Breaking football down to its core, the game is all about possession and making ground.
It’s simple; if you don’t have the football, you’re never going to score. And even then, if you’re not making yards, you’re not going to get anywhere near the end-zone!
There are many different plays out there that can help teams maintain possession of the football and score world-beating touchdowns.
But none have stood the time as well as the Wing T offense.
The Wing T has proven its success at all levels of the game, helping the Kansas City Chiefs win the Superbowl in 1970 while also bringing home countless state championships at youth and high school level.
For that reason, this play is a great strategy you can deploy in a youth football system. In this guide, we’ll be walking you through how to set this play up, run it effectively, and also introduce you to a few hybrid Wing T formations you can use to tear holes in your opposition.
Let’s start by going back to the 1950s!
What is the Wing T offense?
The Wing T offense’s first uses can be traced back to the 50s, where Dave Nelson’s Delaware University Football Team used the formation to obliterate teams.
Nelson is credited as the founding father of the formation after going 105-48 over the 15 years he spent as the University’s head coach.
Although the Wing offense existed before Nelson came to become the head coach at Delaware, he made it the complete formation, meshing together a sweeping move from the tailback, new blocking, offensive line displacement techniques, and even added a passing option too.
At its heart, the Wing T is a deceptive running play that blocks and pulls defenders out of position to allow a quarterback (QB) or a running back (RB) the chance to exploit holes in the defensive line and gain valuable yards.
Wing T offensive plays typically utilize a fullback, a tailback, and on occasion a halfback, who will all either block off defenders or run the ball up the center of the pitch.
That makes it a team-orientated attacking formation that relies on multiple players to perform their duties correctly for the play to work.
And instead of handing the ball off, in this formation, the QB will usually be tossed to an RB coming at a deep angle at the line of scrimmage.
Who should use the Wing T offense?
We can see this play in operation in all levels of football as it’s a safe and proven strategy teams can use to make solid yardage.
Although, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s an excellent play for youth teams, with players who are developing in size and skill.
In high school, you’re not always going to find a 6ft quarterback who can sling darts 60 yards downfield and hit a target the size of a nickel, right? Likewise, you’re also not always going to find strong and big players able to block or carry the ball through defensive lines like you might see in pro football.
Again, that makes this play an excellent tool for coaches working in youth football systems, and I personally like it as it gets your full team involved in the action.
But what sort of teams should run the Wing T?
Teams with blocking running backs
As this is a highly deceptive play, you’re going to need to start players who understand football enough to draw defenders away from space, to create gaps for the ball carrier to run through. That means every player in the lineup needs to be able to block and draw defensive players out of position and away from space to create holes for your team’s ball carrier can run through.
A smart quarterback
Your quarterback (QB) doesn’t need to be the biggest or best thrower either. They need to anticipate how a defense is lining up and offload the football to the running back, who will hit a hard line to split the defense and make yards. With that in mind, the QB also needs to be a confident runner, too, as, like the Triple Option Offense, the QB provides a third offensive option in the Wing T offense.
Tactically minded Offensive Linemen
As with your QB and your running backs, your linemen also needs to read the game to anticipate how your opposition is lining up and where they will attack your QB. It’s wrong to say that all these guys do is push and block because they create holes and pockets, dummy runners and ball carriers can run through. They play perhaps the most important role in this formation, as, without them, defenders can easily shut down your runners and stop you from advancing up the pitch.
How to set up Wing T formation plays
The Wing T formation combines the classic Wing formation and the T formation. With a tight end (TE) and a wingback (WB) aligning to give additional coverage on the wing of one side of the scrimmage, two or three RB’s will align behind the QB, giving this formation its T shape.
Teams can also play a split end (SE) on the other side of the wing to balance the playout and pull a defender out wide, but they can swap this player out and add another RB to give the QB four offensive options.
You can vary who you play and where you play them in this formation, but the classic Wing T formation will set up with the following players.
Teams should line up with six offensive linemen, including:
- a center;
- x2 offensive guards;
- x2 offensive tackles; and
- a tight end.
In the backfield and on the flanks, coaches will usually play:
- a quarterback;
- a fullback;
- a wide back;
- a tailback; and
- a split end.
In a classic Wing T formation, the coach will decide before the play whether their team will provide wing coverage on the right or left-hand side of the field. Wing coverage comes directly from the TE and the WB, seen on this diagram’s right-hand side.
The TE will settle into a position just off the line of scrimmage. To be a good TE in this play, you don’t necessarily need to be big; you just need power and pace.
These guys also need good reactions because they are ultimately the main blocker in this play and will cut off a linebacker’s direct angle around the scrimmage.
Similarly, the WB needs to be agile and strong and has to have safe hands. WB’s will sit a little deeper than the TE, and although they are too far away from the QB to loop around and take a shovel, they can still deceive their opposition players to also act as a wide receiver if the QB sees them open on the pitch. Although remember, their first responsibility is to block oncoming defenders and support your ball carrier.
