Ideas From Inside the Tulsa Formation

This article was originally posted on Direct Snap Football.

Adam asked me a couple of months ago to write few words about the Tulsa Box, and I am committed to that, but I thought I would take you on a little detour for a few moments and give you a little background on my “drug” habit. I have been following the Single Wing since the winter of 1995 when I was coaching at the local middle school in my hometown. Once discovered, I spent more time tinkering and drawing plays, formations, and entertained just about every crazy idea that popped into my skull.

I mostly blame my mother-in-law for the obsession because it was during the spring when she told me that she had located John Aldrich’s book, The Single Wing and the Spinning Fullback at a high school in York, PA of all places. I kept the book on inter-library loan for weeks and it didn’t take me long to create and install a brief version complete with simplistic blocking rules, and a couple of formations. The results were nothing short of remarkable. My kids played extremely well and they loved the Single Wing!

The end result of my initial work was being offered a job at the varsity level with a new incoming head coach. He was the freshman coach and we scrimmaged each other on a few occasions. Our kids battled each other and I tried to stick it to him every chance I got. He took my aggression in good stride and approached me about my methods, my results, and convinced me that I would make a good varsity coach. He was wrong! I was awful because his system was not sound, I was too outspoken about the Single Wing, and because I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut; we endured a beating that season. My undermining was a big reason why we finished 0–10. In our last game we dressed 28 kids against one of the best teams in the mid-state and were shellacked 72–0, including a sophomore girl kicking the last 5 PATs. We needed binoculars to see the opposing 20-yard line. To this day, I remember the feeling of embarrassment as we crossed the field to shake hands. I was dying inside because the program I loved and had played for as a kid, was crumbling, and I couldn’t stop it.

Two weeks later, things went from bad to worse when he invited each coach and their spouse over for the end-of-year coaches gathering. He told us to be open and honest and explain our thoughts for future improvement. Well, I started out calmly and then I let my over eager tongue take over and my brain turned off! I went on and on about our inability to create and establish a well-grounded method to move the ball. I told him that it didn’t matter what offense we were running. He was coaching from a book on the Wing-T and it wasn’t working at all! I distinctly remember saying that I didn’t care less if it was Wing-T, Single Wing, or Buffalo Wing (I wouldn’t meet Dan Johnson for another 3 years) as long as we believed in what we were doing and could convince the kids of the same thing. Well, needless to say I was looking for a job and decided to accept a position with our freshman team.

Whew! Well, by the summer of 2001, I was still in love with the Single Wing and back at the varsity level when the previous coach managed a 4 – 26 record in 3 years. I found out about the Single Wing Symposium and my wife eagerly wrote the check for me to attend my first addiction meeting at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, SC. I couldn’t wait to get there and soak up as much knowledge as possible before returning and preparing for a new season. So, this is where my discussion will begin. I know it took a long time, but it was worth it, wasn’t it?

I met several coaches over those three days and couldn’t prevent a myriad of ideas from running through my head. One coach in particular had a rather large impact on my thinking and that was Conway Springs’ head coach, Mark Bliss. He came to the Symposium with a program of success and had the admiration from many of those in attendance. His video was eagerly anticipated and when done, really spoke for itself. His program was physical, athletic, and appeared to have solid fundamental skills. I was jealous because they could show so many variations and attack just about anywhere on the field. They truly were a team that forced opponents to defend the entire field! I butted my way to tape copying machine and made a copy of his highlight tape and couldn’t wait to get back to my room and view it over and over again. When the Symposium ended, I was convinced I could make many of the ideas work. The one set that truly intrigued me was what coach Bliss called the “triple spin”. After leaving for him, I sat down in the airport and on the plane and started taking it apart in an effort to understand what I was doing. I decided to rename it TULSA due in part because I found out that Mark had played quarterback at Tulsa, so it seemed only fitting to give him credit.

