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The Double Slot, Triple Option Offense

by: Ric Johns
Assistant Coach, Belleville East High School (IL)
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This offense, with simple option, counter option, read and play-action passes can be effective against any defense.

In 1991, I made the decision that our team would transition into a double slot, triple option offensive program. Despite the fact our program was thriving, I felt that if we ever wanted to establish ourselves as an elite program, we needed an approach that would allow us to compete with the superior talent we would see deep into the playoffs.

I began the transformation process by accumulating as much information as I could on double slot, triple option football. I focused on the service academies – Army, Navy, and Air Force were all running triple out of the double slot formation at the time as were Georgia Southern and Southwest Missouri State. When I felt comfortable in my understanding, we committed to the offense and never looked back.

Double Slot Triple Option 101

PERSONNEL. In general, offenses like to have prototypical players for each position. Realistically, few of us ever get to come out of the tunnel with our perfect 11. We do the best we can with what we have. I will be pleased if come August I am blessed with three thick zone blockers guard to guard, a couple of athletic tackles and a handful of skill players that take pride in their blocking. I would like a fullback blessed with a great first step and football vision. The icing on the cake would be a quarterback that has quick hands and feet and also a quick brain.

BASE ALIGNMENT. Our base double slot formation (Diagram 1) is so versatile, I would have no problem lining up in it every down. At times, however, in an attempt to gain a numerical advantage, a blocking angle or to dictate a change in the defense’s option responsibility, we will change our formation. We have at our disposal trip sets, unbalanced sets and, when blessed with a veteran crew, a short yardage power set.

Diagram 1.

Guards – 2.5 foot splits - ear hole on the centers belt.

Tackles – 3 foot splits - ear hole on the centers belt.

Halfbacks – inside foot aligned on the outside foot of the tackle - football position, arms length from tackles outside hip.

Split Ends – generally top of the numbers. We will vary our alignment at times to manipulate the defensive perimeter but stress that no SE should align closer than seven yards from the sideline.

Fullback – toes at four yards. We will move him closer to the LOS in an effort to get a quicker first read, should quickness be an issue.

Diagram 2.

Motion. We will utilize several different motions throughout a season (Diagram 2). The majority of our plays involve arch motion. This motion is then coordinated with our cadence. Our cadence is simply color - number – color – number, ready ‘Go’. The designated HB would go in motion late and fast on the second syllable of ready. His aiming point would be the feet of the FB. It’s importance to declare motion late and fast. An inconsistent motion aides the defense in that it permits time to recognize possibilities and define reactions. Arch motion should offer the defense a split second reaction time without a clue of what the play may be.

Pre-Snap Defense Recognition. As our quarterback takes his place under center, it will be his responsibility to evaluate the defensive alignment. He will be focusing on three factors - numbers, angles and grass. His evaluation will determine if we run the huddle call, change the direction of the huddle call or change the play altogether.

Numbers. When we are in our base formation, we are symmetrically balanced with an equal number of players on each side of the center. If a defense places more players to a particular side of our formation, we will attack the opposite side where we enjoy a numerical advantage (Diagram 3).

Diagram 3.

Angles. After surveying the numbers situation, our QB will then look at the defensive front as it pertains to the play call. If the angles dictate, he will change the direction of the play or may choose to change the play altogether. For example, we would rather trap a 3 technique than a 1 technique. On the other hand, we stand a better chance for success running our triple at the 1 technique (Diagram 4). We may game plan to attack particular personnel on certain plays. At times, the opponent may compromise himself to the extent that our QB can audible to exploit a weakness.

Diagram 4.

Grass. In the rare instance the defense aligns identically on each side of our offense, we will attack the field (provided we are on a hash).

The Offensive Package. We approach each game knowing that offensive success depends on establishing our triple option. We also realize that our opponent’s objective is to be solid defensively against this offense. Thus, it is essential that we recognize the opponent’s defensive solution to our base play as quickly as possible. It then becomes the job of the coaches to make the proper adjustments designed to exploit the opposition’s plan. I want answers that are simple, so I try never to dilute the playbook with a multitude of plays. Each play is a part of the offensive puzzle and it is important that we do not have numerous plays designed to accomplish the same objective. Our production has increased when I have thinned the playbook as opposed to making it thicker. Coach Lou Holtz said that the best advice he could offer to high school coaches would be “it is better to do too little than attempt to do too much”.

