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Friday, August 15, 2008

The A-11 Offense: A Pragmatic Approach

Update - Feb. 17, 2009: The A-11 has now been ruled illegal. The ruling is consistent with this piece: rather than aim directly at the offense or the formation, the National Federation of High School Athletics has clarified the scrimmage kick exception to be limited only to fourth down. As explained in the full-post, the A-11's creators, Steve Humphries and Kurt Bryan, had found a way to transform the scrimmage kick exception (which all agree was at least originally intended only for kicking situations) into an every down offense by putting the quarterback more than seven yards deep. The new ruling eliminates this by requiring that at least four players on the line of scrimmage wear an ineligible jersey number (50-79), except on fourth down.

The A-11's creators have a few arrows left in the quiver. First, they have encouraged teams interested in the A-11 to break off from their state's rulemaking body to form a loose-coalition of A-11 teams, or all A-11 league for themselves. Doing so would require that those schools would not be eligible for their state playoff systems (because they would not be following the rules/procedures that other schools did) and would have to encourage the other, non A-11 league teams locally to play them using their brand of rules. This proposal has not been met with enthusiasm, to say the least.

The other proposal they have floated, this time via email, is called "numerical camouflage." To me, part of this is an admission that the A-11 itself is not that innovative -- the major contribution Bryan and Humphries made was not the formation or the "super-spread," but was with toying with who was and was not eligible so as to confuse the other team (and officials). Basically, they would line up in the A-11 or old BYU type formations with three interior linemen, and give the eligible and ineligible guys similar numbers, like "68" and "88." This way they could still have everyone huddle up near (but not on) the line of scrimmage before the snap, and then, just like the old A-11, have some of them step onto the line and be set for only a second.

Whereas with the real A-11 each would be potentially eligible (before being covered up), here, although it would be foreordained that 68 would need to be on and 88 off, the defense might not be able to determine who was wearing 68 and 88 until it was too late. Make of that proposal what you will, but they are certainly determined.

In any event, it's slightly sad to see it go. I never had any animosity against the offense (certainly not against innovation and being spread), but the scrimmage kick exception was never the proper vehicle. Maybe football is moving the direction the A-11's creators say to being fully wide-open where linemen are a thing of the past, but why not do away with the eligibility restrictions entirely? Many states also have 8-man football leagues, which more closely resemble Arena football, which is itself something like what the A-11 proponents advocated for. Moreover, there was always so much confusion about the offense: so many thought that "A-11" actually mean that the offense could send eight, nine, ten guys downfield to catch passes, when the reality was that it only referred to what was going on pre-snap, and after the snap the offense had no more downfield receivers than the west coast offense or the wishbone. Maybe in the future we will continue moving that way, but it always struck me as bizarre that this was seen as some kind of ultimate and brand new innovation. As documented in the full-post, the actual formations have been around for fifty years, and the Canadians have been one-upping the A-11 since they can send six receivers out for a pass (rather than five as with every U.S. team, including the A-11), due to the fact that there are twelve players on each side.

If we want to change the rules we ought to do it head on. The memory of the A-11 will not fade away, and flag, Arena, and Canadian football are constant reminders of what is possible, if it is true that football is inexorably moving in the direction of being all-spread, all the time. I for one disagree that this is the only direction football goes. It is more cyclical than that and linemen are not as useless -- or as uninteresting -- as the A-11's proponents seemed to argue. Moreover, even in their vaunted offense, the players they replace them with are about as uselessly limited as a position can be: they stand on the outside of the formation and back up to possibly receive a lateral (which a lineman can currently do in any offense), but is otherwise purely a decoy. To me, the idea of the spread is to turn kids into threats by isolating them, moving them around, and unleashing them as downfield terrors. All too often, despite its "wide-open" appearance, the offense tends to restrict the number of eligible downfield receivers (because the running back is needed as a blocker with only three linemen, the offense routinely only can release four receivers downfield instead of five) and it turns players who can do multiple things to the defense -- yes, linemen -- into mere bystanders. That's not spreading; it's bad arithmetic. And that's not an argument against the spirit of the game or to persecute them, it's just that I don't think you gain a strategic advantage from the offense besides whatever deception you might get from confusing the other team about who is and is not eligible.

But that debate is over for now, and will have to be taken up in the future. It no doubt will be.

Original post

The Roman aqueducts. The Gutenberg printing press. The Wealth of Nations. The atomic bomb. The personal computer. Now, the “A-11 offense.”

The A-11 is a football offense which, in reliance on a particular high school rule exemption, puts eleven offensive players on the field who are eligible to catch a down field pass, at least until they are actually set and the ball is snapped. By contrast, on ordinary plays at least five players (the linemen) are automatically ineligible because of the numbers on their jerseys. But in the A-11, the offensive players hover near the line and then quickly set for the required one second before the ball is snapped, thus putting the burden on the defense to determine who is actually eligible to catch passes. If this sounds unique, it is. But the rhetoric of the A-11's creators might make you think that they had discovered nothing less than latest step in mankind's systematic and scientific march through history:

“We’re doing futuristic football. We’re doing football where every play is innovative.” – Steve Humphries

Others are not so impressed. According to the Washington Post, Joe Warren, the football rules interpreter (what a title!) for Maryland’s Public Schools, has called the A-11 “sneaky” and declared that it “makes a travesty of the game.” A quick perusal of the lengthy threads on Coach Huey’s site reveals the deep discord surrounding this offense. And North Carolina has banned the offense, making a second offense grounds for suspending the coach.

The debate is so vehement because the offense – and the behavior of its proponents – touches on many of football’s most timeless debates: the value of “gimmick offenses”; whether there is a type of “true football” and whether this offense violates it; the debate of whether something might be unsportsmanlike because though it is within the letter of the rules it is allegedly not within its spirit; and whether coaches are justified in marketing and selling their ideas for profit rather than sharing them freely.

Explanation of the Offense and the Related RulesIn both high school and college football, while a team is on offense it is required to have a minimum of five players wearing jerseys numbered 50-79 who line up on the line of scrimmage. These poor souls are branded “ineligible,” as in they are ineligible to receive a forward pass, regardless of where they actually line up. So you cannot throw number 63 the ball, even if he lined up in the backfield. Similarly, if 63 lines up at Flanker and 22 lines up as a covered guard, neither can go out for a forward pass, as 22 is barred under the traditional rule that only allows ends and backfield players to be eligible for forward passes. And unlike the NFL, High School and College ball does not have a reporting system to allow ineligible guys to become eligible again. This rule's animating rationale appears to have been an attempt to stamp out tackle eligible plays, possibly as a direct rebuke to Bear Bryant who in particular had used such plays with success.

This is the base rule. The A-11 offense seeks to liberate those five from their “ineligible” status by relying on an exception to the general rule: the “scrimmage kick” rule.

In both high school and college, if a team goes into a “scrimmage kick formation” (more on this in a bit) the offense can disregard the rule requiring the five-man minimum of 50-79 numbered players and can, if it likes, put eleven guys on the field who all have eligible numbers. (Still, only a total of six guys remain eligible to receive a forward pass: the two ends and the four backfield players. ) The scrimmage kick exception was put in sometime after the number-eligibility limitation to allow more flexibility on punt plays by allowing teams to put faster players on the field rather than having to keep five linemen on the field.

