I formation is one of the most common offensive formations in
American football. The
I formation draws its name from the vertical
(as viewed from the opposing endzone) alignment of quarterback,
fullback, and running back, particularly when contrasted with the same
players' alignments in the T formation.
The formation begins with the usual 5 offensive linemen (2 offensive
tackles, 2 guards, and a center), the quarterback under center, and
two backs in-line behind the quarterback. The base variant adds a
tight end to one side of the line and two wide receivers, one at each
end of the line.
This is an example of an
I formation in an NFL game. The Pittsburgh
Steelers (black and yellow) are set in the
I formation with one tight
end and two wide receivers. The New York Jets (white and green) are
lined up in a 4-3 defensive formation.
2 Typical roles
3 Common variations
4 In professional football
5 See also
The exact origin of the
I formation is unclear. Charles M.
Hollister of Northwestern in 1900 is one source, as is
Bob Zuppke in
Tom Nugent is credited with developing the
I formation at Virginia
Military Institute in 1950 as a replacement for the single-wing and an
alternative to the T formation. Don Coryell, before popularizing
Air Coryell, was also a pioneer of the I and used it as a high school
coach in Hawaii, at
Wenatchee Valley College
Wenatchee Valley College in 1955, and at Whittier
College in 1957–1959. In 1960, Coryell was an assistant coach
under John McKay for the USC Trojans. By 1962, McKay's USC team won
the national title with an offense built on the I. John Madden
recalled going to an
I formation clinic led by McKay. "We'd go to
these clinics, and afterward, everyone would run up to talk to McKay",
said Madden. "Coryell was there because he introduced [McKay]. I was
thinking, 'If [McKay] learned from him, I'll go talk to [Coryell].'
Tom Osborne, head football coach at Nebraska, further popularized the
formation in the early 1970s (while the offensive coordinator under
head coach Bob Devaney). He incorporated the option into his I
formation scheme beginning in 1980, forming the base of the Nebraska
offense for over twenty years, and winning three national
championships as head coach during that period. NFL teams followed
the success of the I at the college level and adopted it as well.
Texas Longhorns in the I formation. From top to bottom: tailback,
fullback, quarterback, center
I formation is typically employed in running situations. In the I
formation, the tailback starts six to eight yards behind the scrimmage
from an upright position, where he can survey the defense. The
formation gives the tailback more opportunities for finding weak
points in the defense to run into.
The fullback typically fills a blocking, rather than rushing or
receiving, role in the modern game. With the fullback in the backfield
as a blocker, runs can be made to either side of the line with his
additional blocking support. This is contrasted with the use of tight
ends as blockers who, being set up at the end of the line, are able to
support runs to one side of the line only. The fullback can also be
used as a feint—since the defense can spot him more easily than the
running back, they may be drawn in his direction while the running
back takes the ball the opposite way.
Despite the emphasis on the running game, the
I formation remains an
effective base for a passing attack. The formation supports up to
three wide receivers and many running backs serve as an additional
receiving threat. While the fullback is rarely a pass receiver, he
serves as a capable additional pass blocker protecting the quarterback
before the pass. The running threat posed by the formation also lends
itself to the play-action pass. The flexible nature of the formation
also helps prevent defenses from focusing their attention on either
the run or pass.
I formation variation
Many subtypes of the
I formation exist, generally emphasizing the
running or passing strengths of the base version.
The Big I places a tight end on each side of the offensive line
(removing a wide receiver). Coupled with the fullback's blocking, this
allows two additional blockers for a run in either direction. This is
a running-emphasis variant.
The Power I replaces one wide receiver with a third back (fullback or
running back) in the backfield, set up to one side of the fullback.
This is a running-emphasis variant.
The Jumbo or Goal-line formation further extends the Power I or Big I,
adding a second tight end and/or third tackle to the line,
respectively. This variant has no wide receivers and is all but
exclusively a running formation intended to reliably gain minimal
yardage, most commonly two yards or less.
The Three-wide I replaces the tight end with a third wide receiver.
This is a passing-emphasis variant.
The Maryland I (also known as the Stack I or Golden I) is similar to
the Power I except that instead of placing the third back to one side
of the fullback, the fullback, third back, and tailback line up
directly in front of each other (hence the term "Stack"). Obviously,
this is a running-emphasis variant made popular by the Maryland
Terrapins football team of the 1950s under Tom Nugent.
The Tight I is similar to the Maryland I except that the extra back
(who happens to be the tight end) is aligned between the quarterback
and fullback in the alignment. The split end and the player who
normally lines up as flanker are both aligned on the line of scrimmage
split away from the end man on the line of scrimmage. This formation
was used by the
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs in
Super Bowl IV
Super Bowl IV against the
Minnesota Vikings so as to create confusion in the Minnesota defense's
lining up against the Chiefs offense.
The I formation, in any variant, can also be modified as Strong or
Weak. This formation is commonly called an Offset I. In either case,
the fullback lines up roughly a yard laterally to his usual position.
Strong refers to a move towards the TE side of the formation (Primary
TE, or flanker's side when in a "big" 2TE set), weak in the opposite
direction. These modifications have little effect on expected play
call. However, the Offset I allows a fullback to more easily avoid
blockers and get out of the backfield to become a receiver.
In professional football
In the NFL, the
I formation is less frequently used than in college,
as the use of the fullback as a blocker has given way to formations
with additional tight ends and wide receivers, who may be called on to
block during running plays. The increasingly common ace formation
replaces the fullback with an additional receiver, who lines up along
the line of scrimmage. The I will typically be used in short-yardage
and goal line situations.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to I formation.
American football strategy
^ a b Layden, Tim. "
Don Coryell 1924--2010". SI.com. Retrieved
Tom Nugent obituary, USA Today
^ Center, Bill. "Don Coryell, ex-Chargers, Aztecs coach dies at 85".
San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
^ The I Formation: Offensive Bread and Butter, footballoutsiders.com
^ a b Inman, Cam. "For Don Coryell, to air was divine". San Jose
Mercury News. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
Tom Osborne biography, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archived
2007-12-06 at the Wayback Machine.
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