Football is becoming a very pass-happy sport.
The skills we see from modern quarterbacks (QB) like Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes are simply incredible. The stuff they can do with a football in hand is almost in-human.
But at its heart, football is a simple game that relies on big runners to make ground.
The triple option offense playbook does precisely that. And although this offensive strategy has widely gone out of fashion at NFL and collegiate levels, it is still an excellent offensive play that high school and youth team coaches should have in their playbook.
In this guide, I’m going to be walking you through how the triple option playbook works while introducing you to a couple of fast running plays you can use to break holes in your opposition and score touchdowns.
I’ll also introduce you to a couple of tried and tested plays that will deceive and baffle your opposition defenders.
But let’s firstly take a look at where this offensive play first originated.
What Is The Triple Option Offense?
The Triple Option Offense creation was mostly credited to University of Houston coach Bill Yeoman back in 1965.
Yeoman successfully deployed the play to gain 3-top ten finishes with Houston during the 70s.
In the age where QBs didn’t have the same arm strength or passing accuracy as a modern-day Patrick Mahomes, running plays were how teams scored touchdowns. Old school football was kind of like rugby.
Thus, the Houston head coach innovated and built a whole playbook based on the principle that a quarterback should have three options to run the ball up-field.
One option would come from a running back moving up through the center of the field, another option would come from a running back swinging around and driving left or right, and the final option st was the QB could hold the ball and run himself.
Thus the triple option was invented.
It has since stood the test of time, with coaches still building plays and running routes based on Yeoman’s triple-option playbook.
Who Should Use The Triple Option Playbook?
Although we’ve seen many colleges and NFL teams slowly move away from the playbook, the triple option is still used by many Division I football teams and military football teams.
It’s an excellent option for these teams as they often lack players who have the same skill level as a college team, so they will instead utilize their bulk and midfield muscle to run the ball and break tackles.
For that reason, I’d recommend coaches operating in the lower leagues of football and at youth levels to integrate the triple option playbook into their offensive arsenal.
So what sort of teams should use a triple option offense?
Teams with a mobile QB
Ultimately this play requires a QB who isn’t afraid of running with the ball. You need a pacey QB who can skirt around defenders and strong in the tackle to push past defenders.
Teams with strong running backs
The value of a good running back is seriously underrated in modern football. Running backs are the best and most secure way to make solid yards. The triple option offense relies upon having fast and robust running backs who can also block and run deceptive running lines to draw defenders out of position.
Blocking wide receivers
Wide receivers are the glory hunters of American football. If you can find yourself a few wide receivers who can block defenders and create holes in your runners’ defense, they can prove themselves to be a vital asset in any football play.
Intelligent offensive linemen
These guys have multiple roles in a triple offense play. They don’t just protect the QB but can push defenders in different directions to open up holes in the line of scrimmage, which your running backs can exploit. Nobody ever expects you to run right through the danger zone, and in the triple offense, a lot of yards can be made through straight routes up the middle of the field, so remember the key to a good offense always starts with the linemen at the coal face.
Now with that in mind, if your players aren’t willing to block, or if your team has to play tight ends along the scrimmage, you might want to think twice about using this offensive play.
How do we set up for a triple option Offense?
The set up for the triple offense doesn’t stray too far from most classic football plays.
Teams should line up with five offensive linemen:
- x1 center;
- x2 offensive guards; and
- x2 offensive tackles.
In the backfield, teams will then typically have:
- a quarterback;
- x2 wide receivers; and
- x3 running backs.
The triple option playbook diverts from modern plays through the use of three running backs. One thing to note here is that innovative defenses will pick up that you’re about to call a running play as they’ll see you lining up with three running backs on the pitch. To confuse them, you’ll need to station your runners in different locations around the line of scrimmage to keep them guessing at what’s coming next.
Triple Option Plays
Here are some of my favorite and most effective triple option plays that I have seen teams run over the years.
This is a play that exploits the right-hand side of the line of scrimmage.
The sweep requires your offensive linemen to work together to open up holes on the right-hand side of the offensive line. That means they will need to coordinate to angle their shunts and drive play left and right to open gaps in the field.
Your running options come from running backs A and E, with player B providing a dummy line for the QB. The QB can also run himself but will usually show for backs A and B and will offload to the E runner, who will run at pace at a small gap that has been created by the offensive guard and tackle on the right-hand side of the scrimmage.
