The wishbone formation commonly known as wishbone offence is a type of play formation in American football. The wishbone was a development of Offensive Coordinator Emory Bellard at the University of Texas in 1968 under the stewardship of head coach Darrell Royal. Royal instructed Bellard to come up with a different option of offence and watching Texas A&M, using Gene Stallings’ option offence, defeat Bear Bryant’s Alabama team in the Cotton Bowl during the previous season’s campaign. After experimenting with family members over the summer, Coach Bellard came up with the formation. He demonstrated this formation to Darrel Royal, who immediately welcomed the idea. It indeed proved to be a well choreographed choice during the time its was implemented: Texas tied their first game using the new formation, lost the second game and then won the next consecutive thirty games and winning two National Championships using the wishbone formation. This name wishbone was given to the formation by the Houston Chronicle sportswriter Mickey Herkowitz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wishbone_formation).
The offensive team makes a line in a formation before snapping the ball. Different teams have their own formations with most teams preferring a base formation. Other teams however do not have a formation and therefore leave their defenses to guess. The following are the common formations.
Pro set-this is a base formation commonly used by professional and more advanced teams. It consists of two wide receivers, a tight end and two running backs split behind the quarterback lined behind the center. The running backs line up besides each other contrary to the I-formation where they line in front of one another (Popik, 2006).
Shotgun formation-this is an offensive formation common to American and Canadian football. It is commonly used in a passing situation even though other teams use it as their base formation. The quarterback stands five yards back instead of receiving a snap from the center. At times, the quarterback has a back either on one side or on both sides of the snap, while in other occasions; the quarterback is used as a lone player with the rest spread out in the backfield as receivers. This gives the passer the advantage of giving the passer more time to set up open receivers. In addition, it has the advantage of giving the quarterbacks the option of standing further back which gives the player a good sight of the defensive alignment. However, the defense can predict when a pass is likely to come posing a risk of a botched snap. This formation was used in 1960 by San Francisco 49ers where it got its name. It was called a shotgun because the receivers who were spread widely across the field are sprayed just like a scatter shot gun. Shot punt formations do not put a lot of emphasis on wide receivers. This formation is common in Canada and allows just three down movements contrary to the American football formation where the moves are four (Popik, 2006).
The wishbone is basically a running formation with one wide receiver, one tight end and three running backs behind the quarterbacks who takes the snap under center. The back line up behind the quarterback is the full back and the other two are halfbacks sometimes called tailbacks in other playbook terminologies. The wishbone is usually associated with the option as this formation allows the quarterback to easily run the option to either side of the line. It is also ideal for running the triple Option. The wishbone option was intended to be an Option Based Offence with the option mandated to get rid of one defender without necessarily having to block him. The defender is confronted with a choice of eliminating either of the offensive players which presents a double option because the defender has to choose between the two players. This scheme compels the defender to eliminate one of the two players who is in a position to advance the ball which allows the remaining player to carry the ball, rendering whichever choice made by the defender wrong. As a result, the defensive player can be out of the play by choice leaving the offensive player to block another defender creating a lot of pressure on the defenders to cover up the dive, the Quarterback, or to pass the ball to the receiver. On the other hand, the Triple Option eliminates two defensive players which in turn set free another two offensive players who can block different defensive players. This eliminates both the dive and the pitch to be read by the QB leaving out a Support Defensive player assisted by the Cornerback to cover up the End. Running a triple option incorporating a lead blocker is therefore the reason behind the formation of wishbone option. This extra blocker concept is the drive behind the success of wishbone formation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wishbone_formation). The wishbone formation is based on the principles of defense and as stated by Emory Bellard this option can be solid and sound when the danger of the fullback is applied. It is therefore a complete offence formation. The offence is meant for a one-on-one run in the passing game. The safety, who is under intense pressure from the attack, supports the run as well as defending against pass. The triple option accounts for each defensive player on the pitch. All defensive players are under threat even before the play begins. The following should be taken into account while defending (Dalton, 2005).
