Now that the initial free agency period and the draft have passed and the rookie players are reporting to camp, things will start to slow down a little as teams start on the road to getting ready for the 2017 NFL season and many of us have our summer holidays. I thought this would be an ideal time to open up the ‘NFL Fan School’ in order to fill a bit of time and to keep me sane from all the mundane reports as NFL outlets scramble for the slightest crumb of a ‘story’ from the league.

What I intend to do is have a look through various offensive and defensive formations, plays and schemes etc. in an attempt to better prepare us for our viewing of games going forward. I guess it’s really an extension of the Beginner’s Guide section already on the site and will, hopefully, increase our knowledge and enjoyment of the game somewhat.

So, that’s enough waffling, let’s crack on with the first of the offensive formations.

Pro Set Formation

Pro Set

The Pro Set is one of the most basic and multifunctional of the offense’s formations. It consists of the 5 offensive linemen (C, G and T), 1 Tight End (TE), 2 Wide Receivers (WR), 1 Quarterback (QB) and 2 Running Backs (HB, FB). See the Team Positions – Offense‘ page of the Beginner’s Guide section of the site to learn what each position is.

The 2 WR’s setup out wide, as usual, with the TE on the end of the offensive line – which ever side of the offensive line he sets up on is known as the “strong side” due to there being more players on that side than the other “weak side”. The QB sets up “under center”, which means he is right up behind the player who will “snap” the ball to him (the Center). So far, all is normal and pretty standard for one of these basic formations. Where it starts to vary slightly from the other basic formations is with the Running Backs and where they line up pre-snap.

The 2 Running Backs in this formation are the ‘HB’ (Halfback) and the ‘FB’ (Fullback). Usually, the HB is the smaller, quicker and more agile of the two and is the one who will carry the ball on a running play. The FB is usually the bigger and stronger of the two and is responsible for blocking defenders out of the HB’s way on a running play. This is known as “lead blocking” as he leads the HB where ever the running play is designed to go. The play can go either “up the middle”, which is when they try to smash their way straight forward through their offensive line, or around either end of the offensive line into an area where there are fewer defenders and the quicker HB can utilise his speed better.

Pro Set Inside Run
Pro Set Outside Run

As you can see from the illustrations, the two running backs line up to either side of the QB and about 5-yards from the line of scrimmage (where the offensive line is – see Terminology page). The fact that they are lined up to either side of the QB is why this formation is sometimes also called the “Split Formation” or “Split-back Formation”.

As well as being a good formation to carry out a running play, the Pro Set is also good to use for passing plays. This is because you have the WR’s and TE in there who can go out on passing routes for the QB to throw to, but either or both of the Running Backs can “swing out” of the backfield to give the QB another target(s) to pass to.

Pro Set Running Backs swinging out of the backfield to become extra receivers.

If only one of the Running Backs swings out, then the other will stay in to be another blocker for the QB to give him more time “in the pocket” to find an open receiver and complete a pass. It’s also possible for both Running Backs to stay in and block on passing plays. There are lots of variations of plays coming out of this formation which is what made it so good.

Summing up the Pro Set

This formation is a balanced setup that is good for both running plays and passing plays. Because it is generally balanced to both sides, it can be used to throw the defense off and keep them guessing as to which side the play is going to go.

Slight variations used with this formation are to sub out the FB and add in another HB to add more speed and agility at the same time as balancing up the formation even more in an attempt to confuse the defense. Also, at times, the offense will remove the TE and add in another WR. This is done in a more passing situation or when the team wants to add more speed and agility on the outside.

This formation used to be one of the most common seen in a game but has recently lost its popularity due to more and more NFL teams using a “Shotgun” style formation (where the QB stands further back behind the offensive line as opposed to being “under Center”) as the game has become more of a pass-first affair.

Next – The “I-Formation”

That’s about all we need to know about the Pro Set formation but if you feel I’ve missed anything then let me know in the comments below or via email.

In my next NFL Fan School post, I will be having a look at the I-formation which is only slightly different to the Pro Set but should be looked at on its own due to its variations.