If the QB sees defenders looking to close up this gap, he has the option to use player A’s swooping line to run the ball around the congestion of the scrimmage and attack a cornerback on the right-hand side.
The QB’s wide receivers will usually run short safety plays on this route and offer themselves up to the QB if they’re forced to offload the ball.
This is a great route to be used when you’re rushing the end-zone or to make quick yards up the pitch.
This is a pretty hard play to master and is one I definitely recommend running through several times on the practice field before you run it in a game.
But being complicated means, it’s a deceptive play that baffles defenders and can be used to pick holes in your defenses’ line.
The play is initiated by the offensive guards squeezing and dragging opposition players inward to open up channels on their left and right. Offensive tackles will then do the opposite and push outwards to increase that gap and provide the QB and player B with a hole wide enough to skirt through with the football.
In this play, the QB’s main options are himself, player A and player B. E will act as a dummy runner and charge through between the center and the right-hand guard. The QB can then offload the football to player B, or roll around the right-hand side, offering the ball to player A moving in on the sweep route or take the ball up to himself through the gap left between the right-hand guard and tackle.
This is an excellent smash play to use when you’re less than 5 yards out from the line of scrimmage.
The Flexbone Formation
The possibilities of the triple option offense are endless, and you can build on the two plays above to create your plays.
But one other set up coaches should be aware of in the triple option play is the flexbone. The flexbone triple option sets the QB right behind the center, with a fullback situated right on his back. Two smaller running backs will start the play tucked in behind their offensive tackles on either end of the line of scrimmage.
The great thing about the flexbone is it allows an offense to run broad lines at defenders and stretch players at the line of scrimmage.
Here are a couple of my favorite flexbone triple option plays!
In this variation on a traditional running roll-out, the play hinges on player E dragging either a tight end or quarterback away from the channel between the wide receiver and the scrimmage.
After the snap, the QB will start to roll right and have three options available. He can use the full back charging through from behind him to hit a line between the right-hand tackle and right guard.
The QB can offload the ball or roll round right and pop the ball off to player B coming around from the left side, or take the ball on his own and hit the channel outside of where the wide receiver is situated on the diagram above.
The flexbone can also be used as a pass-action play too. The pass comes as the third option in the above play, with the fullback and player B providing the QB with running lines.
Running back, E will start the play tight to the back of the right offensive tackle and run a dragline towards the right side of the pitch. This again is an excellent play if you’re looking to run the ball out of play to stop the clock.
With player E advancing to the right-hand side, the right wide receiver should look to hit a sharp corner route to drag his cornerback and any linebackers from tracking player E.
Meanwhile, the full-back will provide the QB with a flat run and will curve through the center of the line of scrimmage. He can adapt his run to hit the gap between the guard and center or tackle and guard. The most important part of his role is to distract opposition players from the play shifting to the pitch’s right-hand side.
The QB’s final running option comes from player B, who will loop in front of the QB and hit a gap between the right guard and tackle. This is a good offload option for the QB, and with E and the right WR taking out defenders on the right-hand side of the pitch, player B can pass through relatively unmarked.
This play is best used when teams are looking to gain ten yards to gain the last down. With two wide receivers running relatively short and open routes, plus a running back dragging outwards, the QB has multiple throwing options and running options to score those extra ten yards.
And although triple-option offensive plays are traditionally running plays, you can incorporate a passing move into the play by using one of your running backs as an additional wide receiver.
My top tip to any coach looking to utilize the triple option playbook is to keep things simple. Overcomplicating your running routes will inevitably cause your players to crash into each other as they cross over their runs in the backfield.
Ensuring each player has a set responsibility at the start of the play and understands the running route they need to perform will maximize your runs’ potential.
Coaches should instruct their players to run hard and straight at defenders to overpower their opposition and push players off the ball. For those players running looping routes, their objective should be to run into space and attack the holes left created by your offensive line.
Try to experiment with the play and run routes that play to your team’s strengths. If you have big running backs, run straight and narrow lines. If you have smaller, faster running backs, look to use the flexbone triple option formation.
But ultimately, remember that no matter what level of football you’re playing, the triple option playbook is a great offensive strategy to gain essential yards.
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