Vertical Passing Game: One of the most outstanding formations in football is the vertical passing game. In wishbone running game, the playside blocks the safety while the playside halfback blocks the corner. In this case, the defender has to make a wise decision. The defender should determine whether the offensive player executing a block or a pass is moving towards him. For a block, the defender should stop the offensive player and should continue staying with the offensive player in case of a pass. However, the offensive player may decide to play tricks with the defender and instead of blocking in a run play, he may decide to blow right away from the defender. The defender should bait and go alongside him which becomes a good option than blocking. On the other hand, in a pass play, the offensive player may deliberately face the defender to execute a block by lowering the shoulder but instead miss him and takes off down the field. The defender might consider this as a run and attempts a block and instead leaving the wide receiver behind him. Wishbone formations usually increase chances of a complete vertical pass by timing the patterns. The quarterbacks count the steps and the receiver’s counts seconds before they look back and does not run at a high speed in a vertical run. Good fakes and timed release will result into a touchdown (Coach, n.d).
Stalk Blocks: The defensive players are always very careful of a beat deep because of the vertical pass threat. They just sit back to read and therefore making them possible targets of a stalk block which are downfield blocks. Contrary to drive blocks where the defenders are stopped or driven back, a stalk block impedes and delays the defender for sometime which is enough for some yardage to be gained by the runner (Coach, n.d).
Variations to wishbone formation
The I formation is the most common in American football. It borrows its name from the vertical alignment of the quarterback, fullback and runback as seen when observed from the opposite end zone. It begins with five offensive linemen, the quarterback in the center and two backs behind the quarterback. The base variant creates a tight end to one side of the line and the two wide receivers each at one end of the line. This formation is employed in running cases. The fullback performs a blocking role instead of the receiving role as in the modern game. The fullback as a blocker can make runs to either of the sides of the line with this additional blocking capability. The fullback can also operate as a feint because the defense is able to locate him quickly than the running back that may be in his direction while taking the ball in a different direction. Apart form being employed in a running game, this formation can also be effective in a passing game. This formation supports three wide receivers with several running backs serving as receivers. The fullback is reduced to a pass receiver and can be an alternative pass blocker and therefore protecting quarterbacks before a pass is launched. The I formation is commonly used in college football (Coach, n.d).
The main reason why the practice of wishbone offence has demised is the desire by college students to feature as back and wide receivers and therefore become the center of attention of the new offence. Most modern athletes are ego-centric and therefore find it difficult to commit to wishbone offence which is a consummate offence. It is becoming difficult to recruit high school players who are eager to play in the professional league which does not embrace wishbone. Secondly the speed of linebackers and lined has been advanced as one of the reasons for the fall of wishbone. Wishbone’s success depended on getting to the corner which allowed quarterbacks and fullbacks to have a broad distance up field. This has been made difficult by the defense consisting of line backers who run quickly as the halfbacks and quarterbacks. The punishment associated with quarterbacks is yet another reason. The quarterbacks are tackled in almost every down. Even if he passes the ball to the fullback, the defenders would still attack because they will not know whether the quarterback still has the ball. Sprinting to the corner does not help either because the defenders are not aware whether the sprint will continue up field. They are also tackled when they continue up field unless they score or run out of bound. Most modern quarterbacks are stars who are very valuable to their teams. Most coaches therefore are therefore reluctant to support a formation that punishes QBs each and every game. There are difficulties to attack from behind. This is a run first offence and therefore makes it difficult to stop the clock and gain additional yards in a single game. Finally fans are completely exited with the modern high paced entertaining play (Popik, 2006)
Coach, D. (n.d). Basic Wishbone Package. Retrieved on February 28th, 2009 from
Dalton, K. (2005). Offensive Mastermind. Retrieved on February 28th, 2009 from
Popik, B. (2006). Wishbone Offense (football formation). Retrieved on February 28th, 2009
Wishbone formation. Retrieved on February 28th, 2009 from