The Wing-T Offense: An In-Depth Guide – Throw Deep Publishing

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The Wing-T Offense: An In-Depth Guide

Posted by Throw Deep Publishing Staff on

The Wing-T offense is one of the most unique offenses in football, but what exactly is it, and how does it work? 

This article will give you a full overview of the Wing-T: Where it came from, what it’s designed to do, and some of the most common formations and plays you’ll see out of it.

What is the Wing-T Offense?

The Wing-T offense is an offense that uses misdirection, unusual formations, and a diverse run game to take advantage of overly aggressive and undisciplined defenders. This offense is based around the idea of making different plays look as similar as possible so the defense can’t figure out where the ball is going until it’s too late. This kind of deception and misdirection prevents defenses from playing as fast as they would like, and forces them to react instead of attacking, which means the offense is more likely to beat them to the punch on every play.

The Wing-T was developed at the University of Delaware by Coach Harold “Tubby” Raymond during his nearly four decades as head coach from 1966 to 2001. This is why you will often hear the traditional Wing-T referred to as the Delaware Wing-T.

What Kind of Personnel Is Needed to Run the Wing-T?

If you want to run the traditional Wing-T offense, you will need at least two solid running backs. They don’t have to be the best running backs in the state, but you need at least two men in the backfield, in addition to the quarterback, who can be a threat to carry the football at any time.

Wing-T Personnel 

For best results, one of those running backs needs to be able to play the fullback position very well. This means he cannot be afraid to carry the ball and stick his nose up the middle and pick up the tough yards, but he also needs to be able to catch a few passes now and then.

You don’t need a quarterback who can throw it all over the field and be incredibly accurate, but he does need to be athletic enough to have good footwork and be able to take off on a waggle pass now and then.

You also do not need a huge, imposing offensive line to be able to run this offense. Actually, some of the best Wing-T teams often have smaller and quicker offensive linemen, who are very good at pulling and trapping, which makes this offense very dangerous to defend.

What are the Strengths of the Wing-T?

The biggest strength of the Wing-T is its ability to slow down the aggressiveness of defenses that may be more physically talented, by using misdirection, play action passes, quick motions and unusual formations.

The offense has been around for decades, and for this reason, the coaches who have been running it for years have answers for anything the defense comes up with. To put it another way, the Wing-T has seen it all. Of course, the players still have to go out on the field and execute the plays correctly, but an experienced Wing-T coach will have all kinds of adjustments ready when the defense lines up in something new.

Finally, the Wing-T also has the advantage of being a more unusual offense these days, which makes it even tougher to prepare for.

What are the Weaknesses of the Wing-T?

The biggest weakness of the Wing-T is the lack of a traditional dropback pass game. That doesn’t mean you can’t throw the ball (a lot) out of this offense, but it does mean that it will be a lot tougher to line up in traditional Wing-T formations and tell your quarterback to dropback and throw many of the classic dropback concepts that are so common throughout football. 

Of course, there is no rule that says you have to line up in traditional Wing-T sets all the time. There are many Wing-T teams, even at the high school level, who have a set of Wing-T plays and also have the ability to line up in a few shotgun spread formations when they want to do something a little bit different. 

The Wing-T is a pretty versatile offense, so it doesn’t have a lot of “weaknesses”. An experienced coach molds his offense to the strengths of his players, so if you have a team with average talent, you should be able to make the Wing-T work.

Common Wing-T Formations

The Wing-T has all kinds of weird formations you won’t see anywhere else. Here are a few of the most popular ones.

Wing Formation

Wing-T Formations - Wing Formation

Called 100/900 in the classic Delaware Wing-T terminology, this is one of the most popular formations for every Wing-T team in football. You have two men in the backfield, and a wingback aligned just off line of scrimmage and outside the tight end. The wingback can either be more of a receiver-type player, or a running back-type player, depending on what kind of personnel you have and what you’re asking him to do on a particular play.

Wing-Slot Formation

Wing-T Formations - Wing-Slot Formation

Many Wing-T coaches will call this formation “Red” or “Doubles 100”. it’s a great way to present more of a passing threat, with both backs near the line of scrimmage, and also allows the offense to run the same plays from the Wing formation with just a little bit of motion that takes the halfback to his original backfield alignment.

Unbalanced Formation

Wing-T Formations - Unbalanced Formation

There are lots of unbalanced formations a Wing-T offense can line up in, but this is one of the most popular ones. The X receiver will line up on the other side of the formation, covering up the tight end and adding an extra man to the strong side of the formation. If an offense wants to run to the strong side, but wants to also force the defense to worry about the threat of the deep ball to the receiver on that same side, this is a great formation to line up in. Of course, if the defense over-adjusts, and there are too many defenders to the strong side, the offense can run to the opposite side as well.

