What is the Difference Between the Single Wing, Double Wing and Wildcat?

Wildcat formation

A popular question nowadays is what is the difference between the Single Wing, Double Wing and the Wildcat football formation?  All three have become extremely popular in recent years at the youth football level.

Below is a great expiation from coach Jerry Campbell who gives a brief history of the three football formations.

Single Wing Football Formation

This archaic formation was popular for most of the first 50 years of modern American football, but it is rare today, except as a novelty. There are many variations of the single wing with really the only common thread being that, rather than lining up “under center”, the quarterback is lined up a few yards behind with RBs on either side of him (similar to a modern shotgun formation).

In the original single wing, the QB was called the “tailback” and the FB was called the “quarterback” or “blocking back”The most famous version of the Single Wing offense would be Knute Rockne’s “Notre Dame Box” that he ran with the Four Horsemen. It contained two tight ends, and 4 backs. The quarterback in this formation (called at the time a “single-wing tailback”), like today’s shotgun QB, received the snap on the fly. The other 3 backs lined up on the same side of the QB in various arrangements. Also, the formation often featured an unbalanced line where the center (that is, the player who snapped the ball) was not strictly in the center of the line, but close to the weakside. The formation was originally designed as a brute-force running formation, since it had 7 players to one side of the center and only 2 on the other. Rockne’s innovations with this formation involved using complicated backfield shifts and motion to confuse defenses, and adapting it as a passing formation. The single wing has recently had a renaissance of sorts with high schools; since it is so rare, its sheer novelty can make it successful.

Wildcat football formation 
Early in the 2008 season, the Miami Dolphins used a modern variant of the single wing formation known as the Wildcat formation. During the latter part of the 2008 season, and throughout the 2009 season, many different NFL teams have instituted their own versions of the Wildcat. Some attribute the origins of the “Wildcat” to Bill Snyder’s Kansas State (whose sports teams are known as the “Wildcats”) offense of the late ’90s and early 2000s, which featured a lot of zone read runs by the quarterback. Others attribute the origins to Hugh Wyatt, a Double Wing coach (See Double WIng discussion below). Both the Snyder and the Wyatt versions were different than the “Wildhog” version used by the University of Arkansas for their versatile running back Darren McFadden. Most recently the Cleveland Browns have used this formation with Josh Cribbs and Ohio State University has also used the wildcat with Ted Ginn Jr. and Daniel “Boom” Herron. Villanova University won the 2009 Division I FCS championship using a multiple offense that incorporated the Wildcat. The University of Alabama employed the wildcat as part of their 2009 BCS championship team’s offensive package and continues to use it today with playmakers Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and Marquis Maze (though with Maze it is nicknamed the “bobcat” due to his small stature).

Double Wing football formation

The double wing, a variant of the single wing, was invented by Pop Warner in 1912. The offense is primarily a running offense using misdirection and power plays. Most double-wing plays use a motioning wing back at the start of each play. The modern version was developed by Don Markham.

A version known as the “wildcat offense” uses the same plays as the double-wing offense except that it uses a direct snap to either back and allows for more passing. “All plays are still ran the same, but with added deception since there is no hand off exchange between the fullback and quarterback.” The Wall Street Journal and Sports Illustrated have also reported that the “Wildcat” version of the double wing is a possible precursor to the modern wildcat formation that has been popularized by the Miami Dolphins and a number of college teams. The Double Wing is often incorrectly referred to as the Wing T, which is similar, but uses a different formation of the backs. The Double Wing is used mostly at a high school level, although some colleges run a similar offense out of the flexbone, but usually focus more on option runs. The Double Wing usually puts a wing back in motion at the beginning of the play, and the defense can sometimes pick up on this and use that to know where the play is going, so the Double Wing uses counters where the back that doesn’t go in motion gets the ball. Also, the double wing can be set into different formations, such as the Maryland I, to take away the pre-snap key on the wing back, yet still run all the plays effectively.

I have successfully used all three formations over the past five years, but must admit I’m still a spread guy.  I like these formations, especially the single wing if I do not have much talent, but if I have a few players, I’m looking to spread you out and make you defend the whole field.


Visit Football Playbook for a variety of play books all modified for the youth level and proven to succeed.
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Author: jimoddo on November 3, 2011
Category: Coaching, Football, Formations
Tags: , , , , , , ,
4 responses to “What is the Difference Between the Single Wing, Double Wing and Wildcat?”
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Visit Football Playbook for a variety of play books all modified for the youth level and proven to succeed.


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Visit Football Playbook for a variety of play books all modified for the youth level and proven to succeed.