So the A-11 offense is built on this scrimmage kick exception. To confuse the defense, the offense puts as many guys up near (but not on the line) as possible, and then shortly before the snap six of them (two ends and four interior linemen, not counting the center who is already on the ball) move onto the line, set for one second, and the ball is snapped and off the offense goes. The defense then must figure out who is eligible to receive a forward pass. The offense compounds this confusion by having the ineligible guys put their hands up, run bubble plays or little dummy hitch routes behind the line. They also can of course block for run plays or for screens, and they can even receive laterals (backwards passes), but a lineman wearing number 63 could already do that without the scrimmage kick formation. Note also, however, that once a player has lined up on the line of scrimmage he remains ineligible and you can’t then shift who is on and who is off multiple times.

What is the scrimmage kick formation? I saved this for last because the formation is defined differently for college and high school. In high school, a team lines up in a “scrimmage kick formation” anytime they have a “receiver” of the snap lined up seven yards deep or more. (I say “a receiver” versus the receiver because it doesn’t have to be the actual recipient of the snap. For example, on a fake punt the punter lines up more than seven yards deep but the actual snap might go to the upback who is lined up only four yards deep.) So all a high school team needs to do is put its quarterback seven yards deep and then it may employ this scrimmage kick exception. This is how Piedmont turned the A-11 into an every down offense.

In college football, however, the exception is more narrow: A formation will only be deemed a “scrimmage kick formation” (thus making the offense exempt from the 50-79 numbers requirement) if the above requirements are met and it is “obvious that a kick might be attempted.” In other words, if an offense lines up on first down with the quarterback seven yards deep but with no other indication of an impending kick – field goal or punt – then the scrimmage kick exception does not apply and the offense must still have five guys with ineligible numbers. Some states like Texas use college rules for high school football so the A-11 is functionally illegal there, as well.

That’s the relevant framework. Below is some video of Piedmont:





As a final note on the possible origins of the offense, the idea of detaching the line from the usual five interior linemen set has been well known at least since the 1980s and 1990s as BYU under LaVell Edwards and Steve Spurrier both used such sets with success. Of course, both used it only in spot duty as a change up as something to make the defense prepare for a little bit extra each week. Run and Shoot innovator Tiger Ellison also explored the idea decades earlier. But, as far as I am aware, Piedmont under Humphries and Bryan were the first to wed the general idea to the scrimmage kick formation to get eleven possibly eligible players onto the field.

Below is the BYU formation, courtesy of Bruce Eien:

Controversy

In this section my aim is to take on two erroneous approaches in this debate – one on either side – and in the process hopefully shed a little light on why I think they are incorrect approaches to football itself. On the one side you have the A-11’s sycophants who have announced to us plebes that, through their Ideas, they have given intellectual birth to an offense which is truly Innovative, unlike whatever the rest of us have had previously been doing. (For some reason people like this are always compelled to capitalize otherwise commonplace words.)

The reality of course is that while no one enjoys football’s strategic complexities more than I do, at core football is a simple game, and none of us are luminous visionaries. Although there no question that it was creative to combine the BYU formation mentioned above with the Scrimmage Kick exception to create some pre-snap confusion, this is not the stuff of “Genius,” (as ESPN.com would lead us to believe), it is not “futuristic football,” (whatever that is supposed to mean), and, not only is it not Innovative (certainly not in the capital letter sense), the self-righteous obsession with transcending mere coaching to become known as an “Innovator” is immaterial, misguided, and probably just plain unhealthy.

On the other side are people who hold another set of beliefs so silly that, if they did not actually exist, Bryan and Humphries would have to make them up. These people tell us that the A-11 offense is bad because it’s not “real” or “true” football” because, apparently in some Platonic-ideal sense, it doesn’t look to them like real football. Their argument is that there’s a certain way one must play the game – no wait, a certain way you have to line up – which is likely based on no more than whatever people already do. Anything contrary to their conception of Platonic-ideal football is unsportsmanlike or simply “a travesty.” No doubt, these are the same people still grumbling about the spread, wishbone, or West Coast Offenses as being in violation of whatever football is to them in their mind’s eye. I will describe why the idea that there is some kind of pure, Platonic form of football which the A-11 violates is necessarily incorrect, and the people who make this argument are wrong. (In the section following this one I address some of the more practical questions of what actual rule makers ought to think about when assessing the offense, and I actually come out on the side that the offense should probably - though it is a close case - be made illegal.)

Self-Appointed Geniuses

One of the difficulties of discussing the offense is trying to separate the A-11's schemes from Steve Humphries (Piedmont’s director of football operations) and Kurt Bryan (Piedmont’s head coach), the offense's rather unique and vocal creators. A major reason why this offense so quickly left a bitter taste in these coach’s mouths is because it didn’t hit them the way normal football innovations do, which is by word of mouth about what some team is having success with: “Hey, have you seen what Podunk High/Eastern State U is doing? It’s really interesting! Check it out!” Instead, coaches were bombarded with the offense through some kind of directed marketing blitz more akin to laundry detergent than a football offense. To many, the “A-11 Offense” came across less like an offense to be marketed than as a marketing campaign looking for an offense.

Keep in mind that the entire history of this offense has been roughly 7-9 games of partial then full use by a single small division high school team. Within a matter of months of losing in the playoffs, Bryan and Humphries launched a soft and direct marketing campaign – complete with media and internet write-ups, websites (a11offense.com), message board postings, by hosting and attending clinics – and now of after some success there is now (surprise!) a DVD set available for purchase, where one can learn to install this magnificent offense for the low-low price of $199.99 (or $40 for a given component). Even the origin of the moniker "A-11" is preposterous: it takes a certain kind of hubris to actually name your own offense after using it for less than a season, especially considering that even the vaunted “Airraid” offense used by Mike Leach, Chris Hatcher, and Hal Mumme had been in use for nearly a decade before some employee working in marketing in the University of Kentucky’s athletic department thought it’d be a good way to sell some tickets.

But more power to them on this marketing blitz. If people want to buy these DVDs, that’s fine. What troubles me is their approach to football and their self-designation as Innovators and Idea men. Like much else in life, in football the conviction that everything you are doing is innovative (“every play is innovative”) indicates that either you are woefully ignorant of what you are doing (or else it wouldn’t seem so innovative) or you’re simply being arrogant and it's the arrogance blinding you.

The articles and sites that discuss this offense describe the three years Bryan and Humphries spent Thinking Important Thoughts about football. And, at least according to them, their resulting creation – this “All 11 offense” – is fueled not by the pedestrian concerns of common football coaches but instead (I suppose subconsciously channeling Hegel’s “Absolute Idea” in their mad reach for profundity) the A-11 is solely concerned with “IDEAS.” From Humphries's blog:

“It’s taken almost three years for the A-11 Offense to morph from a collection of different formations into a theoretical ‘offensive system,’ which then had to translate itself onto the field as an actual offense for the 2007 season. We’ve gone from ideas, to plays, to a system with techniques and throughout the whole process the driving force has been – IDEAS.”
Such self-parody hardly needs an encore. But let’s at least try to ask in what way this offense is driven by these ethereal and erudite IDEAS which, by implication, must be somehow wholly distinct from the types of IDEAS that are behind what other football coaches do. In other words, by what metric is this offense so Innovative? (Again with a capital “I”). Again, from Humphries’s blog:

“On the flip side there are many examples of new ideas making their way to the gridiron and enlightening the game. Florida’s game plan versus Ohio State in the 2007 National Championship game, spread speed across the field into open space and decimated Ohio States [sic] #1 defense. Rutger’s [sic] super spread punt in 2007 put severe stress on the defense and showed amazing promise if they tried a play. The Forty Niners tried a contrarian punt that looked a lot like our 'base' A-11 formation in week 15 of the 2007 NFL season. It almost got blocked, but Carolina definitely looked confused[.]”

