what scheme you draw up or how you adapt to your offense, for the triple option to be successful, it is all about your commitment to it and the mesh work during practice. 

Meet Ian Gardner: Coach Gardner has been serving as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Desert Edge High School (AZ) for the past three years. During that time, Desert Edge has compiled a 35-4 record and finished state runner-up in 2012, semi-finalists in 2013, and losing in the quarterfinals this past year. He has help Desert Edge's offense average over 46 points per game the past three seasons.  





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