Undersrtanding Urban: Diamond Formation

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Last updated: 04/15/2013 1:37 PM
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Understanding Urban: The Diamond Formation
By Ken Pryor

(Editor’s Note: Ken Pryor is an offensive coordinator who works with the wide receivers at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md. He has been a long-time contributor to The-Ozone, and has been asked to help us better understand Ohio State’s new offense under Urban Meyer.)

Offenses are ever changing in the world of football, as coaches make every effort to stay a step ahead of the various defensive schemes being designed to stop them. Offensive coaches across the country take measures to dream up new offensive schemes and they really only have two methods of doing so:

They can change the formation or they can change the play design altogether.

Formations can often be more important than plays, and the past couple seasons have certainly ushered in some new concepts that have put defenses back on their heels.

The one formation that is all the current rage in both the NFL and college football is called the “Pistol” formation. The funny thing about the pistol FORMATION is that it’s often confused with the Pistol OFFENSE.

They are not one in the same thing, as only a few teams use true pistol scheme the way architect Chris Ault does it at the University of Nevada. The real advantage of the pistol FORMATION comes when a second back is added to the backfield to add strength and leverage to the formation.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, are not lost on the advantages provided by the pistol formation. They met with the San Francisco 49ers coaching staff this offseason and appear ready to embark upon implementing this scheme in more detail at Ohio State this fall. 

The pistol back gives an offense flexibility to motion a fullback to and fro the same as any typical pro-style offense would in order to change formation strength. There are two advantages of the two-back pistol:

  1. Positioning the fullback to one side or the other declares a strength while maintaining the freedom to motion him to and fro (and from H-back to fullback). This forces the defense to adjust to whatever the offense wants them to see.
  2. It opens up the traditional two-back, I-formation play-action game.

Diamond Plated Pistol

One variation to the “pistol” formation that captured everyone’s attention over the last year is the “Diamond” formation, which was first used by Dana Holgorsen at Oklahoma State. The Diamond is more of a power set that keeps nine men offensively in the box, thereby offering a number of advantages for the offense.


What are the benefits of the Diamond?

  1. Balances Up the Defense: Defenses are forced to declare their strength pre-snap by setting their front and their coverage. Once they declare, the offense can run Power or Isolation to either side. A balanced offensive attack makes it difficult for an even-front defense to set its strength and it allows teams to audible, while opening the door to run the same plays from either direction without shifts/motions.
  2. Three-Back Offensive Sets: There is great potential to have three of your better athletes on the field at one time and really develop the run game concepts by distributing the football. Meyer and Herman have to be licking their chops at this concept as they come up with ways to get the ball into the talented hands of guys like Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall.
  3. Pre-Snap Motions and Shifts: Once you start in the diamond formation and defenses declare, offenses can move and motion to get the numbers advantage it desires. Defense can’t overload the box because now they’re forced to expand a defender out of the core.
  4. Mismatches on the Perimeter: Nine offensive players in the box (five offensive lineman and four backs) means defenses are sure to try load the box with 8-man fronts or locking down the perimeter. Once the defense loads the box, you get one-on-one coverage with the outside receivers. I’m thinking Braxton Miller, Devin Smith, Philly Brown and Michael Thomas are really going to like the possibilities this situation might present.
  5. More Men = More Gaps: Whether you specialize in man, zone or gap run schemes, the extra blocker coming from the backfield is a big bonus. Meyer and Herman can run their inside zone stuff and still have a lead blocker. They can run Power and have the backside back pull and lead through or they can simply run isolation schemes and send both backs through the point of attack. It’s a major deal when you have eight men to block against a defense that will try to put eight or nine defenders in the box.
  6. Instant Misdirection: It is difficult for defenses to diagnose misdirection schemes efficiently. The three-back set up in the diamond formation provides you with misdirection on any run scheme. You need only two backs at the point of attack – you can send the other one away. Gap schemes work well when you don’t need to pull an offensive lineman.

     Alignments and Personnel

    While there is no question the Diamond is a run-first formation, there are various play-action possibilities off corresponding run actions.

    Herman can have three viable backs to run his power, kick and isolation run game. He may need to cheat two backs up a couple yards from the line, enabling them get to the point of attack quicker.

Gap Schemes

Diamond schemes make it so offenses don’t need to pull a slower, less agile offensive lineman. The backside back in the diamond handles that responsibility. When running power, the backside back would pull for the play side linebacker, while the frontside back handles the kick out on the end man at the line of scrimmage.


There is so much more to running the Diamond Pistol formation, but that should provide a beginners guide to what could be a very dangerous offensive weapon for Meyer and the Buckeyes this season.

Next week, we will examine the Blur series from the Diamond Formation, so be sure to check back for Part II of our Understanding Urban series on the Diamond Formation.

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