Single-Wing Playbooks

Single Wing Plays for Football Offenses

The single wing formation is a versatile offensive alignment where four backs are situated in various locations behind the center.

Originated by Glenn “Pop” Warner, it would later become the inspiration for the modern-day “Shotgun” or “Spread” formation.

This alignment can still be found in both American and Canadian football leagues, and a number of single wing football playbooks are available online.

Four backs make up the heart of the single wing offense. These include the wingback, fullback, tailback and quarterback (also known as the blocking back). In most cases, the snap is generally tossed into the backfield by the center instead of being handed off. If the ball is routinely handed off, then the formation may be known as a “wing T” or “winged T.” Offensive lineman are also lined up in an unusual fashion, with two on one side of the center and four on the other side.

The snap will often go straight to the tailback or fullback, as the quarterback may be required to block and act as a field general (this is why he‘s often referred to as the blocking back in single-wing football playbooks). The role of the tailback is critical in the single-wing, as he may be called upon to block, run, pass and even punt. Fullbacks in the single wing tend to be larger, as they will often be asked to block and run inside for tough yardage. Wingbacks may run a passing route, or they may move to the line and assist the tight end with a double team block.

History of Single Wing Football

Pop Warner Football - Single Wing OffenseIn 1907, Glenn “Pop” Warner was the coach of the Carlisle Indians (an all-Native American squad). He also had the good fortune to have Jim Thorpe playing on his team.

A talented all-around athlete, Thorpe could run, pass and punt. Warner wisely developed an offensive scheme which could take advantage of this, and the single wing formation was born.

Originally dubbed the Carlisle Formation, the name was later changed when fans noticed that the offensive formation resembled the shape of a wing.

For years afterwards, the single wing and variations were used extensively by college football programs. It wasn’t until the rise of the T Formation in the 1940s that the single wing began to decline. The single wing was even used in the pros, and the Pittsburgh Steelers became the last team to abandon its use in 1952.

The formation had a tremendous impact on the modern NFL game, and features of the single wing are still commonly used today. These include the following elements: the quick kick, reverse, sweep, trap blocking, wedge blocking, play action, laterals, pulling guards and double teams.

Today, the single wing still lives on. College teams such as the Florida Gators use variations of the formation, although wide receivers are substituted for wingbacks. It has been especially popular in youth leagues, middle and high school programs, as opposing defenses are often clueless on how to stop it.

Strengths of the Single-Wing Offense

Single-Wing Formation - Single-Wing FootballIf coaches all around the country are having great success with the single wing, then there must be an advantage to the system. Below, I’ve listed some of the biggest positives to running the single-wing football playbook.

  • Even though the snap is often pitched into the backfield, a team running the single wing has more room to recover in case of a fumble.
  • Defenses are not accustomed to seeing the single wing offense, and its mere appearance can wreak havoc on an opposing team’s morale.
  • Since the ball may be snapped to one of three backs, defenses are often kept guessing until it’s too late.
  • The single wing is an excellent ball control offense, which translates to less time on the field for your defense.
  • It’s an excellent formation for teams lacking a talented quarterback or feature halfback.
  • With an emphasis on team football, all players get a chance to contribute.
  • When opponents are trying to prepare for your team, their scout team will have a difficult time of accurately simulating the single wing.
  • Both coaches and players generally consider the single wing to be a lot of fun.
  • Allows a great deal of flexibility when it comes to play calling.
  • A surprisingly large support system exists on the Internet, allowing you to discuss strategy with other coaches who run the single wing.

Misconceptions About the Single-Wing Formation

Just as there are many advantages to single wing football playbooks, there are also an equal number of misconceptions about the formation. All of the following are false assumptions which anyone planning to run the single-wing may have to deal with.

  • The formation has difficult concepts which take too much time to teach.
  • Players won’t like the formation.
  • The single wing won’t work at the high school level.
  • It’s only good for team with small tailbacks.
  • The single-wing is an illegal formation.
  • A team running this formation won’t be able to pass.
  • The blocking schemes are too confusing for the players.
  • If the pros don’t use it, then it can’t be very good.
  • Requires a tailback who can catch, run and throw.
  • It’s too predictable.

Purchasing a Single Wing Playbook

There are a number of products on the Internet dedicated to helping you learn more about the single wing formation. In addition, a quick search will turn up a number of forums and other resources. I even came across a site which featured nothing but clips of various teams successfully executing the single wing.

Here are a few books and DVDs which you might want to take a closer look at:

  • The Single Wing Football Offense by Robert McAdams
  • Winning Single Wing Football: A Simplified Guide for the Football Coach by Kenneth W. Keuffel
  • Coaching the Single Wing Offense by Jim Ahern
  • Single-Wing Offense for Youth Football by John T. Reed
  • Tactics, Techniques and Drills for Installing the Single Wing Offense (DVD)
  • The Single Wing Offense – The Fullback Attack (DVD)
  • The Basics of the Single Wing Offense (DVD)

Single Wing Plays

Before you run out and spend hundreds of dollars on single wing resources, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that you actually like the looks of the system. To accomplish this, we’ve listed several of the common single-wing plays below. Take a look at them, and see what you think.

If you find yourself agreeing with some of the items from the previously-listed “Misconceptions” section, then you might want to look elsewhere for a new offensive system. Otherwise, you can stock up on single-wing merchandise with confidence.

A special thanks goes out to Adam over at for allowing us to use his great single-wing playbook images. Be sure and check out his site, as it’s loaded with lots of great football information.

Single Wing Formation

First of all, here’s the basic single wing formation. Two lineman to the left of the center, and four linemen to the right of the center. The tailback and fullback are lined up several yards behind the center, while the wingback and blocking back are offset to the right of the center. In most cases, the ball will be direct snapped to the tailback.

Single Wing Off Tackle

In this play, the tailback takes the snap and runs off-tackle. The right guard pulls to take on the defensive end, while the other men in the backfield converge to create a running lane for the tailback. This play exemplifies simple, smash-mouth football at its finest.

Single Wing Blocking Back Keeper

In the above play, the fullback takes the snap and charge towards the offensive line. He then hands off to the blocking back, who heads around the end. The outside tackle pulls to block for the ball carrier, and he’s also supported by the accompanying tailback.

The Fullback Wedge

Designed to destroy and demoralize opposing defenses, the fullback wedge play utilizes nine blockers to jam the middle of the field and create running space for the fullback. This one is almost guaranteed to pick up positive yardage.

Wingback Reverse

The Wingback Reverse is a misdirection play which targets the weakside of the defense.

The tailback receives the snap and heads around the right end. The wingback, meanwhile, it running the opposite direction in the backfield. When the two pass one another, a handoff is made to the wingback, and he continues on around the left end. Notice how the blocking back moves to take on the opposing defensive end.

Single Wing Tailback Sweep

On the tailback sweep play, the tailback simply takes the snap and runs around the right end. The right guard pulls, and the ball carrier also has the blocking back, wingback and tailback clearing a path.

Single Wing Tailback Sweep Pass

This is an example of how the single wing can also be used for passing plays. The tailback takes the snap and heads around the right end. The fullback provides blocking, as does the pulling right guard.

Meanwhile, the blocking back and wingback run pass routes. When he nears the line of scrimmage, the tailback has the option of throwing to either man, or he may continue to run if both are covered.

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