Flexbone formation

Flexbone formation

The flexbone formation is an offensive formation in American football that utilizes a quarterback, five offensive linemen, three running backs, and varying numbers of tight ends and wide receivers. The flexbone formation is a predominant running formation derived from the wishbone formation and it features a quarterback under center with a fullback lined up directly behind the quarterback. There are two smaller running backs called slotbacks aligned behind the line of scrimmage on each side of the offensive line. The slotbacks are sometimes incorrectly referred to as wingbacks. But, in order to be a wingback, there must be a guard, tackle and tight end all on one side of the center on the line of scrimmage and then the wingback off the line of scrimmage (as featured in the unbalanced formation diagram).

Triple Option

The basic play run from the flexbone is known as a triple option, or veer. Often the quarterback first sends one of the slotbacks in motion to the other side. While he is still in motion behind the fullback, the quarterback then receives the ball from the center. Next, the fullback ("FB") either takes the football from the quarterback or 'fakes' that he has taken the football. If the fullback takes the football, then he runs straight into the line of scrimmage and attempts to gain yardage. If the fullback does not take the football, then the quarterback sprints parallel to the line of scrimmage with a slotback trailing him. The quarterback can either turn up field or pitch the football to the trailing slotback. Hence the term triple because the fullback is option number one, the quarterback keeping the ball is option number two, and the quarterback pitching to the slotback is option number three. The triple option forces defenses to worry about fullbacks running in the middle of the offensive line and to worry about quarterbacks and slotbacks running to outside of the line. The decision of who to carry the ball (which option to make) can either be made before the play in the huddle, or during the play by the QB, who will make decisions based on the position and play of certain defensive players and what they are doing. The quarterback reads the defensive end on the side the play is going to when deciding whether to hand to the fullback or to keep it himself. If he sees the end is committed to stopping the fullback in the middle, the QB will keep it. If the end is staying back to contain the QB on the outside, he will give it to the fullback. If the quarterback does not hand to the FB, he will then read the end to see if he is committed to playing the SB on the pitch or the QB. If he is playing the QB, then he will pitch it to the slotback. If the end is committed to stopping the slotback on the pitch, the QB will take the ball upfield himself.


Arguably, the two most difficult positions on offense to develop quickly are wide receivers and quarterbacks. A style of play was needed for teams that could not field strong throwing quarterbacks. In the flexbone formation, intelligent and athletic personnel can adapt to playing a quarterback's position without having to throw the ball very well. Flexbone teams are often playing against more talented teams so they must utilize time management and trickery of the flexbone to even the playing field. By running the ball almost exclusively, a flexbone offense also runs the game clock and limits the opposing teams possibly faster and stronger offense from scoring against their own defense.

Requirements to succeed

*The offense needs an intelligent quarterback, a strong fullback, and two quick slotbacks. The quarterback must be able to read a run defense in order to exploit the holes. His read will determine how to develop an option play. Good flexbone quarterbacks are capable of manipulating overpursuing defenses.
*The fullback must be strong enough to break tackles and draw the attention of linebackers and defensive linemen. Good flexbone fullbacks are usually the best ball carriers on the team and receive the majority of rushing attempts. A flexbone fullback is usually smaller and faster than a typical fullback seen in conventional offenses.
*The slotbacks must be balanced athletically, capable of trailing the quarterback, and good receivers. If the slotbacks are not of equal talent, then a defense can predict which direction the play will develop. Slotbacks typically need to be capable pass receivers because they receive a great deal of high velocity pitches and are primary receivers during passing plays.
* The offensive line must be quick enough to get to linebackers and safeties and strong enough to block the Defensive line.

Proof of success

In Division I Championship Subdivision football, Georgia Southern pioneered a version of the flexbone that won a record six NCAA Championship Subdivision National Titles and eight Southern Conference titles. Through the 2007 season, the United States Air Force Academy and the United States Naval Academy were the last major remnants of flexbone football in division I-A and testaments to the formation's ability to utilize key offensive players effectively when a team has significantly less talent on the field. However, with the hiring of former Navy head coach Paul Johnson, in 2008 Georgia Tech became the first BCS conference school in approximately two decades to use a flexbone offense. In the late 1980s, the University of Arkansas ran a version of the flexbone under coach Ken Hatfield and won two consecutive Southwest Conference titles.

Famous Flexbone players

*Fullback - Adrian Peterson (National Football League)
*Fullback - Kyle Eckel (National Football League)
*Quarterback - Tracy Ham (Canadian Football League)
*Quarterback - Dee Dowis (Air Force)

Famous Flexbone coaches

*Fisher DeBerry - Air Force
*Paul Johnson - Georgia Southern, Navy, Georgia Tech
*Erk Russell - Georgia Southern


* [http://www.cfbdatawarehouse.com/data/div_iaa/southern/georgia_southern/index.php Important Georgia Southern Statistics]
* [http://www.americanfootballmonthly.com/Arena/NS_Magazine/Current/clinic01.html Flexbone history]

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