Coach Uniball

Setting Up An Offense for Uniball

Just as a bit of an introduction: I’m the current Head Coach at Edinburgh University and I’ve been Head Coach and Offensive Co-ordinator for Brighton and Westminster in previous years, putting some good numbers on offense and producing players who have gone on to perform at top teams in the UK and Europe.

When first constructing an offense, instead of working out what offense I wanted to run, I wrote down a list of objectives wanted to achieve with the offense and a list of constraints I had.

Please note I didn’t run the offense at Edinburgh in 2018/19.

Things I wanted out of the offensive scheme

The first thing to talk about here is that I wanted an full offensive scheme. This is important. I’ve seen so many teams in Brit Ball whose offense is a list of plays which don’t seem to interconnect in any way and require completely different skills and adjustments. As for what I wanted to get out of the scheme I wanted the following:

1.Multiple Formations

One of my core beliefs in building an effective offense is that you need to put your players at as much of an advantage as you can. It’s easier to run 5 vs 4 than 5 vs 6 and it’s easier to block someone when you already have a leverage advantage.

2.Allows Rookies to play to the best of their ability

I’ve never been part of a team that has had the luxury of not having to play rookies, so the scheme has to be learnable for those newer players. Not just that, but it has to maximise whatever natural ability they have.

3. Gives vets something new but takes advantage of their extra knowledge

Having guys that have been ‘in the system’ is useful from a demonstration and leadership perspective and it is also good practice for them to run through the basics that all the rookies go through. However, you want to have the ability to use those players to take the offense to the next level. The ability of the veteran players to learn more advanced techniques will really help you be ahead of those other teams who restrict themselves to what they can teach rookies in the short time period available.

4. Ability to be flexible

I’m a big believer in your players determining what kind of offense you use. You won’t know the skills and experience mix you have before the season starts, so you need to develop a flexible offense which you can alter to suit what players you have year on year.


As for constraints. We all have the same one, right? Time. We as coaches have to take players who have never played the sport before, may not know the rules and get them game ready in potentially as little as 5 weeks.


So what decisions did I make:

First I ditched the tight end. In my humblest of opinions its not possible to take a rookie and teach them to both be an adequate offensive lineman and an adequate route running receiver. You have to sacrifice one of them (usually the receiver) and I don’t want to do that.

Secondly, I locked in 9 out of the 11 positions on the field. One of the issues I have had over the years in trying to run multiple formations is annoying 5 in the backfield penalties. In order to eradicate these we needed to spend time in practice lining up over and over again which takes time (that word again) away from you making the players better.

Those positions are two wideouts who line up on the line (X&Y) and on the numbers every single snap. This means you teach them this once and you don’t need to go over and over where to line up in each individual formation.

Five offensive linemen in the usual spots a tailback lined up in an I formation. Depth of this can be flexible depending on personnel and what sort of runs/passes you want to do but fix it for each individual. Then you have the quarterback lined up in under center on in pistol.

The rookies are then grouped into receivers, tailbacks and linemen and can be taught how to play their position from a particular alignment without having to worry about adjusting to different positions.

That leaves two players. I refer to these guys as Hybrid backs or H-Backs because these are the people that move around. They are almost exclusively returning players and they are the ones who do all the formational changes. I call these F & Z. The formations themselves rather than saying I right, King Left etc are numbered. We number the place where F lines up and then number the place where Z lines up. The positions are as follows:

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So in theory we have 81 different formations. Some are equivalent (28 and 82 are both a traditional dubs/2×2 formation just with different people in each). This allows us to be as multiple as we need to be. (Note in 11 we double stack, 22 is trips, 33 is double tight to one side, 44 and 55 we tell Z to play close to the line of scrimmage with the equivalent to the right.)

Yes, we cant go fully offset to one side with only a tight end to one side and we don’t run much bunch (You could in theory have 11 and 99 be a bunch formation as the only change is the h-backs but I prefer the stack). Positions 3 and 7 are essentially our tight ends but I believe in this position you don’t need to teach someone to block as an inline offensive lineman would.

I usually end a season and decide who for the next season should play in these positions. I usually pick 6 players who I think can handle it and tell them as soon as I can. I usually like to have two fb types, two tailback types and two receivers as this should give us the best ability to scheme against potential defenses.

What this allows us to do is have the H-Backs as a different group. This means that we spend less time with them going through the basics and more time teaching advance techniques.

Run Plays

With fixing formations we can teach plays a lot easier to the nine players who do not move. For example if we have inside zone we teach the line their zone rules. We have the playside receiver block the corner and the backside get across to the safety as shown below. Then we teach the h-backs to make a different block depending on where they align. Here is zone right.

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At this point it is up to the offensive co-ordinator to put personnel into the best positions to attack the defense you are facing and take care of any defenders which are an issue in the scheme drawn up with those 9.

I believe the first rule of co-ordinating is defense plays even (same number of defenders either side of the center) then you go offset if the defense overloads to one side then you go even and lean towards the weakside.

Pass Plays

I am a big proponent of Darin Slack’s R4 System which I have slightly butchered but I fully recommend looking this up. This involves basically having a first read thrown in rhythm as long as that route isn’t collisioned and no one is sitting on top of it then going to a second ‘read’ route, then a check down and then release to probably scramble.

I design the pass plays so the rhythm is one of the h-backs. The reasons for this are

1. They are usually your better players

2.The releases for rhythm routes are more of an advanced technique

3. Inside rhythm routes are usually easier throws.

The check down is usually also the other h-back because it involves a more advanced technique of finding space.

An example of this is a smash combo from 72. The rhythm is the corner route, the read is the whip route (I run a whip because of the timing, running a hook for me means the receiver is sitting there waiting and I always want them on the move) and the check down or rush route is the shallow sit. We also have a backside seam because this becomes the read route for single high.

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From this we teach the h-backs to run the same combos for Smash no matter where they line up. Here is 42 smash left:

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and here is 78 smash left:

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The two wideouts run the same route from the same position and can rep this to the point where they run it well.

We do this with play-action waggle too. We have the outside guy on the play side run a go (or sluggo) the backside runs a deep cross to 15. Then we teach the h-backs that the nearest to the sideline gets to 5 and the furthest gets to 10.

Final Thoughts

I think the system we have used allows us to do all the points above and hold to the constraints we do. There are many adaptations to this you could do. If you’re desperate for a tight end I’d suggest having a tight end group on top of this and call plays as 28 Right (Y comes in to TE) and 28 left (X comes in to TE).

I haven’t gone into some of the other aspects of the offense such as motion and shifts. The way the formations are set up means this is exclusively done by the h-backs as well.

This is a tough system to get in in the first year you coach at a new place. I remember when joining Edinburgh it took extra effort as it was all new for both the h-backs and the rookies. If you are looking at using something like this there will be some lead time requirement and some headaches initially.

I ran the defense this year for the Predators and have noticed that I’ve taken some of the same thoughts into running the defense. We ran a 3-3 Stack this year with the outside dog safeties and the deep safety being within a separate group of initially only returning players. Next year some of the linebackers and corners will move into this group filling the space of a couple of leaving players.