As we approach game one, our playbook will consist of our option game, two counters off option action, rocket sweep and its counter, 4 four play action passes, quick game, a limited number of sprint-out passes and some inside zone plays designed to maximize our strengths. For instance, if we were particularly strong when running our rocket sweep, we would run a zone play designed to look like our rocket. If our fullback is an outstanding athlete, we may want to install some power-oriented schemes.


Blocking the Perimeter – Understanding the 1 and 2 call. To execute all three phases of our triple, it is essential that we have a comprehensive plan that allows us to attack the perimeter of whatever defense we face. We have a simple recognition system that allows our slot backs and split ends to identify defensive alignments as well as communicate their blocking assignments.
The 1 Call - Attacking the 8-man front. As our perimeter personnel move into their pre-snap alignment, they will scan the defense in an effort to recognize how many defensive backs on their side are positioned over or outside the tackle box. If there is only one DB stationed between the tackle box and the sideline (Diagram 5) the slot and split end will signal each other that they have a 1 call.

Diagram 5.

Having established that we are facing a 1 call, we understand that we are either dealing with an 8-man or unbalanced front. This dictates that our playside slot will load block, backer to safety. His objective will be to block for the QB. He will first look to the nearest inside linebacker. If the LB in question is scraping over the top to play the QB, the slot will aggressively engage him (Diagram 6). If no such threat exists, the slot will redirect and climb to the safety (Diagram 7). The playside split end is responsible for stalk blocking the corner. The backside split end seals the backside corner away. Never underestimate the importance of the backside split ends block. Far too often it’s the backside corner that determines the difference between a long touchdown and a 30-yard gain.
Our interior linemen are not affected by the perimeter call. Their fundamental rules are as follows:

Diagram 6.

Diagram 7.

Playside Tackle – veer release to backer (if playside guard is uncovered, release outside).

Playside Guard - inside zone.

Center – zone playside.

Backside Guard – covered = scoop. Uncovered = zone playside.

Backside Tackle – scoop.

Diagram 8 – Triple option vs. 4 - 4 (1call).

Triple vs. 3-5-3 - We adjust our triple blocking scheme when playing the 3-5 front. The adjustment consists of us making a “Cat” call. The cat call means that our playside tackle and slot back will be responsible for the backer that is stacked behind our dive read while the playside guard will punch “A” gap and climb to the Mike backer (Diagram 9). Consistent with the 1 call, our split ends are responsible for the corners.

Diagram 9.

The 2 call - Attacking the 7-man front. When a defensive set deploys two defensive backs on or outside the tackle box, our slot back and split end will communicate that they recognize a 2 call. A 2 call translates into a 7-man front with a 4-across or 2-deep shell behind it (Diagram 10). We seldom see a traditional strong safety look due to our balanced set and ability to audible away from the extra player.

Diagram 10.

Some defensive sets declare their intentions of perimeter support by moving safeties closer to the LOS. This is an attempt to get instant support to the pitch alley. Contrary to this approach, some teams prefer to disguise their intentions until the snap of the ball. Regardless, we will attack the attacker and react to the reactor. This means that no matter what the circumstance, our playside slot is responsible for the defensive back assigned to cover the pitch phase of our option. If a safety has walked up into linebacker depth, our slot back will view him as the primary support. In this instance, our slot back will aggressively attack him with his objective being to establish outside leverage (Diagram 11). The split end will explode upfield, aiming at the outside shoulder of the corner. He will create the illusion of a deep threat until the corner sits to support the option. When the corner sits, the split end breaks down and goes into a stalk block mode.

Diagram 11.

When facing a balanced 7-man front that reacts to perimeter play by disguising their responsibilities until after the snap of the ball, we will concede the first move, then react accordingly. At the snap of the ball, the playside slot will open his hips to the corner and read his option responsibility. Should the corner sit tight as a primary force defender, the slot will arch in an attempt to square up and block the corner, sealing him inside or running him to the sideline depending on the corner’s path to the ball (Diagram 12).

Diagram 12.

This is why it is imperative that the concept of a pitch alley is practiced daily. When a slot back receives a pitch, he is instructed to square his shoulders and get upfield immediately. This action constricts the perimeter defense and sets up the slot’s block. When the ball carrier sees that a corner is pinned inside, he will step outside the hash, number and/or sideline. The split end in this scenario would explode past the outside shoulder of the corner, then turn in to seal the safety that is pursuing over the top in a secondary support roll.