So maybe the A-11 is truly innovative, so long as our definition of what is innovative includes game-changing irregularities like, uh, spread punt formations that a variety of teams have used for decades. Of course, what Humphries is really looking at as his barometer of innovation was that University of Florida offense in the 2007 BCS Title game between Florida and Ohio State. He mentions it here and it is mentioned both in the Washington Post and ESPN.com write-ups of the offense (of which the Washington Post's article was far superior; I lack the adjectives to explain how laughably abysmal the ESPN.com piece is). ESPN.com earnestly tells us, apparently in some misguided effort to convince us of Humphries’s genius and authority on the issue of his offense’s status on the Innovation-scale that – aside from going to Cal-Berkeley (holy!), Humphries (wait for it) diagrammed every single play from this Florida – Ohio St. game.

Indeed. This might be persuasive if (a) this wasn’t something that coaches did all the time to often hundreds of games a year, and (b) there was any evidence that Humphries had ever diagrammed another game in such a way. In fact, diagramming that particular game and repeatedly singling it out reveals Humphries’s ignorance on these matters. Competent “diagramming” of that game reveals that Ohio St. played poor defense, turned the ball over repeatedly, and got outplayed. Meyer’s gameplan was certainly great, but it was hardly innovative in some kind of revolutionary and game changing way. It was not much different than what he had been doing for years, and the fact that his offense at that time was a known quantity was why he was paid so much money to come to Florida. Indeed, I had discussed his offense and the spread more generally long before even that game. (Try here and here.) And make no mistake, it is not enough for Humphries argue that Meyer’s gameplan was simply clever or well planned any more than his offense is merely clever or well-planned. Instead both must be truly Innovative and “futuristic.”

Continuing with the absurdity: Apparently Humphries, in his profound quest to diagram Florida’s innovative gameplan, must have failed to diagram any of Ohio St.’s plays. Had he done so, he might have noticed that Ohio State, with Troy Smith at Quarterback, used the zone read along with many of the same sets and formations as Florida and Meyer (hello!).

But we should let Humphries go. Despite the fact that it is his name that appears most prominently in the media, I don’t believe he is the actual driving force behind the offense, though he appears happy to appear publicly. Kurt Bryan is the one who actually coaches the team and has implemented the ideas and he is the one who has made most of the rounds through the coaching and officiating circles preaching his revelations to the rest of us. And Bryan is certainly no less enthusiastic about the offense or in his belief that it is truly Innovative and Game Changing. On the Coach Huey site mentioned by the Washington Post, Bryan posted a thread innocuously titled “Seriously Innovative Ideas Forthcoming?” to post others’ ideas. Bryan invited other coaches to join in (while admonishing them and, of course, capitalizing "Innovations"):

Keeping this thread SERIOUS about forthcoming Innovations, does anyone out there believe in something Truly groundbreaking they are working on?
Bryan saved the punchline until sometime later, but of course, the big reveal was that the A-11 was (surprise!) precisely the kind of “Seriously Innovative Idea” he had in mind.

The point is that while the A-11 is certainly intriguing, what appears to drive these people is their self-aggrandizing belief that the job of a football coach is to Innovate and operate in the Realm of Big and Important Ideas, so that as a result they might be called geniuses (as ESPN.com shamelessly implies). They believe they have taken the pop-ready idea of the “Spread” to its extreme and should be praised accordingly.

As a threshold matter, I agree with Joe Theismann (in spirit, if not to the letter):

“The word 'genius' isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.”

Football is a simple game. There’s plenty of complexity, but if you’ve appointed yourself a genius and a revolutionary then you not only lack humility regarding this sport (not to mention your profession) but you’re just plain missing the boat. Everybody’s got schemes. Good coaches surely spend time on schemes, but anyone who has ever been around the game realizes that schemes are just one part of coaching, and I’d say that schemes usually aren’t the outcome determinative part. I don’t even think schemes were necessarily the difference in that famed 2007 BCS game between Florida and Ohio St. that Humphries is so fond of.

And, most ironically, I think these even more egregiously miss the boat on what the importance of their own offense is in their frantic attempt to be recognized as revolutionaries and Innovators. Even with the A-11, a team is still constrained by ineligible players at the snap due to who is covered up even if it can play pre-snap games. They shouldn’t think of it as a super spread. Instead, Bryan and Humphries ought to view the philosophy behind their offense as a willingness to detach and play around with the idea that the five interior linemen don’t have to be seen as a unit of five interior linemen.

The Platonic-Idealists

The argument on the other side all-too-often goes as follows: the A-11 isn’t real or true football and therefore it is bad or illegal or sinister or poor form or the like. Yet, haven’t we heard this charge before? Yes we have: The spread isn’t real or true football and therefore it is bad. And the run and shoot isn’t real or true football and therefore it is bad. And the West Coast Offense isn’t real or true football and therefore it is bad. And the wishbone isn’t real or true football and therefore it is bad. Hell, at one time the argument was that the entire T formation with a quarterback behind the center wasn’t real or true football and therefore it was bad!

I could stop here. But the A-11 raises this important question: Is there some pure, true, Platonic-ideal football? If not, then why? The answer is that there is not such a pure, true, ideal football because football is a game; all the rules – except ones designed around safety - are arbitrary. They might have in mind competitive balance, but this doesn’t make it “true” or “real” in any meaningful sense. What are the most fundamental, “true,” important, or essential rules in football that you can think of? For me, short of the shape of the ball used, my tops would probably be the 100-yard football field, the limit on both sides to eleven players on the field, and the limit on offenses to four downs to score or get a first down. Certainly, all would rank higher than the number of players who might possibly be eligible to receive a forward pass pre-snap, which logically must also rank lower than the number of actually eligible receivers.

Yet, setting aside eight-man football, flag-football, and Arena football, look at Canadian football: the field is 110 yards long, each side has twelve players with six – aside from the quarterback – who are eligible to receive forward passes, and the offense has only three downs to work with.

Now, if the line of scrimmage was abolished and instead of scoring touchdowns by carrying an oblong ball into the end zone teams were instead required to either kick a round ball into a net or by to throw a round ball through a hoop aligned ten feet above the ground then the game could no longer be called football simply because we wouldn’t be able to recognize it as such. But obviously the ability to recognize the sport as football is something far looser than what the “true football” ideologues advocate as eight-man football and Arena Football, to say nothing of the spread, the wishbone, the West Coast Offense, or even, yes, the A-11 offense, are clearly recognizable as football.

So, again, there simply is no such thing as “real” or “true” Platonic football. The next time someone next to you says, upon seeing someone successfully employ a double-reverse pass or some next-wave offensive system, that what you just saw was not “real” football (this group includes many football coaches) you can safely think to yourself that this person has no idea what they are talking about, and you can decide for yourself whether to let them know it (if it’s your Boss or Father-in-Law, I suggest agreeing or simply staying mute). Football is a game designed for fun and its rules are designed for no other reason than to promote fun and safety for players and spectators.

