Motions, Shifts and Stems with TEs

Jan 4, 2014 | Offense, Trades, Shifts and Motions, Formation Structures

By Rick Wimmer

Head FB Coach

Fishers HS (IN)

Editor’s Note:  Rick Wimmer has been the head football coach at Fishers High School (IN) since 2006 when the school opened.  Despite going 1-10 in the schools inaugural season while playing a varsity schedule with no seniors, the Tigers have recorded a 54-29 record in 7 seasons including 2 conference championships, 2 sectional championships, and the 2010 Indiana 5A State Championship.  Prior to arriving at Fishers, Wimmer also served as head coach at Greenwood, Merrillville, and Zionsville High Schools.  In 30 years as a head coach, Wimmer's teams have compiled a 218-112 record earning 9 conference championships, 6 sectional championships, 3 regional championships, and 2 Indiana State Championships (2010, Fishers (5A);  1987, Zionsville (3A).

It seems many of the highly productive offenses today have gone in one of two directions.  A very popular mode of offensive attack today calls for a no-huddle, fast-paced attack.  Often, but not always, these offenses use a limited number of personnel groups and formations so they can get to the line of scrimmage quickly, align properly, and execute plays rapidly to put constant pressure on the defense.  The other end of the spectrum is to use multiple personnel groupings, break from the huddle, and put pressure on the defense by giving them very little time to recognize and adjust to a variety of alignments by shifting to multiple formations.  We have found using movement at the line of scrimmage to be an effective way to pressure the defense and add multiplicity to our offense.

We have three ways to change alignments at the line of scrimmage:

  1. The first is simply motion.  Many offenses use motion to change a player’s alignment and often to change the strength of a formation.
  2. The second is a shift.  For us, a shift is resetting the alignment of any number of players after we get to the line of scrimmage.
  3. We call our third method of changing alignments a stem.  In our nomenclature, a stem starts with a single player in motion across the formation to change the strength followed by one or any number of players moving to another position to complete the stem as the original player in motion resets.

Benefits of Pre-Snap Movement

Shifts and stems will affect defenses differently depending on the scheme of the defense and how the opponent wishes to handle movement.  There are several reasons we choose to use movement in our offense.  Many times the advantage we can gain from a shift or a stem depends on how the defense chooses to react to our movement.  Here are the reasons we may choose to use certain kinds of movement against an opponent:

  • The defensive players will have less time to recognize a formation and process what tendencies we may have from a particular set.
  • For defenses that want to flip personnel to put particular players to the TE strength, we may be able to get our TE(s) matched up on players not as comfortable or effective playing against a TE  or a 3-man surface.
  • Quick movement and realigning can help the offense outflank the defense or, by adding TEs to the surface of a new alignment, can create extra gaps that must be defended by aligning properly very quickly.
  • Should a defensive coordinator choose to move personnel as our offense re-aligns, those defensive  players must then re-set, refocus on their key, think about what blocking schemes they might get  from the final alignment, and still try to play fast and aggressively.  This can be difficult.
  • For reduction type defenses, players will either need to slide their front, probably forcing them to play positions they are not accustomed to playing (1technique becomes 3 technique;  5 technique  becomes a 7 or 9 technique) or change the defense and, probably as a result, the coverage (Over  front becomes Under front).
  • Motion, shifts, and stems create multiplicity in the offense.  We allow certain players freedom to align anywhere they choose in pre-shift or pre-stem alignments creating a variety of pre-set alignments which may often be unpredictable.  When you combine such movements with a variety of personnel groups, the pre-set formations and final alignments are multiplied without creating  much additional learning for your own players.

Sometimes we think our opponent may be more likely to stay in balanced, generic fronts to reduce the need to make many adjustments.  For example, a 30 front team may be more likely to stay in a balanced 30 front as opposed to reducing the defense to or away from a TE.  Some defenses may be less likely to use stunts and blitzes as the shifting and stemming may require changes in the calls or at least some thinking and possible hesitation in their execution.

Controlling Your Movement Package

Getting the players to be able to execute different movements effectively and efficiently is very important.  We have a variety of motions, shifts, and stems but we will generally go into a game with just a couple of those shifts and stems.  However, by mid-season our opponent will have seen 6 or 7 different movement patterns.  The opponent will have to practice against all of our motions, shifts, and stems while we are preparing 2 or 3 for a particular game.  Also to add to the multiplicity for our opponent, most of our shifts and stems allow certain players to have a pre-shift alignment of their choosing.  Our communication of a single shift or stem of our players may look like several different re-sets to our opponent that will need to be drawn on a scout card and practiced against their own defense.  Also we choose to tie our movements to our snap count.  We believe this also helps us with the efficiency of our movements.  Some teams elect to use foot movements or hand movements by the QB to trigger motions and shifts.  By tying our movements to the snap count, we are able to automatically vary the snap count and, we believe, it helps w/ the timing while not putting another responsibility on the QB at the line of scrimmage.


For example, with some kind of long motion (WR across ball or TE/FB across ball and back), we might want the ball snapped "on one."  i.e.  "Set – 2 (motion begins), 14 – 2, 14 – Hut" (ball snapped).  With a short motion (FB/TE motion across ball or WR short motion toward ball), we might call for the snap count to be "on the numbers."  i.e. "Set – 2 (motion begins), 14 – Hut." (ball snapped).  Without divulging all of our various snap counts and specific movements that are coordinated with them, our various shifts, double shifts, shifts with motion, and stems all require specific snap counts and cadence mechanics that help us vary the snap count during the course of the game. 

Of course, the QB and moving players must understand that shifting players must re-set for a full second before the snap or before another movement can be executed.  This will, at times, require the QB to "hold" certain parts of the cadence with a pause before continuing.  This adds a non-rhythmic aspect to the cadence for the opponent but, because it is expected by our players, it really creates a rhythmic advantage that helps us with our takeoff.