FanPost

FSU and the H-Back

Many were surprised after hearing Nick O’Leary’s recent comments about the FSU offense running 75% two tight-end sets during spring practices (which I’m skeptical about anyway). Most FSU fans were probably under the impression that, with the glut of talented wide receivers on the roster, we would spread teams out with 3-5 receivers, getting our most talented players on the field. If O'Leary's comments are true, we may be going with less WRs and more TEs. Even if the 75% number isn't accurate, we still may be using more 2 TE sets than expected.

However, it is apparent from short clips of the offense and other comments from O'Leary that we won't be using our TEs solely as in-line TEs. For the first time since Jimbo has been in Tallahassee, we may finally have graduated a TE to an H-back. For my own understanding, and because there has been numerous discussions on several threads regarding H-backs and their function, I spent some time researching what an H-back can offer. Hopefully, I can relay some of that here.

First, as a primer, I suggest everyone read Bud’s article from 2009, What is an H-Back? How will Florida State use it’s H-Back? as well as all the links found therein.

Before we get started on what an H-back can do, we need to understand some terminology.

Here is a chart listing the nomenclature for specific personnel groupings:

Personnel Package

RBs

TEs

WRs

0

0

0

5

1

0

1

4

2

0

2

3

3

0

3

2

10

1

0

4

11

1

1

3

12

1

2

2

13

1

3

1

20

2

0

3

21

2

1

2

22

2

2

1

23

2

3

0

It’s important to remember that these are personnel names and are not complete formation descriptors. There are different options available under each personnel grouping.

For example, in the first picture below (personnel 12 - 1 RB, 2TEs), FSU is lined up in a ‘pistol’ look with twins to the left. In this same personnel grouping, EJ could also line up under center, or back in shotgun. Also, the WRs could be split, having one on each side of the field. You get the idea. Lots of variations from a single personnel set.

So, what’s the point of an H-back?
Probably the biggest advantage from using an H-back is the variability you can use with the same players. The milehighreport.com guys call it compound multiplicity. Above, we mentioned the different formations that can be run out of the same personnel (under center, shotgun, twins vs. split WR, pistol, etc.) An H-back offers the ability to not only switch between formations within a given personnel, but to change personnel looks altogether. An H-back gives us that by lining up as a TE, a RB, or a WR.

So, using just one set of our players (the 2 TE set), let’s look at some of the options that may be used.

5OL, EJ, Hicks, O’Leary, Freeman, Greene, and Smith.

As we talk about some of the potential formations I'd recommend everyone watch this short video clip as I'll be referencing it several times. (Its a short clip of FSU offense during spring practice warm-ups - free from 247 sports. It mainly focuses on Mario Pender, but you can get a sense of the formations they're using and where the TEs are).

(These pictures are just for demonstration of what the formations look like. We don’t have photos of what it would look like with an H-back, because we didn’t use an H-back last year.)


12 personnel
12_personnel_medium
21 personnel.

21_personnel_medium

This is the 2nd play in the video clip. O'Leary at FB, with Hicks as the in-line TE.

11 personnel.

11_personnel_medium

From a single set of players, that’s three different groupings that I guarantee we will see this year. O'Leary will be used at in-line TE (12 personnel), fullback (21 personnel), and WR (11 personnel).

I am not well versed enough in offensive philosophy to know the exact ways in which switching from 12-personnel to 21 or 11 personnel formations can exploit weaknesses in the defense. Perhaps one of our members can do a better job of explaining it than I could. However, anyone can see the degree of unpredictability that can be gained.

If we speculate further, what other options will be available?

10 Personnel.

10_pesonnel_medium

This was one of the formation options that I could understand the benefits from, so I would like to take a moment and examine the potential of switching to a 10-personnel formation and the problems it may cause for opposing defenses.

In the video clip above, if you watch the play at around 35 seconds, you'll notice Kelvin Benjamin at wide receiver. As the play is run, you'll see Hicks running an 'in-route' - coming from the outermost WR position. We can't see the other side of the field pre-snap, but we know there is only one RB, and we see O'Leary later in the play. This confirms that it is the same personnel on the field (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs), but running a 4th personnel formation, likely the one above.

If the opponent sees FSU putting in 2 TEs, there is every likelihood that they will substitute to their base defense (4-3). If so, we’ve got them at a disadvantage by spreading them out, forcing them to cover 4 targets at WR, and a RB in a pass play. Further, if we decide to not only split Hicks out wide, but to put him outside the WR (as was seen in the clip), the defense has a tough decision to make:

If the defense decides to keep their cornerback on the outside man (Hicks), then we've got a linebacker or safety covering one of our talented wide-receivers. Unless that linebacker is Christian Jones, it's a huge mismatch.

The other alternative is keeping the cornerback covering the wide-receiver on the inside and sending the linebacker out wide over Hicks. If the defense chooses that option, they've significantly reduced their run defense, which can be exploited with an excellent running QB.

If we can successfully exploit the defense's base 4-3 package from this 10-personnel formation, they may opt to switch to a nickel package, substituting a defensive back for a linebacker. That gives us the opportunity to switch to a power running attack without changing players.



2 Personnel.

Is it possible that we’ll see Freeman, Thompson, or Pender motion out wide?

2_personnel_medium

0 Personnel.

Taking it to the ‘extreme’, we've seen the potential for splitting both TEs wide (10-personnel). Will FSU be willing to line up both TEs split wide, and then motion a RB out wide as well?

0_personnel_medium

I don't know if I've hit on all the possible formations available from a 2 TE personnel grouping, but I've hope I've demonstrated some potential advantages gained. Similar exercises could be done for when O'Leary is the only TE on the field.

Questions still remain:

Is the H-back the best option for FSU?

Will Dan Hicks learn enough of the offense to not be a liability? FSU has experienced its share of mental lapses from the TE position over the last several years. Do we risk that possibility with a first year offensive player?

With its abundance of receivers, would it be better to put 4-5 WRs on the field and match-up opposing defenses 4th and 5th defensive back against our 4th and 5th WR?

Is this a question of style? All things being equal, which does Jimbo prefer?

Is it a comfort issue? Does EJ play significantly better in one style?

What are your thoughts?

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