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The Single Wing Offense in Youth Football

Youth Football and the Single Wing Formation

The single-wing offense is a popular offensive scheme in youth football, because the single-wing is primarily a run-based offense and the exotic look the offense’s alignment gives opposing players is something they won’t see all that often.

The single-wing offense therefore confuses other coaches and defenses and can be highly effective in youth football leagues.

Why Is It Called the Single-Wing Offense?

The Single-Wing Offense was invented by Pop Warner, the legendary football coach whom youth football leagues or “Pop Warner Leagues” are named for. Pop Warner invented the single-wing at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, a school for Native Americans. (Jim Thorpe played for the Carlisle Indians at that time.)

Because he invented the offense at Carlisle, Pop Warner called the offensive scheme the “Carlisle Formation”. When the team started using the alignment, though, the unbalanced alignment and the position of the backs gave the impression of a single bird wing, and fans started calling it the single-wing.

Single-Wing Offense Basics

There are several distinguishing features of the single-wing offense. One, the ball is hiked to the quarterback or halfback like a shotgun play would be, instead snapped to a quarterback who is “under center”, as most football plays are. You’ll never see a player under center in the single-wing offense.

Two, the offensive line in the single-wing is “unbalanced”. Most offensive lines will have a center, two guards and two tackles, with a guard and tackle on either side of the center. With the single-wing formation, one of the guards or tackles is moved to the opposite side of the center, so you’ll have 1 down lineman on one side of the center and 3 down linemen on the other side. In a common two tight end set, you’ll see an unbalanced line with four players on one side of the ball (center) and only two on the other side of the ball.

This gives the defense a very different look than they’re used to. It forces the defensive coordinator to put defenders out of position from where they normally play every other week of the season, which causes confusion, mistakes and missed assignments. In a league where there’s one singlewing offense, defenses will struggle to adjust to the offense for that single game.

The same has happened in the pros.

The Wildcat Offense

In 2008, the Miami Dolphins unveiled their version of the single-wing offense, which they called the Wildcat Offense. This proved wildly successful, because NFL offensive coordinators and defensive players were just as bewildered by the exotic formation, which no one above Pop Warner generally used. (A few high school and college offenses.)

In the 3rd week of the NFL season, the Miami Dolphins were 0-2 and were looking for a spark on offense. The Dolphins were heavily outmanned by the New England Patriots, who had gone 16-0 in the NFL regular season the year before, twice embarrassing the 1-15 Dolphins by a combined 77-35 score. The Dolphins, under Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano, felt they needed an edge on the Patriots.

Dan Henning, Dolphins Offensive coordinator, had run a single-wing offense for 12 plays in the 2006 NFL season (when he was then Panthers o-coordinator). The Panthers snapped the ball directly to DeAngelo Williams 12 straight times, because the Panthers had injuries at quarterback.

The Dolphins turned to Quarterback Coach, David Lee, who had run the Single-Wing with the Arkansas Razorbacks (the Razorback Offense). In a players meeting, the coaches asked which back would volunteer to take the direct snap, and Ronnie Brown, with no experience at quarterback, volunteered on a whim.

Miami Dolphins Wildcat Offense

The Miami Dolphins only ran the Wildcat Offense six plays that week against the New England Patriots, but they scored five touchdowns on those plays (4 rushing and 1 passing touchdown). Because the New England Patriots, known for their preparation, “smart” players and attention to detail, were caught completely off-gaurd, the Wildcat Offense became the talk of the NFL.

In the 2009 offseason, many NFL teams began installing their version of the single-wing offense, for selected plays. The Philadelphia Eagles brought in Michael Vick to run their version of the single-wing, while the Miami Dolphins drafted college running quarterback, Pat White, to enhance their Wildcat Offense.

So even the pros have embraced the Single-Wing Formation.

Single-Wing Success in Youth Football

But we’re talking about the single-wing in youth football. It’s been a huge success in Pop Warner leagues, too.

Nebraska-based Dave Cisar has been using the single-wing offense in youth football for 8 seasons now. The offense has taken Coach Cisar’s teams to a 78-5 record, 2 state titles and an average of 35 points per game. You might think Dave Cisar’s success with the formation could be attributed to a stacked team or a handful of great athletes, but this record was composed coaching in 4 different leagues with 6 different teams.

Dave Cisar eventually wrote a book, Winning Youth Football: A Step By Step Plan, to teach other youth football coaches the single-wing offense and other winning techniques.

That isn’t the only success story. In fact, once you start looking at the history of the single-wing offense, you’ll see there have been successes at every level and in every decade with some offshoot of the single-wing since Pop Warner first invented the scheme.

The single wing offense works and probably works better than in youth football leagues than anywhere else.

For more information about the Wildcat and Single-Wing formations, click on Football Babble’s article titled Single-Wing Playbooks, which recently was cited on the New York Times Sports Blog’s Week 5 NFL Matchups under “the single-wing offense your grandfather learned in high school.”

That was a thrill for the guys around here, to know people continue to read our football pages.



This entry was posted on Friday, October 16th, 2009 at 12:21 pmand is filed under Football, Youth Football. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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