Common Wing-T Running Plays

The Wing-T has an almost endless supply of run schemes to cause defenses nightmares. Here are a few of the most common ones you’ll see when watching a Wing-T offense.

Buck Sweep

When many coaches think of the Wing-T offense, the Buck Sweep is usually the first play that comes to mind. The play features two guards pulling around the edge, while the frontside of the offensive line is blocking down and trying to create movement at the point of attack. 

Wing-T Plays - Buck Sweep

The quarterback will take the snap, open up away from the play while gaining depth to avoid the pulling guard, and give a fake to the fullback going up the middle in the other direction. Finally he’ll hand off to the tailback following the pullers (with his back turned to the defense so they can’t see exactly what’s happening) and the quarterback will boot away from the play hoping to disguise who has the football.

Down Play

The Down play (sometimes referred to as the Belly G play) is a great way to get angles for your blockers and create a hole for the fullback quickly. The quarterback will take the snap and reverse out, starting away from the point of attack.

Wing-T Plays - Down Play

This path for the quarterback is designed to allow the blocking to have enough time to develop before the fullback gets the ball, as well as ensure that the fullback’s path and angle are correct when he receives the handoff. The fullback will widen and mesh with the quarterback to take the handoff before following the block of the pulling guard and fitting inside the designed running lane. 

Trap

The trap play isn’t unique to the Wing-T, but it’s a play that makes a lot of sense in this offense, especially when you consider how important the fullback is to this scheme.

Wing-T Plays - Trap Play

The trap play is a great way to get the ball up the middle in a hurry, take advantage of an aggressive defensive lineman who is causing too much penetration in the backfield, and create angles for the blockers inside.

Common Wing-T Pass Plays

Contrary to popular belief, the Wing-T has a lot of ways to create opportunities in the pass game. Here are just a few of the most common pass plays.

Waggle

One of the most common pass plays in this Wing-T offense is built to look exactly like one of the most common run plays. The waggle play (sometimes referred to as “Buck Sweep Boot”) is designed to look very similar to the Buck Sweep run play we talked about a moment ago.  If an offense has been running a lot of Buck Sweep, this is a great way to catch them off guard and create an opportunity for a big play in the pass game when they least expect it.

Wing-T Plays - Waggle

After receiving the fake, the fullback continues in the same direction, away from where the Buck Sweep would go, and then sneaks out in the flat. The quarterback will look to him first, and then to the tight end on a backside drag route, and then can either throw the deep route to his side or take off running. Meanwhile the left tackle will block down and the left guard will pull around to seal off any penetration on the edge defender, giving the quarterback space to throw or take off if he wants.

Single Receiver Option Route

Most Wing-T formations leave a single receiver all by himself away from the other 10 players, which means that guy can get a lot of one-on-one coverage opportunities if the defense has to commit extra men to stop the run. If you’ve got a really good receiver, the Wing-T can actually help him create even more opportunities for big plays, and it limits the number of ways the defense can line up against that guy and try to confuse him.

Wing-T Plays - Single Receiver Option Route

One of the best ways to get the ball to a stud receiver in this situation is to just let him find open space, no matter what the defense is doing. You can run all kinds of option routes, but one of the simplest is something like what you see in the diagram. The receiver can go deep if he’s pressed or even with the defensive back, but against a big cushion from the defender, he’ll just run a square out route at ten yards.

Play Action Vertical Pass

It shouldn’t be any surprise that one of the most common pass plays from this offense relies on pure play action.

In this example, the quarterback sends a man in motion into the backfield, takes the snap, fakes to the fullback, and then finds the tight end or slot over the middle quickly when the defense freezes or bites on the fake.

Wing-T Plays - Play Action Vertical Pass

This play is usually designed to get the football out quickly to whichever side the quarterback opens to. Even if you have a great fake, the defense won’t stare at the backfield forever, they’ll try to recover, and that opening in the pass defense will close quickly.

What Coaches and Teams Use the Wing-T?

The traditional Wing-T offense is pretty much extinct in major college football, however it is alive and well at the high school level all across the country. The diverse run game and flexibility of formations allows many high school offenses to move the ball consistently, even if they may not have a great quarterback capable of throwing a lot of deep passes.

While the traditional Wing-T may not be seen anymore in major college football, there are a lot of coaches who have been influenced by the principles in this offense and have incorporated them with great success in their spread offense attacks.

Gus Malzahn Gun Wing-T

Gus Malzahn is a coach who successfully combined the principles of the Wing-T and the modern spread offense at Auburn and now at UCF to create a dangerous offensive attack.