Two Tight End Offensive Formations


Two tight end sets are pretty tough to defend. Manipulation of multiple tight ends allow your running game and passing game to flourish. Now I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have two tight ends. So what?! Use an undersized linemen or an oversized or slow receiver. Anyone from 5’10+ will work for high school!

All you want in the passing game, for most offenses, is someone who can attack the flats, run a drag, or run directly at a safety and maybe break inside or outside. Also, in my opinion, technique trumps size in 90% of your on the field battles. Chances are, you are not going to have the prototypical tight end, but you don’t need one. Put your kids in a position to be successful. If they can block better, sneak them out on a flat route after selling pass pro for a count. If they can run routes, flood the defense.

Regardless, lack of ideal personnel should never be an excuse for not using one or two tight end sets. Think about this, you use defensive ends I bet without prototypical defensive end types, and you use two of them…

Two Tight End Gap Advantage

Now, onto the X’s and O’s regarding two tight end sets. Remember, what you want is the gap advantage. It is very difficult to defend and offense that puts two tight ends on the field.

First of all, is the extra tight end treated as a receiver, a blocker, or a second full back?

Do they have him on or off the line, and do they move him around?

If they move him around, what are their tendencies with motion?

These are just some of the questions a defense must ask itself. Now imagine you are a linebacker. The tight end goes from a wing position away from the tight end to a position to the strength. First of all,when are they going to snap it? Second, what are the new play call tendencies from here?

As a play caller, use the two tight end sets and motion to manipulate the defense. Some people ask, how can you limit verbiage in your offense? I personally like the idea of calling the “set” formation during the playcall, and having your tight end start off in a set position called before the formation.

For example, the tight end starts off in “Ace” and moves to “Plus”. The formation call in the huddle is “Ace – Plus Right”.  From informing our players and rep’ing our calls in practice, the players know we don’t have an “Ace – Plus Right” formation. They do know they are two base formations for us.

All formation adjustments, for this offense, come after the direction call. For example, Ace Right Twinz would be a regular formation call. “Ace – Plus Right” tells our J-Back (H-back like player) that he needs to move across the formation to a wing position off the tight end or Y.

What kind of structural problems can we cause for the defense? Lets start off with our first example, “Ace – Plus Right”. As the tight end gets set to the strength, we put the defense in a bind. Suddenly, what do we have?

We have gone from a 2 x 2 formation (two receivers to both sides) to a 3 x 1 formation, or trips. Not only that, it is a form of bunch.

Bunch, a subject of great advantage for another day, causes numerous defensive problems, even if its two players. First of all, it forces the defense to recognize a new gap, the E gap. The D gap, depending on the defensive structure, may need to be played in a new way.

Secondly, how are they going to match up to defend these gaps? Will they bring a strong safety over or bump the linebackers?

Maybe they’ll do neither, depending on the down and distance. But if they don’t, they’re minus one in the run game, and probably going to force the players to play a weird form of coverage that is slightly unfamiliar to them.

I’ll give some examples of how this formation’s intricate structure provides mis-matches against an opponent. The first play I like off this motion and formation is Inside Zone. Take that J-Back across the formation again to block the backside defensive end. First of all, linebackers, in the heat of all the motion, may assume that it is a puller and could over pursue, opening a cut UP instead of a cut back, probably through the C gap, putting a runningback on a safety or outside linebacker down hill, something you should like as a play caller if you have a talented back. On the other hand, the linebackers could lose that backside edge blocker and not play the cutback as well as they should, which is always great for an inside zone running team.

The next play I like is obviously the run action off of this play call. Oregon State gives USC a bunch of fits off this, but with a receiver. As the J-back comes back to act like he is blocking the EMOLOS, he hits the DE with his inside shoulder. This will knock the the DE inside allowing the bootleg. You can have your traditional backside flood then off of that bootleg. Also, you can run curl flat combos and even smash variations.

4 Verticals can be LETHAL if you have two undersized tight ends from this formation, and if the zone structure of the defense is unbalanced, or if the safeties jump on crossing routes. The Y, or traditional tight end, will run at an aiming point of 8-10 yards to the OPPOSITE hash mark (depending on his speed).

He should be looking for the ball against any inside linebacker blitz. The J-back or wing should move up the seem and hash mark, looking for the ball, especially if the free safety follows the ever so tempting crossing tight end. The X and Z can run comebacks if the corners settle inside or, if they have a step, run deep routes.

My personal favorite, however, is using the motion and formation combo against your traditional Under front, ESPECIALLY if they roll the inverted safety to the weakside before the motion.  You can run stretch, or outside zone, toss, or what I call power base, where the Y blocks the end and the J is responsible for the Sam and the Guard wraps on the Mike.

So, as a play caller, how can you know how to approach these tools in your offense? First, ask yourself how the defense plays the formation.

Do they rotate the safeties, move the linebackers, or both?

How does the top of the coverage work?

Remember, the coverage often dictates the front and how they play the run. Use YOUR playbook and find out how your plays can manipulate them. You shouldn’t be installing these plays, instead, you should use them as ideas on how to manipulate YOUR offense around your players. Maybe you pass more, and use the trips and bunch advantage to the strongside, which I didn’t mention. Maybe you run more, and you will use some form of counter or trap by utilizing the tight ends.

What about other two tight end formations, such as the tradition Ace back, 2 x 2 we were in before all that motion?

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