The I-formation is a formation of the offense in American football in which the quarterback and two running backs ( halfback and fullback ) stand in a row behind the center . If you look at the I-formation from the opposing end zone , these three players together look like an "I", which is what coined the name of this formation.
The I formation is one of the most common football formations. It basically consists of five offensive linemen (two tackles, two guards and the center), a quarterback and two running backs. In the simplest variation, two wide receivers are positioned at each end of the line of scrimmage and a tight end is placed directly next to the offensive linemen. The I-formation enables an effective running game (" Smashmouth Offense ").
Tom Nugent , who introduced it in 1949 as head coach of the Virginia Military Institute , is considered to be the inventor of the I formation . He did not place the three running backs next to each other as in the usual T formation at the time , but one behind the other. This should bring more flexibility to the outside with running plays, since unlike in the T-formation, due to the small spatial distance, all three running backs can now be considered as ball carriers, which also makes it easier to fake the ball. However, this formation went unnoticed for a long time and it was not until 1954, when Nugent moved to Florida State University , that it became known to the general public. There he was able to qualify with the team in 1955 and 1958 for the then still rare bowl games. In 1959 Nugent moved to Maryland, but held on to the I formation. Meanwhile, other coaches developed the I-formation further by reducing the number of running backs to two. Since teams with the reduced I-formation were more successful than those with the original, those with three running backs were named Maryland I-Formation and those with only two were named Basic I-Formation . The driving force behind the spread was John McKay . In 1962, McKay's USC team won the national title with an offense based on the I formation. This was followed by titles in 1967, 1972 and 1974. Tom Osbourne , assistant coach at the University of Nebraska , developed the formation again in 1970 by linking it to the Offense option . With this innovation, the team won the national championship in 1970 and 1971.
The I-formation is considered a balanced offensive formation, as there are two running backs and wide receivers on the field in addition to the tight end. However, priority is always given to the running game that is used to prepare for the passing game. The effectiveness of the I-formation has declined due to the increasing use of 8-man fronts (eight defense players close to the line of scrimmage) and zone blitzes , which is why the formation is increasingly being displaced by spread-offense formations, which distribute the closely positioned defenders across the entire width of the field and thus create more space for the running game.
The advantage of the I-formation is that, thanks to its symmetrical structure, it enables attacks from both outer sides with the same efficiency. In addition, the greater distance from the quarterback gives the running back more time to speed up. However, this additional time is also available to the defense, which is more likely to force a loss of space. Another advantage is the easy execution of play-action passes from this formation. Since there are already two wide receivers and a tight end on the pitch in this formation, normal passing is also possible from this formation. Both running backs can also be involved in the passing game, but due to their positioning they have a longer walking distance.
The I formation is considered to be the formation with the most variations. The most popular is the offset I formation . The fullback is set up one to four yards further out. Almost all of the moves of the I formation are still playable, plus some of the split formation . The biggest advantage, however, is that the fullback can be better integrated into the passing game. The Offset-I is divided again into Weak-I and Strong-I, depending on the positioning of the fullback and tight end. If both players are on the same side of the quarterback they are called Strong-I, they are on different sides of Weak-I.
The Power-I formation is less common and mostly only used near the goal line. A third running back is set up to the side of the fullback. This means that more run combinations are possible and there is an additional blocker in the backfield.
The Slot-I and Twin-I variants are intended to provide more variety in the passing game . In these variants, invented by Frank Broyel at the University of Arkansas in 1964 , the two wide receivers are placed on the same side of the offensive line. If the receiver, which is not directly on the line of scrimmage, is positioned close to the offensive line, it is referred to as the slot-I formation, but if it is positioned close to the other receiver, it is referred to as the twin-I formation. The Three Wide I formation has also been developed for passing . Here, the tight end is replaced by a third wide receiver. Due to the lack of the tight end, the running game is weakened from the outside, but if the defense is adjusted to the increased threat potential from the passing game, the number of defenders near the line of scrimmage also decreases.
In the Big I formation , a tight end is added on the weak side, the side where there is no tight end on the offensive line, at the expense of a wide receiver. This is a variation of the running game, because in addition to the fullback you now have a blocker on each side that clears the way for the halfback, which means you can run in any direction.
The Tight I is similar to the Maryland I, with the difference that instead of a third running back there is a tight end in the "I". Seen from the line of scrimmage, the line-up is center, quarterback, tight end, fullback, halfback. It was developed by Hank Stram .
Use in professional football
The formation is less common in the NFL than in college football , as formations with additional receivers and tight ends have often replaced the fullback as a blocker. If a running game is chosen from one of these formations, the tight ends are used to block for the halfback. The I-formation is typically used in short yardage situations (situations where there are only a few yards left to achieve) and near the goal line.
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