The Basics Behind the Formation

The name triple spin refers to three potential running backs meeting at roughly the same place with their backs presented to the defense. The steps needed to pull this off are not overly complicated, but they do require numerous repetitions. While there is no substitute for quality repetitions, it becomes necessary for mesh points and deception to be effective. Perhaps the most important thing to place emphasis on, is faking. This goes without saying, but the very nature of the formation brings extra defenders to the box, so you must fake with fluency and conviction. Once you have it mastered, there are so many things that you can do. I am by no means the expert nor have I created an end-all version, so there are many variations of the Tulsa Box created by some talented and curious coaches. You can decide on what you would like to do with it after I give you a brief primer.

Whether you half spin, full spin, or NO spin, you have a lot to work with. Perhaps the toughest part to work on is the idea of landmarks for players. I will attempt to explain them in the manner in which we used them. One final base point to mention is that we snapped the ball to the same player (TB) on every play but Wedge. The idea being that it was we did not immediately expand the formation, so it was simply the easiest thing to do.

Tulsa-1

Footwork and Landmarks

My position identification/naming was created based on our player personnel and traditional terminology, so yours may be different. So, let’s examine the footwork of the TB (Blue and Pink lines) who was our traditional “spin back” in our base unbalanced formation. You can use traditional full spin technique, which closely resembles Aldrich’s footwork. We wanted his movements to be the same all the time, and since the kids were comfortable with their Aldrich steps, we decided not to change or create something new. His base alignment placed his inside foot on the right leg of the center. From there we used two basic steps, which may be familiar to many. The first is for any play attacking the middle of the field; we used the “spit step” which allowed him to attack the middle of the field. For any off-tackle play, we used a 6×6 step. These methods provide him with basic landmarks to follow and made our mesh points crisp.

The QB (Black) was closely aligned with the TB with his inside foot on the left foot of the center. They managed a heel to instep range because our spin back was much smaller than the QB. From that alignment he should turn and spin with the TB. His footwork is essentially the same as the QB much like a mirror, but may also include a “hop spin” footwork closely associated with the T-series. I struggled with this for some time, but felt that it would be easier to copy each other’s footwork rather than teach another variation that needed to be practiced. He could half spin and attack quickly or he could full spin and attack the flank. It was particularly important to visualize their steps as a dance routine in an effort to keep spacing and landmarks true. They worked together all the time, because in order to get the wing between them, they would need to mesh properly. The kids could recognize their mistakes easier by watching each other’s steps, so we ran with the idea.

The Wing (Red) is aligned much like the BB. He is aligned with the QG (on the left) in front of him. We were careful not to crowd the guards with the wing or BB because of their pulling duties. He can track in several directions, but in traditional form, he moved directly between both the TB and the QB. Once he clears the mesh point with the ball or by faking, he can reach the flank and/or continue into a number of pass patterns. The key here is that he cannot pass between both backs with his shoulders square. He must reach with both hands and tilt his shoulders in an effort to take a handoff, fake, but more importantly to allow his pads to pass between and not create an interruption of their footwork. He keeps a stance much like the blocking back and at the snap takes a lead step backward towards the opening with his eyes on the opening between the backs. He must get to the position as quickly as possible in order to create the “triple spin” look.

The BB (Green) takes his traditional position near the SG (on the right). Once again, he is careful not to crowd the most versatile of our linemen. He can move in either direction depending on the play, can provide support blocking, or lead as a trap man at the point of attack. He can also become a “wrong way” key-breaker, and even in the passing game. I think it is important to note that you can snap directly to the BB or Wing (Orange line) and use wedge or solid blocking while maintaining your spin technique behind him. This particular play alone is worth tinkering with the formation. LBs and Secondary players often get complacent when they see the spins and are constantly looking for the ball between the TB and QB that they often completely overlook the BB or Wing carrying the ball. This play can be run from any of the formations and used with spins, power, or cross, which will be mentioned later.

Basic Attack Points

Attacking the strength with a spin as well as with no spin is very easy to do against the 4 or 5-man front. You can even attack the weak-side with the same power and force. Bringing (at least) four men to the point of attack is possible in an unbalanced look and only opens the door to play action passing, especially when the secondary comes hard to play the run!