This view is buttressed by the fact that the primary reason for a sport’s rules is tradition, and nowadays most sports, including football, have ruling bodies that establish the law of the land and continually adjust those rules. If there was Platonic-Ideal "true” football, then the believer would have to view these rulemaking bodies as either improperly tampering with the immortal or, somewhat more likely, that they were continuously tinkering with football in its current form to achieve in this world something more closely resembling true, idyllic football through a process that would have to be described less as rule making and instead as divination. Both are, of course, ridiculous, just as the base claim that there is such a thing as Platonic “true” football is ridiculous. I certainly don’t imagine that this is what such rule makers actually see themselves as doing, but if you accept the “true football” argument, those are your inescapable conclusions.

Verdict: The Self-Appointed Geniuses vs. The Platonic-Idealists

Despite their absurdity, Bryan and Humphries have the better of this particular strand of the argument. I will address in the next section a few thoughts on whether the Scrimmage Kick rule ought to be amended, but hopefully I have helped discredit the notion that football – or any other game – has some kind of “true,” inviolable Platonic-ideal form which makes violators of such true or ideal football both wrong and bad, and I hope I have shed some light on why the cult of Innovation is misguided.

Should the Rules be changed to outlaw this offense?

There are two lines of attack on the offense: First, it is already unsportsmanlike because, though it might be within the letter of the rules, it is not within its spirit, and, second, regardless of your answer to the first question the rules should be changed to outlaw it.

For the first, this is one of those moments where football coaches and those associated with football are forced to become like lawyers and parse some governing text for its meaning, whether in strict exegetical fashion as Humphries and Bryan necessarily do or by asking more broadly whether the A-11 offense is within the spirit or reason animating the rule. And like many lawyers, the interpretive method each side has chosen appears to depend primarily on the side they are advocating. (And it's not like this is the kind of thing that gets asked about in interviews for a coaching positions: “Enough already about tradition, being there for the kids, and building a fanbase here at our school, what I really want to know is when you read the rules, do you strictly follow the text or do you try to discern the views of the reasonable member of the athletic association that enacted them?”)

Following the discussion above, the rules governing football are simply the rules that govern a sport, and as a result are in fact arbitrary in nearly every case (again, 100 yard football fields, four downs, one foot or two feet in bounds, etc), so to say that something is invalid because it is not within a rule’s spirit even if it is within its text is an empty charge, at least in this narrow context. To say otherwise presupposes the view that Platonic-ideal football exists.

The tougher question is the second: Should the rules be changed?

The Scrimmage Kick formation was designed to enable teams to put faster players on the field when they punt. So one way to eliminate the offense would be to limit the use of the Scrimmage Kick rule to fourth down (though teams occasionally punt on third and long, depending on the situation), or to use the college rule which asks the official to only allow the formation if it is "obvious" that a kick could be attempted.

So is it so “sneaky” that it must be eliminated? There’s no doubt it is illegal in the NFL and in college football. And even Bryan and Humphries admit that the Scrimmage Kick rule was not designed with this offense in mind. So it’s fair to call this an offense based on a “loophole.”
But that isn't immediately fatal. In most states, a shotgun snap of seven or more yards triggers the rule that a defensive player may not immediately hit the snapper; the rule was similarly designed for punts and field goals to protect the long snapper who has to put his head down. But many passing teams have adopted this for their every down shotgun offenses to make their blocking easier and to provide their QB with more time. Coaches deride this as the exploitation of a loophole as well, though the rationale of protecting a snapping center from head blows still applies. But not every “loophole” must be closed.

Yet, the flipside for Bryan and Humphries of rejecting the Platonic-ideal view of “true” football is that the ruling body, being merely the body charged with establishing the arbitrary rules of a game designed for amusement, are free to do whatever they like. Coach Bryan likes to say that one of the best aspects of the A-11 is that it is fun for the kids, and he’s right that football rules are designed to foster a game that is fun to play. But not everyone’s fun is the same, and many – in my view rightfully – don’t always see the swinging of the advantage to the offense as promoting fun. Arena football and “traditional” football (a more accurate term than “true football,” though not entirely accurate because the game has still changed in many, many ways) were not meant to be the same. As a result, even the taking of certain aesthetics into consideration is permissible.

So the decision to close the loophole and eliminate the offense must be made much like we make other decisions in our democratic society in that these rule makers – many of different minds and opinions, after consulting the public – will not be able to theoretically deduce the best answer like Descartes or by appeal to Platonic-ideal football, but instead, like Montaigne (to stay with the philosopher theme), will have to bring their own best judgments to the question.

My answer: The loophole ought to be closed. I don't think there is any hurry, and it is entirely fine that it is too late now to ban it for the Fall 2008 season because I sincerely doubt that it will catch on. While it will be excruciating to hear the A-11's Innovative creators claim martyrdom from now until the end of time, the fact is that the rule does effect a rather significant change on the game and, to say nothing of whether that change is a good or bad one, it's bizarre to effect it through an exemption designed for punts.

Maybe the number eligibility rule itself should go (though if so I'd like to see the requirement that the offense be set increased to two seconds instead of one), but if it is why not abolish that rule directly instead of through this exception? To me, that - the oddity of making such a major change to football through a rule designed for punts - tips the scales in favor of banning it, rather than simply worrying about whether the defense might get confused. If Bryan and Humphries want to run their offense, they should take their results from last season and the upcoming one and lobby the rulemakers to abolish the number eligibility rule itself rather than continue with all this.

Alright, Let’s Talk Football

Alright, let’s finally discuss a couple ideas of how one might actually use this A-11 offense along with some possible problems. I personally think the best chance for success with this set is to ignore Bryan’s idea of “nodes” (three groups of players, one in the middle and one on each wing) but instead to freely flop the line around interchangeably. This includes rejecting the idea of being wedded to the minimum 3-man interior line all of Bryan’s diagrams include. These are my IDEAS. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Problems with the Offense

I have a few issues with what the A-11 set forces you into. My biggest complaint is that, if you ignore the raw confusion you might cause a defense about who to cover, it’s not a particularly effective set for dropback passing. This is because, with only three interior linemen (and only two gaps) you are largely forced to use one of your two backfield players to block. So what happens is that, while you have six guys “spread out,” you actually can only get at most four of them out to catch a forward pass. This is particularly significant because (a) the defense can largely ignore the ineligible receivers (assuming they can identify them), thus making them entirely useless to you (you will have traded one receiver for zero defenders, a fatal trade when, as I’ve discussed before, you really want to trade one receiver for two defenders to open the others up), and (b) you’ve shortened the pass rushing edges by a great deal. I know the theory is that you can spread and release it quickly, but even spread teams recognize that shortening the edges decreases the time it takes for outside rushers to get to your quarterback.

For the run game it’s hard to say because defenses haven’t yet had time to adjust so it’s guesswork to determine what fronts are expected, but generally the disadvantage of fewer linemen is that there are fewer gaps for the defense to control, and therefore it is harder to employ traps and double teams. For example, if a three-man defensive front team (i.e. a 3-4 defense or a 3-3-5 defense) lines up against a traditional set with two tight ends, there are six interior gaps to control and double teams are easier. If a three-man defensive front team lined up against the base A-11, they would have all three linemen covered and they have more defensive linemen than there are gaps. This is not fatal, but it is a concern.

Possible Advantages and Ideas

The theoretical advantage of the offense – aside from mere confusion on who can release for forward passes – is to further the spread offense’s quest to turn football into a counting game. Dan Mullen, Florida’s offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer, likes to say that as a general rule they will run the ball with their spread against five-man fronts and throw it against six-man fronts. The A-11 or an A-11 type offense can ratchet up some of these numbers with a healthy screen game. Really, if you’re going to spread out guys who are ultimately ineligible, they have to be a threat to block for screens.

