For new Texas Longhorns play caller Major Applewhite, a major point of emphasis heading in to the 2013 season is getting his playmakers onto the field and the football into their hands.
With three talented running backs who could each command starter's carries if they stay healthy, one of the tasks facing Applewhite is to find ways to get them all the football.
One possible solution the Horns have been repping in practice would put two or three of those backs on the field at the same time in a Diamond or Pod formation, with the difference apparently the distinction between lining up in the shotgun or in the Pistol, though the terminology used doesn't particularly matter -- the formation uses two running backs lined up on either side of the quarterback and one behind in the traditional Pistol positioning.
The formation started to come into prominence when Dana Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and used the formation, which head coach Mike Gundy has since kept as part of his playbook. Other teams in the conference that have taken advantage of the set include Oklahoma and TCU.
And, in fact, the Longhorns have used it in the past, as well, though it was a small part of the offense under Bryan Harsin. As long as junior backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron can stay healthy this season, it has the chance to become a bigger part of the offense.
The main issue presented by the formation is that the personnel grouping it would use -- with three running backs, possibly including hybrid running back/wide receiver Daje Johnson -- is a situational grouping that doesn't fit extremely well with the no-huddle, accelerated tempo Applewhite will employ for the first time.
However, the benefit is that the formation is balanced, so it doesn't tip the direction of the play because of a strong side, which means that the best look for Texas is to use sophomore Johnathan Gray as the deep tailback and Brown and Bergeron as the halfbacks, though Johnson could find himself as a halfback in some sets.
Like many formations, the Diamond or Pod look takes advantage of base plays with a different window-dressing. The offensive line blocks the same way for inside and outside zone and the inverted zone read many teams like to run now that features the quarterback as the dive player and the running back headed to the edge. The only real difference is that the other two running backs (the halfbacks lined up to each side of the quarterback) often serve as lead blockers instead of H-backs or having an attached tight end utilized as another blocking surface.
The traditional inside zone plays uses the deep tailback as the ballcarrier and the two halfbacks as lead blockers, one cleaning up messes on the backside of the play and the other leading playside. As with the inside zone run from other formations, the running back still has the opportunity to hit a cutback lane to the backside if it's open and the playside is not.
On outside zone, a halfback receives the football headed across the formation while the tailback and other halfback both act as lead blockers on the perimeter. All the Texas running backs have been vocal about how the group is selfless and willing to split carries and do whatever it takes, but doing the dirty work of blocking for each other will determine whether that was merely rhetoric.
The inverted veer zone read also features two lead blockers on the perimeter and some teams run it with a pulling guard as well. The limiting factor for this play is probably starting quarterback David Ash, who hasn't always looked comfortable making the correct read on the zone read, making the play a better bet for redshirt freshman slash player Jalen Overstreet, who has still been taking reps at quarterback, and true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, whose development has been slowed by a sore hamstring after an injury early in fall camp.
And, of course, there are the typical play-action passes associated with any series of plays and Texas could always run the run/pass flare play sending Gray or Johnson wide before the snap and then have Ash make the read on whether to hand off on the inside zone or get the ball wide into space if there are favorable numbers.
The blocking ability of the running backs will ultimately determine how much Texas uses the three-running back formation in 2013, but it is a viable option for Applewhite as he seeks to get his best players on the field instead of using multiple tight ends and H-backs on most plays.
Want to know more about why the Texas defense fell apart last season and how Manny Diaz can fix it? What about insight into Major Applewhite's influences and how they will impact the new Texas offense? Or why you should believe in David Ash making the jump this season? Get all the answers in 2013 In the Huddle: Texas.