Tulsa-2

We used the TB to handle the ball to the strong side. He can also go weak without changing too much. We faced a lot of 5 and 6 man fronts against our “box”, so we had to get creative at times with our blocking. It is not perfect by any stretch, but we feel strongly that you don’t have to block everyone with the Triple Spin and still gain yards. Changing sides is a little tougher to work with, but it can be arranged. Moving your Guards (Keys) and dealing with LBs is harder in this situation, but remember, we are talking about movement in two different directions. When it is run to the quick side the BB was a decoy and NOW he is the lead man to the point of attack. It may sound silly, but simply looking at this arrangement, the offense to play 11 on 8 by not immediately blocking the backside safety, OLB, and Corner.

Tulsa-3

Attacking the weak-side power inside the DE can also be run. We saw an opportunity to attack inside the end defender and reach the line of scrimmage quickly. There isn’t much difference between this play and a perimeter or “sweep” to the same side. This may provide a quick hit play to your arsenal. It can also be viewed as a “hit it” or “Lead” play by attacking the bubble at the line of scrimmage.

Tulsa-4

Another version of the BOX look is to spin with only the TB and QB while crossing the Wing and BB. By “crossing” together, they essentially become the mesh and misdirection needed in the backfield. There is a lesser chance of fumbling at the mesh point and still creates a great diversion at the snap of the ball. Keying the BB is a bad choice in this situation because he is nothing more than a “wrong way” or “pull influence” guy to attract attention from the LBs. You can block this any way that is easiest for you. Blocking the DE with the Guard is probably safer than using the Wing and it is not vital to pull both Guards.

Tulsa-5

It is also possible to trap the first guy past the center with the backside Guard and change the point of attack to the trap location. You could use the Wing to “pick” the DE and keep your play-side guard at home and attack the LB backside while double-teaming the play-side LB with two OL. Once again the BB and TB draw the attention of the DE and Corner on the weak-side.

Throwing the Ball

We were reasonably successful throwing from our base formation (unbalanced right), but felt we could still manage a similar look in the box. Here is a typical play-action pass which is typical of unbalanced line single wing teams. The choice to pull both Gs is still available. We tried to limit changes in our passing game in an effort to create confidence. We looked deep first, so if the safety jumps your smash route, then get vertical and attack the middle of the field.

Tulsa-6

You should not accept a loss or sack on this play. If you have sold out the power off-tackle and they are ready, play-action should be a big play. The key here is just before the QB looks to run power; he gets a “belly” look to his steps and attacks the line of scrimmage with his shoulders square. I strongly believe that unless your QB/TB are a serious threat to run, defenses will sit back and wait for you to throw. Using this technique and with his eyes downfield, he can better see his receivers and assess his opportunity to run.

I am also a big proponent of throwing to the TE. I have felt for a long time that regardless of the level of football whether youth to the NFL, the TE is an overlooked receiver who can be a huge asset. So, we focused our attention on using two TEs and watching the backside man. We saw an opportunity where the LB could be exploited when they come up and play the run against this look. We varied our depth based on LB movement and safety play. This particular play resembles the great “waggle” play from the Wing-T formation.

Tulsa-7

This set gives the appearance of a possible spin or power off-tackle. It is now capable of attacking the flats as well as “sneaking a peek” deep when necessary. Adapting your 3-step passing game or short routes is an easy change. Don’t forget, that incorporating or exchanging duties between the SB and TB can also be put into the passing game, but we used SB primarily for protection. He can be used to “freeze” the FS by running up the seam in the middle of the field. We could also run this to the unbalanced side and simply kept the wing home and had make his turn at about center depth. He was asked NOT to attack a defender, due to his size, but to invite an outside release to the defender, or arc his pursuit instead of giving him proper attack angles from the weak side.

** These routes are approximates, they can all be changed or adapted to suit your needs.

Well, there you have it, a little look into how I started using the Tulsa Box formation. This was a “tinkering” formation only early, but it soon proved its worth in several games. I mentioned at the beginning of the article that my design and discussion is by no means the final word, but I am quite certain this formation can be used as a stand-alone series in any offense.

Submitted by John Minteer
Assistant coach, RBs and LBs
Osbourn High School, Manassas, VA

Leave a Reply