This is one reason why I would advocate unbalanced sets, like the one below:

Then you could go to the line with a play like the double-screen play below where the QB reads the defensive end (if the DE rushes or stays home, throw it to R on the crack-screen; if he follows the R out throw the receiver screen) and has the option to check to an inside run like a draw or lead play. And one could also use simple quick passing plays with dummy routes by the covered guys. Again, I’m not a big fan of these dummy routes, but in spot duty they can be acceptable.

Also, if I was going to do this I would heavily employ an H-back because he would be the type of quadruple threat – block, release for a pass (or check-release), take a hand-off, or block for a few counts and release for a delayed pass – that could really help the offense. I’d like to say that there was a whole lot more to it but there really isn’t. Unless you’re going to have your spread linemen run complex trapping schemes out beyond the hash marks it’s difficult to have truly complex pass patterns or blocking schemes in this offense. (A good high school will often use sprint out blocking from this set.) But of course if it works to make the game into a counting one then that is a virtue. Simple is better.

Conclusion

How unique, this whole experience. I suppose it’s no surprise that the people who would try to turn the scrimmage kick formation into an offense (and possibly even into a Way of Life) would be like Humphries and Bryan – egomaniacs and desperate for wins. It’s a creative gesture, made all the more bold because they went right to it as an every down offense. And all the more audacious because the offense barely had gone from whiteboard to field before it became a DVD available for sale. But that’s the world, I suppose. I certainly have bought many football DVDs and materials.

And Humphries and Bryan might just be acting realistically: I expect this comet to burn up before it lands. I don’t think defenses will forever remain bewildered by the offense – indeed, Piedmont lost its last two games last season 38-15 and 56-21 – and there isn’t really a debate about whether the scrimmage kick formation was intended for this purpose (it wasn’t). Maybe the 50-79 eligibility rule ought to be done away with, but I’d guess that the rule makers will want to do it directly through amendment than indirectly as with the A-11. Nevertheless, I’m quite curious – all any of us have seen are a few p and some grainy YouTube clips – and I’m sure Piedmont will be heavily followed this fall.

48 comments:

mwise@zebramike.com said...

I am a HS (in Texas) and college official. This is one of the most thorough descriptions of the A-11 and the arguments on both sides that I have seen. The majority of the zebras I know are opposed to this offensive scheme. Luckily I do not have to face it due to where I officiate but I feel for those guys in the states where it will be seen.

I have one simple question which the snake oil salesman behind this scam have consistently refused to answer....why is there even a mandatory numbering rule in the game? If anyone would answer that truly then they would also understand why this scheme is against the spirit of the rules.

Tom said...

Chris,
Another typically excellent post, and probably the best exegesis of the debate behind the A-11 out there.

The objection I have to the A-11's use of the scrimmage kick rule is that it's in conflict with the normal rule regarding eligible receivers. As somebody whose interest lies in figuring out an internally consistent set of rules, the existence of any exception bothers me. I therefore favor a rule change to eliminate the inconsistency. From a normative perspective, it doesn't matter which rule is changed. I recognize that my belief the scrimmage kick should be changed to match the college rules is primarily a matter of personal preference and consistent with a somewhat Platonist idea of what football should be (inconsistency with the rules of the game as it's played on the highest level, at which stakes are highest and the rules are most likely to be well-constructed and intelligent, is to me a red flag), but that doesn't mean I don't think the rule shouldn't be changed.

davecisar said...

I think it's going to be real hard for the officials to keep everything straight. Under the current rules, it's legal and has worked for this team. IMHO you need an athletic QB, it looks like he's running for his life back there on most snaps.
http://winningyouthfootball.com

Anonymous said...

Chris,

Another great post. For what it's worth, John Heisman discusses something like the A-11 in his Principles of Football (1922?, but reprinted recently by Hill Street Press). Heisman, of course, was an advocate of 'shift football' and so wasn't a fan of either the numbering rule or the one-second-stop rule. (I guess IDEALS aren't as immutable as football Platonists think).

I don't have the book in front of me, but I think Heisman's system is closer to your version of the A-11 than the Humphries/Bryan version - no pods, lots of unbalanced formations, etc. Heisman recommends the formation as a solution to a special need - a school w/ only fast & light players - rather than the future of all football.

Thinking about the Heisman stuff convinces me that you are basically right about the A-11 - is isn't a travesty of football but it isn't THE FUTURE either. In light of the history of football, this should feel like deja vu. If rulemakers choose to address the issues raised by A-11, I suggest that they revist the debates about shifting (from the '20s) and numbering (from ??).

PhilProf

Anonymous said...

Great job thoroughly treating both sides and completely and clearly describing the rules surrounding the issue.

The main problem I have with the A-11, as an official, is keeping track of the players who are ineligible. It is not fair to the defensive team when the officials may lose track of a player who was ineligible at the snap and he catches a forward pass. This accounting (or lack thereof) by officials puts the defense at a probable and distinct disadvantage. It is rife with possible abuse by the offensive team who might take a chance that the officials didn't realize that a particular player was ineligible.

Anonymous said...

Author:

As a coach with experience in high school and collegiate football, I have read and will continue to read everything I can get my hands on about this new brand of football called the A11.

I have also read some of your other football blogs with great satisfaction.

However this time, your elitist, and somewhat immature and long-winded post about the A11 takes great pain to not only verbally assault the two creators of the A11but you embark on even greater leaps of faith in an attempt to discredit those two coaches with ugly false claims that they did not even "create" their own new system.

The sole reason why the A11 has been given so much attention worldwide is precisely because of the innovative new dimensions it brings to football. If this new system of offense was not innovative and ground breaking, then nobody would be studying it, writing about it and planning on using it.

What makes you look quite petty and jealous and trite, is denouncing these two coaches for having their products available for purchase, just like thousands of other male and female coaches have already done for years across the globe.

I have also read through every Free bit of information offered up by these coaches on the A11 offense web site, and have spent several hours on the phone with them for Free picking their brains. I have gleaned many good things from them.

And one thing that was truly alarming about your blog, is that you did not even take the time to interview the two creators of this new offensive system.

Routinely, I purchase books and videos relative to our coaching profession and understand the value of quality products. Without a doubt, the information drafted by these two coaches is worth every penny I paid, and then some.

Even more disurbing about your post, is that you pony up formations and plays you would use, without even understanding not only have these two coaches already used some of the plays and formations you drew up, but a great many more plays and mulitple formations and motions that you seem oblivious too or did not take the time to research.

Finally, you speak about the point that a decision needs to be made to leave the A11 alone or close the loophole it operates under.

Why? It was researched by those two coaches, submitted for approval and declared legal.

It it patently obvious to any qualtiy football coach, that the game of spread offensive football is here forever, and that the A11 takes it to its very extreme nature.

In a future post about the A11, after you have taken the time to watch all of the Free videos online, and study the multitude of formations listed for Free within the A11 web site used by their team, and other teams about to use it; how about blogging about the "impact" this new system of football will have on the immediate future, and long-term.

"Look Long and See Short" is a common Quarterback teaching tool used by thousands of coaches, it would be good to read your next blog about the A11 in that manner.

Chris said...

