Flexible Formation System for any Offense

Having the ability to align in virtually any formation and easily get the match-ups desired are the main components of our multiple spread offense.   In order to have the ability to do this, the offense must have a flexible formation system that gains an advantage in the way that it is taught, so that for the players it is easy to learn and align, yet for a defense it is complex to defend because of all of the possible match-ups and adjustments. This system accomplishes exactly that because it possesses the ability to get into multiple personnel groupings, use varying types of movement, and has the structure necessary to get into just about any formation that can be imagined.

This system de-emphasizes the memorization approach.  Many systems require that each player memorize his alignment in every formation call, thus limiting the number of formations that can be effectively used.  In this approach, information is communicated in a “block” approach.  Each player understands which block of information means something to him.  Not all players are required to know the whole call, just the part of the call that means something to him.

The system allows for multiple backfield sets, unbalanced formations, empty formations, quads, bunch, and any other alignment that an offense may want to position players.

In studying formation structures and knowing the rules of the game, we know that the offense must employ at least 7 players on the line of scrimmage, and most offensive formation systems desire to stretch the defense horizontally or add gaps to defend by placing multiple receivers, slots, or wings near the line of scrimmage.  With this in mind, we have identified a common set of “surfaces” in which 3 receivers (which we label as X, Y & Z) align.  From this point on, we will refer to X, Y & Z alignments as a “surface.”  These surfaces serve as our starting point for aligning in a formation.  When X, Y, & Z hear(or see) the surface, they now have all of the information they need to align.  We will have a simple set of adjustments that can be tagged to the surface to slightly vary the X, Y, Z alignments which will be discussed later.

For teaching purposes, we grouped and named our surfaces so there is a common feature to which our players could link their learning.  Again, for us this is a dramatic change from our previous system which was pure memorization.  Our 6 main surfaces are diagrammed below:

Surfaces that begin with R/L indicate a double width surface with a TE.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.19.56 AM

Slot twins formations are named with compass directions:

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And two tight end surfaces use animal names:

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.20.20 AM

The remaining two offensive skill players alignments (J & S) will be communicated with a simple number system.  The backs and quarterback will assume an under center “I” formation if a number is not added to the surface call.  If one number is tagged for the J alignment, then Pistol will become the default set.  We prefer the Pistol set because of the advantages it possesses in both the run and pass game.    A few other tags will be used for common backfield adjustments to add to the ease of communication.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.20.28 AM


We use a few tags to the formation that allow us to be even more multiple:

  • Bunch:  Puts 2 or 3 Receivers alignment tight to each other.
  • Over:  Puts single receiver to the opposite side of the formation(usually X; Y in East/West)
  • Heavy:  puts tackle to strong side to create unbalanced formation.
  • Wide:  Y splits to 8/9 spot(used with East/West) to get a match-up of a TE on a CB.



Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.20.56 AM

East 5

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.03 AM

Bull 8

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.09 AM

Eagle 5

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.14 AM

South 6

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.20 AM

North 6 Bunch

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.25 AM

Rip 4 Over

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.31 AM

West Heavy

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.37 AM

Empty formations:

If two numbers are used to adjust the backs, J will always adjust to the first digit, and S will adjust to the second digit.  This allows us to create some backfield adjustments and empty sets.


Rip 76

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.43 AM

Backfield Sets:

We use the terms Strong & Weak to offset the FB when we are under center.  0/1 are number used to create different backfield sets.  We could also move the FB near the line of scrimmage by using 2/3.

Strong Rip

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.48 AM

Movement will be communicated in a block approach also.  To motion a single player, the players letter will be used along with the digit we would like him to move to.


Rip 7 J-6

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.21.56 AM

Rip Z-7

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 10.22.02 AM

For multiple shifts and motions, a word communicating that movement will be used.  For ease of communication, the movement will give the surface and post movement alignment, and then a learned initial placement and movement rules of the players involved will be executed.  Because movement and shifts are used to attack a player or adjustment of the defense discovered during the video analysis of a defense, these movements will be used on a week to week basis by game plan.  Therefore, the learning of these movements becomes more manageable and easier to execute because they are given the proper repetition during the game week preparation.

To summarize they key components of this system:

X, Y & Z are communicated to with surface calls which only affect their alignment.  7 surfaces allow us to align in virtually any formation.  X, Y & Z only need to know the surface alignments.  The surfaces have common features and are labeled for ease of learning.  We have a single attached TE with double width surfaces, Slot Twins surfaces, Two TE surfaces, and 2 Receiver(3 back) surfaces.

J is communicated to with #’s that are universal across any surface call.  If a two digit number is called, he will always adjust to the first digit. J only needs to know his number system.

S is adjusted by the second digit of a two digit call using the same number system as J.  S only needs to know the number system.

A limited number of adjustment tags will be used to adjust X, Y & Z to a varied alignment to the surface call.

Under center “I” formation is the default if  number is not used with the call.

A single digit number adjustment automatically. puts the QB & S in a Pistol set.

A limited amount of tags will be used to adjust backfield sets.

Differences for our personnel in learning:

Each player has a limited amount of information to learn:  Previous system required memorization of 20+ formations plus tags and adjustments.  The large amount of memorization limited the number of formations we used.  Now  X, Y & Z need to know 7 alignments(in reality 4-5 because of personnel emphasis in the surfaces), J & S need only to know the number system.  There were things we wanted to get into, or formations we had to come up with names for in opponent breakdowns.  Those limitations no longer exist.

Learning will be communicated with word associations that provide learning cues and memory triggers for each alignment.

Surfaces are learned in pairs, thus eliminating some of the confusion that happens when a formation is tagged with “right” or “left.”

The number of signals that will be communicated for formation are drastically cut down and shortened allowing us to be quicker with our alignment.  Thus our uptempo procedures are even faster putting more stress on a defense when we choose to operate in that mode.

Implementing your formation system:

For us it started with looking at things from the player perspective and committing ourselves to finding a better way.  If you use numbers somewhere else in your system, coming up with a series of words that start with R/L and labeling the spots we number would be the way to go.  Using numbers for two different components of your offensive system will ultimately lead to confusion.  Do the work up front.  We are a multiple formation and personnel grouping offense.  We will never use all of the possibilities that exist in aligning players with this system, but we have the flexibility built in.  This also aids us in breaking down our opponent, and this system certainly has value for a defensive coach who is constantly having to name the multiple formations that offenses present throughout the course of the season.


My iBook 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays provides concepts that can be utilized in any offense, not just the pistol. The interactive multimedia book contains 229 pieces of dynamic content and a total of 30 minutes of game film.  I have received some great feedback from coaches who adapted all or some of those ideas in 2013. I was able to consult with several high schools around the country who were interested in this offense and implemented this system.  If you are interested in consultation on the Pistol, please email me grabkj@gmail.com.  Get 101+ PRO STYLE PISTOL OFFENSE PLAYS for your iPad or Mac from the iBookstore


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