Don Smolyn’s Wing-T Power and Counter Plays

National Wing-T Clinic 2016 Don Smolyn Power and Counters

Don Smolyn did a talk at the National Wing-T Clinic focused on how he runs Power and Counter, two plays that could just as easily fit into a power I or pro set offense as they do in the Wing-T. Coach Smolyn runs a lot of double TE – about 85% of the time. His rationale: “never underestimate the adjustment issues that a 2 TE formation brings to the defense.”

Iowa Stanford Power

To get a sense for how Don likes to run power, take a glimpse at the second offensive series by Stanford in the Rose Bowl game (go to the 14:07 point into the YouTube replay I link to). This is when they humbled my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes – while the first series (if you blink, you’ll miss this one play series) got things off on the wrong foot for Iowa, it was the second series that underscored how bad it would be for Iowa. Stanford brought a heavy offensive line and ran some unbalanced Power and Counter. I don’t think they had an extra tackle in, just two beefy tight ends that they would sometimes put on the same side.

Coach Smolyn charts the efficiency of his plays (% of plays that either gain 4+ yards or gain a TD or 1st down) and his Power play was 75–78% efficient last season. Even though it might look like he just runs Power over and over, in reality he runs it with five distinct blocking schemes, allowing him ample pre-game and in-game adjustment opportunities. His five schemes are:

  • Power
  • Power Shuffle
  • Power Load
  • Power Gap
  • Motion Away

While I didn’t get any handouts showing these in detail, Don did talk through some specifics that I’ll go through below. These specifics should be enough to understand how you can tweak the blocking scheme vs. some different fronts or to take advantage of specific strong or weak defenders.

Practice and Teaching Points for Offensive Line

Coach Smolyn is certainly a Wing-T fundamentalist and focuses on gap-down-backer rules for his offensive line. He asserts, however, that for players to truly understand what this means you must practice the concepts against a specific defense. Pre-season this should be against a range of fronts and schemes you are likely to see, while in season you would practice and drill against just a couple of looks that you expect to see in the coming game.

Side note – Don mentioned a great idea for offensive line coaches that I’ll adopt this season. He likes to maintain 2 foot splits with his interior line, so he cut out a two foot section of PVC pipe that he can carry with him to help players see exactly what two feet is.

His blocking rules for Power will almost always require a post-lead double team on the play side; for example the playside tackle and TE on a 5 technique in an odd front. The tackle with post responsibility steps with his inside foot, keeping his eyes on the gap to the inside as he drive blocks. The TE with lead responsibility steps down with his inside foot and tries to stay on the block. Both players eye their linebackers, looking for blitz. The goal is for the T to be able release to the Mike backer.

Coach Smolyn runs three primary drill stations for his offensive line:

  • Sled progression
  • Individual blocks vs. bags
  • Post / Lead station

This is a great example of a coach focusing and trying to optimize what he is going to be best at. If he was a Buck Sweep coach that third drill station might be a Buck Sweep drill for the guards with down and gap blocking for the C, T, and TE. But he is a Power coach and these double teams are critical for his success.


Power play diagram

Coach Smolyn’s regular Power play is shown in the diagram above. Playside line rules are gap-down-backer with the WB blocking out on the outside linebacker with this front. The backside guard leads through the hole and the FB kicks out at the point of attack. I can’t remember exactly what his QB footwork is on the play, but I think you could run it like either Down or Buck Sweep and have the QB either follow through on playside with a keep pass fake or boot him away.

Power Shuffle

With Power Shuffle he will but the WB in shuffle motion towards C gap and have him lead through to backer. He will run Power Shuffle against a four man front where there is a bubble over the tackle, and this makes it easier to get the WB through to the backer.

Power Load

If the #3 defender is whipping the FB on his kick out block, or if he is just closing down hard, the rules will adjust for the backside guard and the FB, and the play will run one gap wider. The WB, instead, will block down on the #3 defender with the FB kicking out #4.  The BSG leads inside the FB, with the hole wider. Against a  real outstanding DE or 7 technique he will start a double team with the TE and WB, after one count the TE will release straight up field then block the inside linebacker. If the TE doesn't go straight up the field the inside linebacker will be by him because there is no internal fake to hold the LB.


Coach Smolyn runs the counter at least two different ways, but both have the same blocking rules. I believe he pulls the guard and TE, but it might be guard and tackle. The safest way to run this Counter is with a single handoff to the WB who follows his lead blocker back over the center. This is a quick counter and would look just like the Down Counter that I’ve written about.

You can also run this as a Counter Criss-Cross (XX) and give the ball to the halfback first, who then gives an insider handoff to the WB. This will have more deception and give an extra blocker (the QB). Again, this would look just about like the Counter XX I’ve talked about.

Final Coaching Points on Power

Don finished his talk by covering some key teaching points for running Power:

  • Get the ball to the running back as quickly as possible.
  • Find out where the post-lead will be and practice this extensively.
  • Practice tough meshes, like the Counter XX double handoff. Make this a routine running back drill.
  • Run a ball security station with your running backs.