Anonymous (I guess it's no surprise that these kinds of comments always come from "anonymous"),

Most of your charges can be answered by simply asking you to re-read the post. One reason the post is so lengthy is because I knew I needed to be thorough to address the myriad of arguments put out by Bryan and Humphries and to defend against these kinds of attacks. I assure you, it's all in there.

But a couple specific replies: First, I never said the A-11's creators didn't "create" the offense. What I did say is that the idea of detaching the front 5 OLine has been around for decades, and I linked to Tiger Ellison's book, included a clip of Spurrier's Gators, and provided a diagram of BYU's sets to prove it. Now, whether or not the A-11's creators were aware of this history or not is something I can't answer, and if the answer is that they weren't because they had failed to research it properly, then I personally think that seriously undermines their claims of being "innovators." In any event, what I definitely did say is that I am not aware of anyone else combining this OL detachment with the scrimmage kick exception to the number eligibility requirements.

I also did not say I had any problem with them selling their product. I noted it because many coaches do get upset, and in that sense it is an interesting point worth highlighting, but I personally have no problem with it and did not base my rejection of the offense on that reason. If someone wants to spend their money on this stuff, then fine, more power to them.

Regarding interviewing the creators, I've had numerous exchanges with Kurt Bryan on the Coach Huey site and I heavily researched the offense and read everything else they had available, so I think I learned all I needed to know. And it's not necessary to interview the coaches personally when what I'm doing is an analysis of whether the offense fits into the rules, whether the rules should be amended, and some ideas on how the set could be used. Nor was any further inquiry necessary if I'm analyzing the public comments the A-11's creators had made to promote and sell their product. All of the above stands or falls without the need to be amplified by personal interview. And indeed, from my experience with Bryan in the past, the likelihood of getting anything new, informative, or timely from an interview was slim. So I did not feel it necessary for this blog. (And I relied on the excellent article from the Washington Post.) Your comment has not changed my view on this, although it might have been good fodder for more quotes about the A-11 being "futuristic football."

Your final point is a bizarre one: "[Y]ou speak about the point that a decision needs to be made to leave the A11 alone or close the loophole it operates under. Why? It was researched by those two coaches, submitted for approval and declared legal."

As my post explains, I agree that the A-11 is technically legal in high school ball as being within the language of the rules, but that fact ignores the normative question of what should the football rules be. Maybe my discussion was over your head, but the upshot is that football rules can be whatever the ruling body thinks is best for the sport. Bump and run rules, pass protectors using their hands, the number of receivers, the number of downs, it's all arbitrary. Your view is that football would be unequivocally improved if this thing were made 100% legal. (And why aren't you advocating to make it legal without having to rely on a 7-yard shotgun for the QB, which clearly has nothing to do with the number-eligibility requirements?)

But others likely disagree with you, and in fact, I disagree. As I said, in the end, it's not something it can be deduced, it is a matter of judgment. Anonymous, your arguments are the same ones used by Bryan and Humphries, and thus far they have failed to be persuasive. I would suggest developing them because, to keep this thing going, you're going to have to convince everyone else.

And what makes it truly bizarre is the idea that the best response is to simply stop asking questions, i.e. that all of this would just be fine if everyone would shut up and ignore it. (Though you rely on the offense's infamy as a reason I shouldn't be allowed to criticize it.) Obviously, that argument makes no sense, since the job of those who enforce and set the rules is to make sure the game is safe, fun, and fair (and that's also it). It's not to promote innovation, it's not to advance the spread, and it is not to craft or allow exceptions for particular offenses whose existence relies entirely on a rule exception designed for punts.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous

Your trite treatment of the article is humorous as best. You sound a GREAT deal like one of the "innovators" themselves, failing to address the most central points.

The fact that the offense was vetted and "approved" is quite meaningless. It simply falls within the scope of the current rules, just like each year tax attorneys go through great lengths to minimize their clients tax liabilities. After each year,the IRS interprets these actions, and the Congress adjusts the tax code to reflect the "spirit" of the tax code.

The same should be /is being done here. The NFHS rules editors did not foresee the explosion of marketing. They lightly applauded Bryan's and Humphries's creativeness..and now are going to take steps to write the rules to maintain the SPIRIT of the rules, which is quite obvious.

ChanceH said...

I think best way to "fix the loohole" is to simply state that on plays with out 5 guys numbered 50-79 on the line, forward passing is illegal.

This will mean on fake punts, you either need 5 regular linemen in there, or you need to call a running play, but other than that the closing of the loophole won't have much impact on "real football".

Really the formation itself, if it could work on its own merits, seems cool to me. But the practice of having all the receivers become elligible 1 second before the snap is jut plain cheating.

sunjcp said...

I think it is a great and innovative offense. Reading the messages it is clear that the major group that has issues with this ofense is the officials who are charged with tracking eligibles and ineligibles.

My fear is that it is this group and their concern that will have the HS Federation Rules Committee delcare this offense to be illegal.

Mr.Murder said...

Winner gets a new hat.

Mr.Murder said...

...apologies, that last comment was on the Saban thread that I was refreshing upstairs, must have clicked the back function instead...

Anonymous said...

Chris:

This A11 offense is a remarkable innovation of the game. I will watch Piedmont closely this fall as your reference points out.

I appreciate the detailed information.

R.T.

Anonymous said...

Chris, as always an excellent post!

One thing I wanted to point out though. I know you brushed over this a little, but does anyone else think all this debate is a little premature to begin with?

I could be wrong, but hear me out here.

Bill Walsh spent over a decade in Cincinnati and other places developing his offense (I'll be nice to him and won't refer to it by its popular name) before it hit pop culture and a large group of football traditionalists really started complaining about it. He put it out there, the defenses of the world attacked it, and it got tweaked. Then defenses tweaked back. Some of footballs best defensive minds, armed with some of footballs best defensive players, spent days trying to find ways to stop this thing, and in the end Bill Walsh still walked away with several Super Bowl rings and many of his former assistants are head coaches (some with additional rings themselves) today. The goal of an offense is, obviously, to advance the ball and score points. Whether it's a gimmick or not, Bill Walsh could do that with his offense.

But the A-11!? It's been played in...was it 9 games at a small high school over the course of a year, and now the jury is back with every one and that is the end of that? I'm not trying to criticize the defensive coaches who've gone up against it, but they're all guys who probably have real jobs outside of football, who are coaching a bunch of kids who will probably all have real jobs outside of football as well long before they get to a level close to professional. I know the rules will keep it out of the NFL..and probably college too...but isn't the constant evolution of this stuff one of the things that makes football fun to watch in the first place?



Oh, and completely off topic, but why in the heck would you punt on third and long? Maybe you could take that and a bunch of other similar questions and make it a topic for another post later down the road.

Joe

Anonymous said...

Chris,

At first, as an Official I hated this offense. But now that I have read your post and many others about it, I can see the merit of it and the beauty behind it.

Not only will this offense force all Officials to be on the top of their game at all times, but it has become clear that "old style" football is now a thing of the past.

I applaud the coaches who designed this offense, it is a startling accomplishment.

Long Time Official

Dan said...

A helpful tool in describing the differences between NFL football and other types such as arena, CFL, or even college/high school would be Wittgenstein's idea of family resemblances. The idea that they all carry traits similar to at least one other sport or game.

You did cover it, but it might have let you say it in fewer words.

Coach "Norman" said...

