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By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs

You’ve seen both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers showcase it in front of millions of people in last year’s Super Bowl.  Then you saw Bob Stoops at Oklahoma toy with it in Norman.  Finally you saw former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen bring it to a whole other level and dice defenses in Stillwater.  It was "score at will" time for the Cowboys, propelling Holgorsen to his first head coaching job - now he’s doing it at West Virginia. So, chances are by now, you are familiar with at least the structure of the diamond formation (Diagram 1), but have you had the gaul to use it? If you’re like most of the coaches we spoke with, you’re still hesitating on dipping both feet in.

In fact, when we distributed our survey on the diamond formation to over 10,000 coaches we asked that only those that use the diamond formation respond…356 hit us back.  Now we realize that it is clinic season, but that number should be a good indicator of how many coaches still have not incorporated the diamond formation into their offense.  What’s more is that of those 356 coaches, 57.3 percent of them use it in less than 10 percent of their offensive schemes.  Probably the most telling facet of our research was that of all of the coaches that use the formation said they will use more of it next season.  If that’s not a testament to its value, we don’t know what is.  But again, we’ll try to be unbiased in producing the following research - even if our coaches can’t.

When asked why they’ve decided to utilize the diamond formation, we got a laundry list of benefits.  These are in no particular order.

Benefits of Using the Diamond Formation:

  • Mismatches on the Perimeter:  With nine players in the backfield (five offensive lineman and four backs) defenses are sure to load the box by playing 8-man fronts or locking down the perimeter.  Once the defense loads the box, you get one-on-one coverage with the outside receivers.  The pass game is a report all to itself, one that we will follow up with in the next couple of weeks.
  • Extra Hats = Extra Gaps: Whether you specialize in man, zone or gap run schemes, the extra blocker coming from the backfield is a big bonus.  You can run inside zone and still have a lead blocker (by having the backside back cut off the C gap).  You can run Power and have the backside back pull and lead through or you can simply run your isolation schemes and send both backs through the point of attack (as Urban Meyer did with Tebow a few years back).  It’s a terrific equalizer to teams that will try to put eight or nine defenders in the box - you have eight to block them.
  • Three-Back Offensive Sets:  This is why even the old-school Wing T guys love this set.  You get the opportunity to have three of your better athletes on the field at one time and really develop your run game concepts by distributing the football.
  • Balances Up the Defense: You force defenses to declare their strength pre-snap by setting their front and their coverage.  Once they tip their hand, you can run Power or Isolation either way (with the QB checking which side).  A balanced offense makes it difficult for an even front defense to set its strength and it allows teams to audible and run at the 1-tech or 3-technique.  You can run the same plays both directions without shifts/motions.
  • Instant Misdirection:  We all know how difficult it is for defenses (particularly at the high school level) to diagnose misdirection schemes efficiently.  The three-back set up in the diamond formation provides you with misdirection on any run scheme, because chances are you need only two backs at the point of attack - you can send the other one away.  Gap schemes tend to work best because you don’t need to pull an offensive lineman.  Many of the coaches we spoke with also believe that it eliminates defender’s ability to cross read vs. schemes like the inside zone and allows offenses to effectively run the inverted veer with the QB play side.
  • Pre-Snap Motions and Shifts:  Once you start in the diamond formation and defenses declare, it’s similar to empty where you can move and motion to get the numbers advantage you want.  They can’t overload the box because now they’re forced to expand a defender out of the core.  We devote and entire case study below on some of the most common pre-snap movements our coaches have used.

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Case 1: Alignments and Personnel

We’ve found that when using the Diamond Formation, 49.4 percent of coaches will mainly run out of this set 75 percent of the time.  While there are several opportunities to throw the ball, there is no question it is a run-first formation with lethal play-action possibilities off corresponding run actions.  In the survey, we inquired about personnel and which is more suitable for running this formation.  We’ve seen both: we’ve seen the Oklahoma State’s of the world run it out of 10 or spread personnel while professional teams like the Carolina Panthers used more 21 personnel with the addition of an H-Back.  When our survey concluded, we noticed that 42.5 percent use 21 personnel while 37.3 percent use 10 personnel - these were the two personnel groupings of choice based on our coaches.  

Tom McPherson, the head coach at Ridgeview High School (FL) uses both 30 and 10 personnel groupings in his diamond formation.  When he’s in 30 personnel, he’ll have three viable backs (two sniffers and one tailback) to run his power and kick run game as well as his isolation run game.  He’ll cheat his sniffers up to two yards from the line of scrimmage so they can get to the point of attack quicker.  "We’re a no tight end team, so we have a hard time handling seven in the box," said McPherson.  "Now we can kick and wrap our sniffers and have seven blockers in the box.   Our traditional diamond set is the only three back set where I use 10 personnel.  I think in terms of bigger backs or smaller backs. Changing personnel helps with practice planning because I’m not going to do any jet sweep meshes with the big backs, only with the smaller skill kids in 10 personnel.  I won’t ask a big back to be the jet sweep guy.  He will only be the power guy."

