Designed to overpower the defense at the line, the I-Formation Offense is a great way to play smash mouth football.

Often credited to Tom Nugent, the exact creator of the I Form is unknown – but it has been a successful formation at all levels of football for more than 60 years, and will continue to be used for much longer.


Named for the similarity between how the three backs line up behind center, the I Form is a classic football formation, with two tackles and two guards aligned to either side of the center in the middle of the offensive line. The quarterback, fullback, and tailback all line up in a straight line, with the other two backs a couple yards further behind the QB, creating an “I”.

Like all formations, there a quite a few different variants, bringing as many as three tight ends in for power running, or as many as three receivers to spread out the defense, and anything in between. Sometimes, the fullback will line up at the same depth but with slight adjustment, 1-2 yards to either side, lining up behind a guard instead of center. This is called the offset I, and would be called either strong I or weak I depending on which side of center the fullback lines up on.

i formation offense
I Formation Offense

Famous I-Formation Offenses

  • Earlys 1970s Nebraska
  • 1980s Oakland Raiders

I-Formation Offense Strengths

  • Power Running
  • Playaction Passing

I-Formation Offense Weaknesses

  • Long Range Passing
  • Versatility

I-Formation Offense Plays

If you're interested in learning more about I-Formation Offense, make sure you check out our I-Formation Playbook. It's packed with 10 simple, fun and effective plays designed for youth and high school football. All explained with player responsibilities, step by step diagrams, and implementation tips for coaches.

Get The I-Formation PDF Playbook



Below are some sample plays you can check out.

Running Play: Jumbo Right 26 Power

Play Strategy

Football is a game of inches, and sometimes, that’s all you need - a couple of inches. Here’s a no-nonsense, power blocking run, great for 3rd or 4th and inches, or anywhere down near the goal line. And if no holes open up quick enough, tell your TB to dive up and over the line!

i formation running plays
A no-nonsense, power blocking run, great for 3rd or 4th and inches, or anywhere down near the goal line.

Offensive Line

  • LT: Blocks man, seals him outside
  • LG: Blocks man, seals him outside
  • C: Leads right, stopping any penetration by LBs or DTs
  • RG: Leads left, blocking first DT
  • RT: Blocks DT any direction

Backs & Receivers

  • LTE: Blocks man, seals him outside
  • RTE: Blocks DE any direction
  • FB: Reads RT’s block, going either inside or outside
  • PB: Reads RTE’s block, going either inside or outside
  • TB: Follows FB and PB, pacing himself, waiting for a hole he can explode out of to appear
  • QB: Hands ball to TB and gets out of the way

Coaching Tips

  • The direction of the blocks for the RT and RTE don’t matter - but sustaining them for as long as possible does.
  • If you don’t have an effective power runner, take a page out of Bill Belichick’s book and give an OLB a shot - they’ve got the perfect combination of speed and strength to do awesome in short yardage.

Passing Play: Weak 1 Right 75 Option Flats

Play Strategy

While only showing two receivers, releasing all five eligible receivers makes it very tough for the defense to react with exposing huge holes, especially in a zone coverage. Versus the cover 2, look for the SE to get open behind the defense, and against the cover 3, look for the FL to make the correct read on the option.

i formation passing plays
Releasing all five eligible receivers makes it very tough for the defense to react with exposing huge holes, especially in a zone coverage.

Offensive Line

  • LT: Pass blocks man
  • LG: Gives up a step, waiting for blitzing LB or LT’s man
  • C: Pass blocks man
  • RG: Gives up a step, waiting for blitzing LB or RT’s man
  • RT: Pass blocks man.

Backs & Receivers

  • TE: Runs a corner route
  • Y: Runs a fade route
  • Z: Runs an option route at about 8 yards
  • FB: Runs a flat route
  • TB: Runs a swing route
  • QB: Takes a 3 step drop, goes through progression

Coaching Tips

  • Z, the flanker here, needs run hard at the CB and make his decision on whether to run the option inside or outside.
    The QB’s progression is as follows: Y, Z, TE, TB, FB.
  • In case of blitz, the QB can always check down to the hot receiver - in this case, the FB.

For more plays like this, check our complete I-Formation Playbook today!

More Football Offenses

  • Double Wing Offense: uses two wingbacks to set up power runs and misdirection plays
  • Singleback Offense: a versatile passing offense, which also works well for draws and outside runs
  • Spread Offense: spreads the defense horizontally, making it easier to isolate man coverage, as well as find and throw to the holes in the zone
  • Pro Set Offense: provides excellent balance, allowing you to get the ball to any area of the field very quickly
  • Wing-T Offense: an all-time favorite at the youth level, which emphasizes counters, reverses, bootlegs and short passing plays

Or, if you need help develop fundamental offensive skills, don't miss our drill collections covering quarterbacks, offensive line, running backs and receivers.