The second possibility pertaining to the 2 call would involve the corner dropping into a deep third or locking onto the split end. In this instance, the split end would again explode upfield aiming at the outside shoulder of the corner. If the corner sits to play run, the split end will gather his feet, breakdown, and stalk block the corner with the finesse of a point guard. The stationary slot will open to the corner. Seeing the corner vacate the flat area, the slot instantly snaps his head back inside to the playside safety. The safety will be attacking downhill on a collision course with the QB or pitch back. The slot back must aggressively engage the safety wherever the safety’s option responsibility dictates (Diagram 13).

Diagram 13.

The QB will open with his playside foot hitting the 3 o’clock mark. He will then bring the back foot up so that his feet are shoulder width apart and his chin pinned to his upfield shoulder. He will have both hands on the ball with arms extended reaching for the initial mesh point – the far hip of the FB. His eyes will be focused on the far shoulder of the first defender on the LOS aligned in or outside the B gap. We refer to this player as # 1. Our QBs are instructed that they are always to give the ball to the FB unless # 1’s far shoulder turns hard to the mesh point. In this situation, the QB will pull the ball and attack the next player out – # 2. Should # 1 sit, attack upfield or out, the QB will pull his back hand off the ball and push the ball into the FB’s pocket. He will then accelerate off the mesh. The continuation of his track is crucial in that it discourages the defensive perimeter personnel from folding inside on the FB.

When the defense dictates that the QB pull the ball, he will do so immediately. This will limit confusion and conflict during the mesh. With the ball chest high squarely between his shoulders, the quarterback’s eyes now move to #2. He will attack the outside shoulder of #2 in an effort to make him declare his option responsibility as soon as possible. We like an aggressive QB that will square up early and make #2 close hard to tackle him.

If #2 squeezes the QB, then he is instructed to sit and pitch to the motion back. I have always preferred the thumb down, chest-to-chest pitch. I instruct my quarterbacks to make a visual with the pitch target and to never make a blind pitch. The pitch back should be at full speed and ahead of the QB when he receives the pitch. There are three points that need to be stressed daily – one, be quick but don’t hurry. Two, if you miss a dive read by not giving the ball to the FB, follow the FB. Three, the QB never pitches off anyone but the pitch key until well downfield.

Before the fullback settles into his three-point stance, he will have taken a quick scan of the defense. The fullback’s eyes are up and he is applying pressure to the inside of his backside foot. His track will be at the inside leg of the playside guard. At the snap of the ball, the fullback will step with the playside foot, eyes focused on the first man inside #1 on the line LOS. He will stay on track until he has the ball. The fullback and quarterback need to understand that the mesh is intact when it reaches the front hip of the quarterback. It is now the fullback’s responsibility. The FB is trained to read and react to the first man on the LOS aligned inside the dive read. By running with his eyes, he will be able to take full advantage of the zone scheme taking place in front of him. For example, a nose guard may be slanting into the playside A gap. The center may have no other recourse than washing the nose past the A gap. This would result in the fullback breaking back behind the center’s block (Diagram 14). This is a slashing cut made at full speed.

Diagam 14.

Securing Backside Pursuit. Average option programs do a good job blocking at the point of attack. Great option programs excel both on the playside and the backside. The best teams you face each year will have defenses that pursue the ball well. Not only can great pursuit slow down and disrupt your option attack, it will create turnovers.

Backside linemen must understand that if their rule is to “scoop”, they are responsible for a man or a man and a half. If your backside blockers think that their job is inconsequential, you are destined for disaster when faced with an elite defense. Backside personnel should be just as accountable for their responsibilities as the frontside tackle is for his veer release to the linebacker.

Backside Tackle. Pre-snap, backside linemen must assess their responsibility. If the backside tackle observes an opposing player positioned anywhere on the B gap, he will be responsible for that player. His first step is at belt of the center. His objective is to get his head across the far knee of his target and his backside hand on the ground between the opponent’s feet and work upfield from a bear crawl position. If the tackle’s responsibility angles away from him at the snap, the tackle will square himself to the LOS and work to linebacker depth. He will attempt to gain frontside leverage on a LB that is in front of him. If there is no one in his immediate path, he will look backside to seal a pursuing backer. At this point, if he has yet to find a defender, he will work to the next level to offer the QB a cutback lane. He should not chase and must not clip.

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