Reid Evans, the offensive coordinator at Central College (IA) uses 30 personnel in his diamond formation - a formation he started running halfway through this past season.  By the time the end of the season came, Evans was using it 70 percent of the time.  Evans used a fullback (FB), a tailback (T) and a running back (R) in his schemes but would only run his jet action in his option schemes to the tailback.  "We only had one true fullback so we didn’t want him taking any jet sweep meshes," said Evans.  Evans would put the QB toes at four yards with both the R and the F’s heels at four yards, which would put them slightly in front of the QB with both backs straddling the inside leg of the tackle.  "We used to love the solid formation with two tight ends, two receivers and one back because we forced defensive fronts to declare.  This year, we didn’t have the personnel with two tight ends.  Plus, we had three good running backs to get them in the game, so it was a simple adjustment," said Evans.

Apparently, Dulce High School (NM) head coach Leo Hand thought enough of the formation to use it exclusively this past season - and the results were outstanding.  So outstanding that Hand, the author of 13 books, has already penned a new title set for release in the spring entitled 101 Runs from the Diamond Formation through Championship Books.  Hand, a former T formation coach, guided his team to a 9-1 record this past season using the Diamond Formation.  They averaged over 500 yards and 44 points per game.  "I got hired in the summer time and had no time to put together a weight program," said Hand. "My offensive line wasn’t strong enough to handle all the gap schemes I had used as a T formation coach.  So what I did was back my QB up to get his heels at 4.5 yards and we ran all man schemes out of a three-back look."   Hand would make sure his two backs were even with the QB (he didn’t run any option at all) and put them on the inside leg of the tackle this way it resembled his old T formation.  "Guys were calling it the no-name offense," said Hand.  "But it worked.  We had more than a couple games stopped at half time because of the mercy rule.  Whatever you’re doing as an offensive coach, you can adapt to this."

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Case 2: Gap Schemes

Since the majority of coaches, 32.7 percent, utilize more gap concepts than anything else in the diamond formation, we’ll start there.  The reason being is simple; you don’t need to pull a slower, less agile offensive lineman.  Instead, the backside back in the diamond handles that responsibility in the run game.  For example, in the power schemethe backside back would pull for the play side linebacker while the front side back handles the kick out on the EMLOS (Diagram 2).   

A variation of this is what Hand calls his Blur series.  To Hand, "Blur" schemes refer to any post-snap misdirection by one of his halfbacks.  It presents a "blur" (aka confusion) to the defense.  In this first concept, he’ll send his play side halfback across the line of scrimmage to the inside leg of the tackle (just to provide instant misdirection) while the fullback leads up on an isolation block on the play side linebacker.  The back side halfback is the ball carrier (Diagram 3).   

He’ll also mesh the power concept with the counter concept where he’ll pull both backside guard and tackle while giving the ball to the back side halfback.  The play side half back still presents the blur (Diagram 4). 

Finally, he’ll mesh the blur with a shovel option scheme with the play side halfback and the fullback (Diagram 5). 

"The fullback goes left to get in pitch relationship for the option," said Hand.  "You still have the shovel option with the blur player going left, so you got the possibility of the shovel pass to the blur guy and the pitch to the FB.  It’s a triple option.  The QB will not go at that end hard inside shoulder.  He’s going flat down LOS and letting that End make the decision on option."

Case 3:  Front Side Read Schemes

With the popularity of the Power Read concept gaining momentum each season, coaches feel a more efficient way of running the scheme is by using a diamond formation.  Most power read schemes are double option concepts - either the QB keeps the ball on the power or gives the ball on the jet sweep. With three backs in the backfield, you have the ability to block the front side linebacker on the power scheme and have TWO lead blockers on the jet sweep scheme (both the fullback and the play side back) at the point of attack.

McPherson keeps all his reads front side and runs his stretch/power scheme at the 5-technique which puts the play side linebacker in a bind.  As teams get used to seeing that power read principle, more defenses are scraping that play side linebacker over the top of the 5-technique to handle the jet sweep while the play side defensive end crashes hard to play the QB.  It makes it hard for the backside guard to get to get to the play side inside LB. That is, unless you can run it from the diamond formation. "You’ve got the front side backer handled for whatever he wants to do," said McPherson.  "If he wants to sit and play power, the backside guard would handle him just like he would on power with the play side fullback working to the safety (Diagram 6).  If he wants to run over the top and play the jet or if the five technique squeezes and he replaces, the fullback has him (Diagram 7).  You have him blocked.  We just tell the fullback to block the first thing outside the C gap.  If he fits inside, we tell the back not to worry, the back side guard has got him.   When you just run zone read schemes, often times you’ll get a scrape and wind up pitching off the Mike.  It doesn’t happen with this."