Chris,


Great article, no surprise there. One small, practical point against adopting it: you're basing your entire offense on a reading of the rulebook that the officials might not share. Correct or not, you could easily be stuck holding a rulebook and a 50-point loss if you're not careful.

Anecdote: I coached in a game where the head official didn't understand basic eligibility rules, and the opponents were allowed to pass to a covered tight end (they were trying to run unbalanced, but still pass to the TE to the trips side -- so they either had a six man line or the TE was covered).

I was absolutely right, but that game it didn't matter. They ran power into the gap where a linebacker should've been (the weakside), but he was out of position trying to cover an ineligible receiver. (We won anyway.)

Perhaps that's the positive upshot of all this A-11 publicity: at least more referees will have heard of it, and will be prepared for it.

coachd5085 said...

The problem that all of those who support the "innovation" of this offense is that they fail to recognize the completely arbitrary nature of said "innovation". I have yet to have ANYONE, including the innovators/inventors themselves ever be able to succinctly explain why eligibility numbers are not needed if you have a 7+ yard snap receiver. It is CLEARLY just a loophole, probably originating from a punt fake somewhere in the past.

Anonymous said...

The most problematic issues about this offense are the amount of possibilities the defense must prepare for when facing a team using this offense.

Being said, this offense is without a doubt where the game of football is headed, this is the spread offense taken to its very extreme and most radical context.

Football purists and traditional minded coaches will scoff at it, but most people see exactly what this means for the game.

I like it and the complexities that go with it.

Big Red

Anonymous said...

This is the best offense I have ever seen on a football field.

Limitless, with wild potential.

GBZ

Ted C is Me said...

Chris: Two quick comments.

1) whether coaches are justified in marketing and selling their ideas for profit rather than sharing them freely.

I would argue that Pop Warner settled this when he sold a "correspondence course" on his offensive innovations to coaches by mail -- exactly 100 years ago.

2) But, as far as I am aware, Piedmont under Humphries and Bryan were the first to wed the general idea to the scrimmage kick formation to get eleven possibly eligible players onto the field.

Not so fast, my friend.

[/Lee Corso]

In 2000, the Nike Coach of the Year (COY) manual published an article by Sevier County (Tennessee) HS Coach Steve Brewer titled "Punt Coverage and Fake Punts." The first section, on protecting punts, is good stuff -- but the second part, on implementing a coordinated punt fake strategy, should be of great interest to A-11 students.

Among other points, Coach Brewer describes his Open punt set, which he says consists of all skill players:

Everyone except the center is off the line of scrimmage. That is our Open Set. They move up to the line of scrimmage. The signal from the sideline tells them who is to move up on the line of scrimmage. The upback gets the signal from the sideline. He will call out two numbers. Those two numbers stay where they are. Everyone else moves up. Now you have the defense scrambling to figure out who is eligible and who is not eligible.

I may have missed it, but I don't recall any reference on the A-11 site to Coach Brewer's work...

...and as usual, Chris, great job on the article. You bent over backwards to present a balanced view.

Anonymous said...

This offense is so radically different than anything ever used before, it has already changed the game of football, and peering into the future it is shocking to think of the incredible possibilities that will be unleashed by coaches with open minds and innovative approaches.

This A11 is amazing.

Will

Anonymous said...

Seems to this reader many people are giving huge kudos to the coaches who took a major chance by researching a legal way to go way out on a limb to try something so radical and new, in an effort to help their smaller team compete more evenly against the bigger and better teams they play.

Imagine if most people took this approach to problem solving? Yowza!

These coaches have proven the naysayers wrong by winning games with their new system, and they have turned the football world upside down; shown each and every one of us football fanatics directly where the future of the game stands, and exactly what it will look like.

Horse and Buggy People had to make way for the Automobile.

The Typewriter became moot once the Computer hit the scene for everyday people

And now, old school smash mouth football has seen its last day settle upon the horizon - this A-11 thing is a blazing fire of innovation and genius that has opened up the game like nothing else.

Perfectly done and sizzling!

Vince M.

timthefoolman.com said...

Having watched my son's HS team play against an A-11 offense this year, I'm neither impressed nor worried about seeing it again. Nothing I've seen so far suggests that high schools with the necessary skill players wouldn't have greater success running the Lonesome Polecat (Tiger Ellison's first version of the spread), or any number of other variants.

Teams will talented defensive players may not know what to think of the A-11 when they first see it, but it won't take them long to adjust. High school players just aren't smart enough to consistently use the eligibility options effectively.

Anonymous said...

I was very skeptical of this new offense, but now that have looked into it, it is clear the game of football is barrelling this way.

Very exciting the A-11 is.

Hip Hop Reggie

Anonymous said...

The A-11 is the best offense ever made.

I wish I had invented this thing, but at least I get to watch it.

Awesome!

Bernie

traderik said...

Why is the game called "football?" The only time the feet are used with the ball is when on the kickoff, the PAT and the Punt. The game should be more properly called "carryball" or "passball" but no "football"

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...

I read the article yesterday in ESPN magazine, and it was dead center regarding the adaptations the higher levels of football will have to make to adjust to the speed and super athletic playmaking ability of the best players.

A-11?

Yep, You betcha now that I have studied it. It will happen sooner rather than later, the fans and very talented players will demand the game transition.

These two coaches who invented this new offense should be given kudos from the footballers of the future, today and yesterday.

Coming from an older player and wunna be coach, this game needed a shot in the arm like this A-11.

Vauhgn T.

Anonymous said...

its a great Offense but i am going to say that in a year or two they will have the same rule as ncaa about only on kicking downs

Anonymous said...

Watching the bowl games during the past 10 days, it is brutally clear which way football is headed, so many teams spread out to use their team speed and athletic playmakers.

The A-11 has changed football and is much more in line with the superstars of today than any other offense out there.

Looking forward to see how it progresses at all levels of play.

Ian

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert, but it seems to me the A11 certainly takes the concept of spreading the ball around the field to the logical conclusion. I played receiver in high school so I obviously would prefer that. Ultimately to me though after watching some game film of Piedmont's offense it looks like they suffer the same issues any other offense would face--namely fielding personnel effective at their jobs. Someone else commented on the need for an athletic quarterback(s) in this offense, and I would certainly agree. Botched snaps would put you in the hole real easy too...

Also why do half the people supporting this offense throughout this thread have total disregard for capitalization rules?

Anonymous said...

The Purpose of an offense is to score at least one more point than your opponent does each game.

Looking at the results, I would say Piedmont has had very good success using A11 in its first two years out of the gate, never mind strength of schedule, rain, sun, wind, etc. A win is a win.

More important is teams around the country picked to follow A11 footsteps, and many of those teams did well, other got beat routinely however.

One could suffice the jury is still out on A11 as to what this advancement means for football. This juror is deliberating the points.

It should be obvious football is not becoming more cloddy or slowed down, nevertheless, plenty of teams in the land hate the spread offense and the concepts built into it.

Using history of the game as the only true barometer over the last 130 some odd years, it is reasonable to perceive the future with A11 type systems or hybrid offenses scurrying around all over the field attempting to breed mismatches at various points on the field, high/low, inside/out, left/right, rub/shallow, any combination a coach can muster up.

Investigating this A11 has done the game a decent service, past and present, however the future remains to be seen.

Tom W.

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of power football first and foremost, but there seems to be something to this offense.

Will it dominate football?

Not in my opinion.

Will it be in football future?

Yes.

How much?

Not sure but here for good.

Mike H.

Anonymous said...