Moving infield, the QB will stand a little closer to the snap-on this play and will have at least two RBs behind him or on his flanks, running sharp lines either swooping around the defense on the wing or attacking straight up the middle. Typically, your tailback and your halfback are your primary ball carriers. They don’t have to necessarily be big guys to play in this position, just strong, with a low center of gravity and a lot of power to break through tackles and bounce off defenders.
Meanwhile, the fullback plays the decoy runner role. To sell your opposition for some candy, these guys need to have an excellent footballing brain to assess where the real ball carrier is going, where the space is, and lead a halfback or a tailback into that space. That means they need to be as fast as a tailback but are typically a lot bigger to block off encroaching defenders.
Lastly, on the other side of the field, coaches will usually station SE to pull another defender out of the congestion of the line of scrimmage. Providing the QB with a broad and long throwing option, the SE can be a useful asset to make yards if your QB sees the defense clogging up running lines in the center of the park.
How to run it
With your players in position, you can run many plays, but here are some of my favorites.
The buck sweep has been around since Wing T was first invented. It is a deceptive play that uses your offensive guards and fullback to run a decoy play around your offense’s wing side while the halfback shoots upfield with the football.
This play should hold linebackers in position or drag them out to the right-hand side of the pitch, away from the pitch. Because most runners are moving right, linebackers and safeties will be fooled as to the direction of the ball and will be slow to work out where the play is transitioning.
This gives you a free shot through the middle, but it can be a challenging play to get right.
With so many runners crossing lines, your team has to time its movements to pinpoint perfection. Your QB has to cross over with both your halfback and fullback; meanwhile, your offensive guards have to shift over to the wing fast enough to open gaps for your halfback to shoot through. It’s also a pretty unconventional move for two guards to leave the line of scrimmage and rely on the center and tackle to block incoming linebackers.
But if done right, you’ll move congestion away from the scrimmage onto your wing and create big gaps in midfield.
Conversely to the above play, the jet sweep is a much faster move with the ball, this time, moving outside around the TE.
The HB will start his run deep and wide this time away from the QB and the FB. The FB will steam a fly run ahead and crash into the line of scrimmage as a dummy runner.
But once he’s through the line, he’ll look to put down either the W or M linebacker.
Meanwhile, the TE will try to cover the S linebacker as the HB sweeps around the back of the scrimmage to attack the gap on the wing. He’ll be covered on his right by the WB and will be through to strike the safety unless his TE can get free to help block higher up the field.
Toss blast is a hybrid Wing T offensive formation that combines the triple-option offense with a wing formation.
In this play, the QB has four attacking options. The first is his SE, who will take a long run upfield and attack the safeties at the back of the pitch. His second is his fullback, who will make a long arcing run around the back of the pitch and attack the wing channel opened up by the TE.
His other running option comes from his halfback, who will again take a hard line between the OT and the TE. The QB can also run himself and follow a similar sweep rout to his FB, who will block the cornerback coming in on the right-hand side.
Although, this play is set up for the HB’s direct route.
With the offensive line each taking a man in defense, gaps on the right hand of the scrimmage between the TE and right OT will appear, allowing the HB to slip around the corner.
Plus, with his FB looping round to block off the corner and the WB moving up the pitch to hit the SS, the HB can make some good yards on this play.
Strengths and weaknesses of the Wing T offense
This play is successful at any level of football, and it’s best used when you need a reliable option to secure yards. But it does have a few problems.
Here are some of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the Wing T formation.
Good with undersized linemen
You don’t need to rely on having huge linemen to run this play properly at youth level. In fact, you need linemen who are pretty nimble on their feet, as a lot of plays in the Wing T offense rely on your linemen moving outside of the line of scrimmage to take out linebackers and cornerbacks. That makes it an excellent play for youth teams who have kids still growing in size.
Can win without having a gunslinger QB
You don’t need to throw crazy hail mary’s to win games. And particularly at youth level, kids are still developing their skills and power, so not many QBs will be able to launch big bombs. On that basis, the Wing T provides a secure and dependable strategy teams can use to advance higher up the pitch and attack the end-zone without having a QB who can throw big bombs.
As football plays go, this is perhaps one of the best for deceiving your opposition. Plays like the buck sweep can keep the defense guessing where the ball is and stall their advances on your players, allowing you to sneak the ball upfield on a different route quickly.
Hard to get right
With so many option runners going in different directions, pulling the Wing Toff correctly can be a tough job. Each player must perfectly hold their run to not crash into another player while blocking the correct player at the right time to open up gaps in the field.
Exposes the QB
With your nimble offensive linemen often moving away from the line of scrimmage, they can leave gaps that a fast linebacker can potentially exploit and attack the QB or perhaps stop one of your runners early in their attack.
The final play
Coaching this formation can be challenging, particularly with young players. But if you can get it right, this formation is a fantastic deceptive play teams can use to gain valuable yards.
Our top tip for coaches looking to run the Wing T offense is to keep things simple. This play is a very complicated formation, and the more you can keep things simple, the better. For example, coaching your runners to hit straight routes keeps things simple and is more effective to help you secure the next down.
After your team has mastered the Wing T formation, I can guarantee you’ll start to reap the rewards on the field.
For more NFL playbook advice, head over to the Champlair’s football pages!