According to McPherson, the most important coaching point on the power read scheme is to make sure the back running the jet sweep doesn’t go up field until he is four yards wider than the five technique defensive end.  "All he does is go fast and run stretch," said McPherson.  "Our heels are at the QB’s toes that way they can go straight across.  We don’t want that QB taking any drop step.  We tell the QB to take two or three shuffle steps with the read toward the 5-technique.  We majored in this scheme this year and our QB ran for 1,300 yards.  As far as the read goes, I just tell him that if that kid could tackle you give it, if he can’t, keep it.  We keep it that simple."

To see Coach McPherson’s Power Read Concept in action, watch the video below:

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Although we didn’t talk power read specifically with him, Evans was gracious enough to share his blocking assignments on the play and put together and exclusive video presentation on the power read for X&O Labs.


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Another front side read scheme out of the diamond that we discovered is the counter option concept used by Oelwein High School (IA) offensive coordinator Matt Keumpel (Diagram 8 ).   Keumpel installed the diamond formation last year and ran it out of 10 personnel.  He would put his two backs a little wider than usual - about a half step behind the tackle - in order to get them out on pass routes.  The counter option is a front side shovel option scheme that sends the back side back in the diamond to the inside leg of the offensive tackle for the shovel option while the play side back crosses the QB’s face away from play side. The fullback works to pitch relationship.  Similar to what Hand does in his "Blur" series, the instant misdirection causes interior linebackers to be out of place.  "If you run the counter option in high school, you’ll see linebackers just fly to spots," said Keumpel.  "It helps because you have to get the play side tackle to work to the play side backer.  Everyone else walls inside and you have the shovel.  The movement by the play side back going across causes the play side LB to move so we can wall him off."

Case 4:  Backside Read Schemes

Without question, the most used backside read scheme out of the Diamond Formation was the traditional zone read scheme.  It’s a scheme that Evans started to see the benefit of using of out of the diamond formation instead of using traditional 2x2 sets due to the misdirection.  While the offensive line blocks inside zone to the call side, the FB (back away from the call) will flash across the exchange and block the backside linebackerFor clarification purposes, Evans calls his deep back the R back, while the fullback (F) and tailback (T) are the diamond backs.  It’s a 30 personnel set.  "Our QB and R back run zone read just like single back pistol," said Evans. "The QB steps laterally to clear out and gets his other foot back as deep as possible to open his hips to get his eyes on the read.  Our R back goes straight down hill, while the QB reads the backside EMLOS.  We would have our T back jet across to the play side and our FB would go in front of the jet back and could either kick the EMLOS (Diagram 9) or wrap for the backside LB to be a lead blocker for the QB (Diagram 10).  We just tell the FB to take a path to wrap around DE to block linebacker which really helps against the DE/LB exchange.  In reality, if that DE comes up field, our FB couldn’t avoid blocking him.  So we told him don’t avoid contact. Against and eight man front, the tackle should be able to climb to the inside backer and the fullback would block the outside linebacker (Diagram 11).

Paul Kettering, a former coach at Fairmont Senior High School (WV) used a backside read principle out of the Diamond in what he called his "36 Lead Zone Option," which he ran mainly against eight man fronts (Diagram 12).   It’s a cheap play, according to Kettering, one that you can install as long as you’ve taught outside zone concepts.

"We go with outside zone blocking up front with a lead blocker sealing off the play side. We stalk block on the outside with the X and Z. We read the backside end on the initial mesh. If he stays, the QB gives it to the back. If he crashes, we're keeping it and reading #2, typically and OLB, sometimes a safety. Despite the fact that we've never been big or very deep up front, we were very successful running this play because of our ability to get a numbers advantage against most looks. As soon as they added that 9th guy in the box, we were taking advantage of our athleticism on the outside."

Researchers’ Note: You are reading the summary version of this Research Report. To access the full version of this report – including the corresponding Statistical Analysis Report featuring the raw coaching data from our research – please CLICK HERE.

Concluding Report:

We just wanted to send a quick thank you to all the coaches getting involved in our reports.  Currently, we have coaches at all levels - from the NFL to college to high school and youth - as well as those that call their home outside of the United States.  We truly feel humbled to be the vehicle for coaches to spread their information out there.  We ask that you continue to get involved with our surveys and continue to produce research project ideas and submit clinic reports.  It’s our mission to serve our coaches, and it’s our hope that we continue to build trust through you.  As always, feel free to contact us with any other requests.

Questions or Comments? If you have questions or comments on this Research Report, please post below and Mike Kuchar will respond.

Copyright 2012 X&O Labs



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