I have researched this offense over the last few months to see if it would be a logical alternative to the power football schmes that I have seen run. With the athletes that our school has, i thought that this might be a gimick that we could incorporate into our offense. But, after further review, I agree with a previous poster. I would have a hard time putting in a scheme and gameplanning it for a week or more only to have our referee crew decide before the game that this offense was not within the rules. I would feel safer relying on traditional schemes that I knew were not going to be open to interpretation. With that said, I do think that Humphries and Bryan did develop something that is interesting and innovative. I would not run it, not because I am a "football purist," but because of the reasons I stated above.

Anonymous said...

Salient points abound with the plethora of viewpoints posted about this offense.

No matter the 'old school' or 'new wave' style of football an individual prefers, football changes weekly, monthly, yearly and with each generation.

This new offense will be the cornerstone its own new football league someday soon.

There are too many great athletes who after having great collegiate football careers are then unemployed due to the contstraints of the typical NFL personnel molds.

Phillip V.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe this offense will go away, there are too many options available for quality coaches to pursue, and too many top athletes available who can prosper within this type of system.

Will this offense lead to the creation of an entirely new pro league as mentioned earlier?

Well, if it creates new jobs for players and coaches, and if the fans like it, then I would agree it could happen.

If it cannot accomplish all three things, then probably not.

Billy Ommins

Anonymous said...

Having coached at high levels for more than 15 years, when the uppermost coaches break down the possibilities of this offense, only then will it reach the Pro level, and if two things happen.

First, the offense needs to be able to be executed in part, with the QB under Center, this will enable the short passing game and quick run game to flourish.

Second, if the OL Cut Block the defensive line and LB's, then this new offense can and will become very popular.

In the Pro's, Cut Blocking is Taboo for fear of injury, but in Bill Walsh's heyday, his OL cut blocked every team they played.

Once a good O-coordinator gets tuned into this A-11, and when he combines it with OL that Cut Block, it will break the game wide open.

Coach Roger

Anonymous said...

Coach Roger,

Not sure where you've coached, but (a) the A-11 cannot be combined with a QB under center, because the rule exception the offense takes advantage of requires the QB to be at least 7 yards deep in the shotgun.

And (b) it also cannot be combined with the cut block, which is illegal under HS Federation rules. It is legal in college and Texas, but of course the A-11 is illegal under college (Texas) rules.

So both your prescriptions won't work.

Anonymous said...

I should have clarified my statement above, I was referencing the earlier poster who said this offense will be the key stone of a new football league soon.

I agree, and under the two conditions I listed about having in part the QB to be under Center sometimes, and allowing the OL to cut block will instantly offset the superior speed at the highest level.

When that happens, this offense in the hands of top O-coordinators will instantly break the game wide open in a good way.

Coach Roger

Anonymous said...

Interesting article, I'd been hearing about this offense now and again and now I have some idea of what it is about. Thank you.

One correction, you quote Stan Humphries early in the article, but the rest of the time it's Steve Humphries. Not sure if Stan is on the same staff, but I thought I'd point that out if he isn't.

Anonymous said...

Coach Roger has some interesting ideas, at least jumping off from what a few others on this blog have mentioned.

A new football league built around the offerings of this offense?

I do not know about it, that is way above my pay grade.

I would somewhat agree though, there seems to be many exciting collegiate players that do not make it into the NFL. Maybe they are just not that good, or maybe they would be better served in another forum like an A11 type league?

This blog has provided some good reading among others too.

Ike Phelstein

jbp84 said...

I'm not quite sure if all the people who call this offense "innovative" actually read what Chris wrote. There's no way that this is going to take off and become anything more than a gimmick, and it's certainly not going to revolutionize the game of football. Hell, the "spread" in all it's connotations hasn't even transferred to the NFL. Yes, some concepts found in spread formations are starting to emerge (zone read, Wildcat/Wildhog, etc.) but we're a long way off from a cultural revolution in the NFL. The NFL, the owners, the fans, and the coaches seem to care more about wins and scoring points than innovation. Even in college football there are still teams running pro-style offenses at very high levels (USC, Alabama) and for every Utah or Florida there is an equally bad spread team to counteract them. (Chris has already alluded to these things before in previous posts). I think it's absolutely foolish to say that the A-11 is going to revolutionize the game of football. Remember when a couple of Southwest and Big 8 schools were running what was at the time the most innovative offense in college football? And where's the wishbone now? Even what we're seeing now in the "spread" formations can be traced back to the beginnings of the modern game of football. Creative? Yes. Taking advantage of a loophole? Yes. But don't confuse a clever interpretation of the rule with innovation.

As Chris pointed out, the biggest problem with this offense is that you cannot run the football with any sustained success. You might be able to catch a team unawares once or twice with a QB draw/power (as the selectively placed YouTube clips show) but it won't work every play. So for those people who say the "old style" (i.e., running the ball) of football is endangered I think you're severely mistaken. Also, there is no deep passing game whatsoever due to the QB's lack of time to throw the ball. If a team knows that the deep threat is not there, they can move more defenders up into the shallow zones to take away the quick passes that are the bread and butter of this offense.

Anonymous said...

I must be missing a critical point, but can't the nhfs just order the schools what type of football rules have to be followed?

Is this federation a ruling body or not?

If yes, then case closed and this offense is dead in the water.

But if not, then this will be a huge class action suit against the nhfs and they deserve it.

Gill

Anonymous said...

I have watched my Father's old game films from the 50's and 60's and 70's when he coached high school ball and 16 years of college too.

Schemes in football are somewhat cyclical and tend to revolve around the athletes available. This new offense successfully puts the largest amount of athletes into spacial relationships out on the field unlike anything else.

I completely agree that the game is moving toward a broader, more stretched out style, like Smart football suggested, and probably the most startling thing is to realize this A-11 leap-frogged regular football from having only six eligible players available, all the way to the maximum of eleven possible eligible players.

Talking with my Father about the direction football is going, he thinks it will "slowly" add more eligible players at a time, and eventually end up looking like A-11 but with the numbering requirement done away with within 20 years.

Great article.

Vaughn S.

Anonymous said...

Hegelian football! Ideal football exists in the world of ideas, but it only transcends the physical by repeated attempts to come into being!

Tristan said...

We created a variation of football that would make the A-11 a legal offense to run. Of course, the deception isn't there.

http://games.omnivore.us/2009/03/04/developing-the-sport-of-viperball/

Anonymous said...

A comprehensive piece of writing about this new offense.

Projecting down the road 10 or 15 years, it is quite possible football will resemble this A11.

It is hard to see where the game will be slowed down or rules changed to prevent more speed from taking the field at a variety of positions.

Well done and well examined.

Chase Nixon

Anonymous said...

"A gripping case if anyone is a lawyer out there...will the small schools win this battle if it ever goes to court, and if yes, then on what grounds?"

NO! The small schools, the large schools and the medium schools all belong to their respective state high school assoc's, who in turn are the voting members of the NFHS. Let me put it another way: 46 out of 48 state high school assoc's, composed of and representing all their member schools voted to do away with the A-11. The NFHS rule book is written by the state assoc's and their schools. There can't be and there won't be a lawsuit since you can't sue yourself. The A-11 might be innovative but it is clearly not within the spirit and intent of the rules and if Kurt and Steve would turn to the back of the rule book and read the Coaches Code of Ethics they might learn that they are not to "seek an advantage by circumvention of the spirit or letter of the rules".