There are some things in the world of sports that are generally accepted by the public: the tallest player on a basketball team is the center; the best fielder on a baseball team is the shortstop; and the player on a football field standing behind the center is the quarterback.
But what if things changed?
There were two quarterbacks on a football field?
There was only one designated offensive linemen?
Every single player could potentially touch the ball during a play?
Welcome to the world of perhaps the wackiest and most creative offensive formation in the history of football.
The A-11 offense.
Before the start of the 2007 season, two coaches at Piedmont High School, near Oakland, California, decided to change its recent trend of losing seasons. These coaches were frustrated with the other schools in its division, all of whom were larger and more talented, thanks to much larger enrollments.
Kurt Bryan, the head coach of the Piedmont High School Highlanders, and Stan Humphries, the school's Director of Football Operations, implemented the most insane offensive formation imaginable.
Imagine an offense where every single player on the offense in eligible to touch the ball.
Originally called the "Pluto offense", A-11's own website (www.a11offense.com) describes the offense as “an innovative offense blending aspects of the spread option, West Coast, and run-and-shoot.”
The possibilities on an A-11 offense are endless: Draws, wedge plays, screen passes, run-and-shoot, the option—you name it and Piedmont has done it.
Coach Bryan's main philosophy is that the ball is always faster than the man. Spreading the field negates the speed and size of opposing defenses.
Here is exactly how the offense works:
The A-11 offense is essentially a "scrimmage kick" formation, meaning that one player is at least seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and no player is under center to receive the snap.
A center and two tight ends surround the football. Three receivers split right. Three receivers split left. Two quarterbacks stand in a shotgun formation, one of which must be seven yards behind the ball. The other quarterback can be positioned as a halfback closer to the line of scrimmage, as long as he is not directly behind the center.
Four of the six receivers must be on the line of scrimmage, meaning a total of seven players (the four receivers, the two tight ends, and the center) are on the line of scrimmage.
The best part about the offense is that the eligible players can change after each play without having to change personnel. Each player wears the number of an eligible receiver, making it appear to the defense that every player is a probable target.
In reality, five of the players are ineligible and one is the passer. The ineligible players cannot advance downfield on a passing play until the ball crosses the line of scrimmage in the air. However, they can be handed the ball on a reverse play. They can also receive backward passes.
The difficult part for the defense: Speed.
A normal defense has two defensive tackles, two defensive ends, and three linebackers who simply cannot run as fast as wide receivers or running backs. In an A-11 offense, it makes no sense to use anything but the fastest players. Therefore, a defensive lineman is essentially useless, because even if they overpower the offensive line, the ball will likely have been thrown or handed off already.
It's also extremely difficult for a defense to immediately identify which players are on the line of scrimmage and which are not. In a hurry-up offense, the A-11 can be a defense's worst nightmare.
Imagine being a defensive coordinator and expecting your players to cover the A-11 offense for an entire game. You think a star running back keeps a defensive coordinator up at night...or a star quarterback?
Imagine not knowing which players were even going to touch the ball!
How could a defensive coordinator possibly expect to be prepared for the game?
Which defense do you do?
A 4-3? A 3-4? A zone defense? Man-to-man?
Coach Bryan knew the headaches his offense would cause defenders. But first he had to confirm its legality.
Before utilizing their offense in a game, Bryan and Humphries met with the National Federation of State High School Associations and the California Interscholastic Federation.
“We had a 99.9 percent feeling it was legal,” said Bryan. “After it was approved, there was a sense of, 'OK, now what do we do?' ''
Bryan and Humphries spent the summer teaching the offense to their baffled football team, who had never seen anything like this before.
Quarterback Jeremy George recalls entering the Piedmont High School football coaches' office to talk to Kurt Bryan, and mistaking the new offensive formation for the punt formation.
George, as well as the majority of the players, was somewhat unsure of the new offense.
“Initially, the first thought I had was, 'I'm pretty sure that's illegal.' I've got to admit I thought it was a little crazy. I think most of the players thought it was crazy. A lot of people were a little skeptical.”
The skepticism increased after the Highlanders lost their first two regular season games, by scores of 31-2 and 15-7.
Then something happened.
The Highlanders mastered the A-11 offense.
Using the A-11 offense in about 60 percent of their offensive plays, and a more traditional formation in 40 percent of their plays, the Highlanders embarked on a seven-game winning streak, culminating in a playoff appearance.
The A-11 was a smashing success.
Bryan knew other football coaches would be interested in the A-11, so he produced five instructional videos on it.
In just a few months, he was contacted by 70 collegiate coaches interested in employing the A-11 offense. He received over 5000 emails on the subject. He even created a website, which receives over 700 hits daily.
The A-11 offense was becoming a hit across the country, but it also had its share of enemies.
Many football experts dislike the A-11 offense. North Carolina banned the A-11 offense from high school football, calling it “deceptive” and “an unsporting act.” Joe Warren, the football rules interpreter for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, calls the A-11 offense “sneaky”, saying “it makes a travesty of the game.”
In all, six states have banned the offense from high school games.
The offense is also illegal under NCAA rules, as a scrimmage kick is defined as a formation where it is “obvious that a kick may be attempted.”
However, the formation is not illegal in the National Football League.
Eligible receivers need to be declared by an official before each play. The NFL's numbering system becomes difficult to implement while using this formation.
The risk of injury may be more severe for quarterbacks or other offensive players.
Is it practically impossible to implement? Maybe.
But it is illegal? No.
It's been said that the A-11 offense would never work in the National Football League.
Critics say, “It's not real football. It doesn't even look like real football.”
Since when do sports have to look pretty?
Didn't Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs batting cross handed? Didn't Rick Barry shoot 90 percent while throwing his free throws underhanded?
Why can't football fans view the A-11 offense for what it really is: brilliant and ingenious.
Didn't the forward pass used to be banned? Didn't hitters in baseball used to be able to request a high or a low pitch from the pitcher? Didn't a basketball team have the ability to hold onto the ball for an entire game?
So do opinions.
Haven't we recently witnessed the rebirth of the Wildcat offense?
In 2008, the Miami Dolphins singlehandedly re-introduced the Wildcat Offense to the NFL. They first used this offense in the third game of the season against the New England Patriots. The Miami Dolphins, 1-15 in the 2007 season, defeated the Patriots, 16-0 in the 2007 season, by the score of 38-13.
The amazing part? The Dolphins only used the Wildcat Offense on six plays, five of which resulted in touchdowns! Running back Ronnie Brown became the first player to score four touchdowns and throw for a fifth touchdown in the same game.
Offensive coordinators around the league noticed. At least 13 NFL teams, including the New England Patriots, instituted a form of the wildcat offense in their playbook. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins won 11 games and the AFC East crown in 2008.
The Wildcat Offense works; so would the A-11 offense.
Trust me. It's only going to take one team to implement the A-11 offense before it spreads to every team in the National Football League.
When asked about the future of the A-11 offense, Kurt Bryan called the offense “limitless.”
“Here's what's going to happen. If we were sitting down with football coaches and players in 50 or 100 years, the A-11 would be no big deal because that's what the game will be. It's futuristic football. We're doing football where every play is innovative, and that's why people find it fun to watch. It's fun to play. Every player has the potential to be a part of almost every play. People can laugh at it, but that's reality.”
In 2002, New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards uttered one of the most important lines ever spoken by a football coach: “You play to win the game.”
Isn't that what Kurt Bryan and Stan Humphries do every time they use the A-11 offense in a game?