A Brief Examination of the Pistol, the Diamond, Marqueis Gray, and Tim Tebow (?!)

Before I begin, I'd like to thank Niners Nation community members Fred P. Soft and I'm Friends with Merlin Olsen for providing an informative and constructive environment in which knowledge was free to flow.

This week, with the help of Google and previously mentioned community members, I've been boning up on my knowledge of the Pistol formation - the theory behind it, the personnel requirements, the endless possibilities. I'll try to not lecture the reader on the Pistol formation (and Diamond subformation, which is what sparked my interest initially), yet give a cursory overview of what is happening with these offensive formations.

The Shotgun, as we should all know, allows a quarterback greater ability to pass the ball by allowing him greater pre-snap field view, as well as moving him further away from an impending pass rush. The immediate downfall of the Shotgun is that a running back positioned in the backfield will be set to the side of the QB, which greatly reduces the amount of designed runs that an offense is able to execute through this formation. When lined up in the Shotgun, it is usually evident to the opposing defenders that a passing play is being called (of course, the Trap is a great way to catch a defense cheating). The Pistol is an evolution of the Shotgun formation which provides extra balance to an offense. By placing the quarterback half the distance of the traditional Shotgun, the running back is able to set behind the QB, located where that same QB would be in the Shotgun. Because of the backfield positioning, the defense has a much harder time divining what type of attack is headed their way, as there will usually be several receiving targets, an off-center quarterback, and a RB positioned to take hand-offs. Pictured below is Chris Ault's base Pistol formation. I have included two base formations, one with a 3rd WR, one with a traditional FB.

----- WR ------------------------------ LT - LG - C - RG - RT - TE ---------------------------------------

---------------------- (WR) --------------------- QB ----------------------------------------------- WR

--------------------------------------------------- (FB) ----------------------------------------------------

--------------------------------------------------- RB -----------------------------------------------------

As many would agree, the most important thing an offense can do in the game of football is prevent the defense from accurately predicting what the playcall will be - a priori in itself as evidenced by the implementation of audibles, play action, and general misdirection. The Pistol gives an immediate advantage to the offense by keeping a defense honest, because of the previously mentioned balance that is afforded by the formation. A natural evolution from this formation was the installation of the Option, a read play in which the offense has multiple methods of attack, and is contingent on the post-snap position and level of aggression by a single targeted defensive player, usually the defensive end or outside linebacker charged with contain. As discussed, the most important thing an offense can do is keep a defense from knowing their plans, and there's no better way to disguise your intentions than run a play that forms expressly on what happens in real-time. In the most basic Option, the QB and RB will run parallel, and depending on how the contain defender reacts, the QB has the 'option' of pitching the ball to his RB if said defender crashes down, or taking off with it himself if the defender plays passively.

Like any formation in the game of football, certain wrinkles may be added to provide further offensive advantage. One such wrinkle in the Pistol formation is that of the Diamond, a deceptive formation that has captured the limits of my imagination. Much like the Pistol, the Diamond is a feasible set largely because of the balance and deception it affords. However, unlike the Pistol, the Diamond is much more personnel intensive - it cannot be successful without players that provide incredible versatility. Diagrammed below is the basic Diamond formation. Please note that I have included two possibilities for the formation's LOS players.

----- WR ------------------------------ LT - LG - C - RG - RT - (TE) ------------------------------ (WR)

---------------------------------------------- HB - QB - HB ----------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------- RB -----------------------------------------------------

I cannot stress the importance of flexible personnel in the Diamond. The two offensive players lined up at each side of the QB have been listed as H-Backs (not Halfbacks!), players that can function in multiple aspects of the game, most importantly Blocking & Receiving. To illustrate the point, I'd call upon the importance of a player like Delanie Walker, whose ability to Block AND Catch would make him a pivotal piece of this puzzle - the dimension of uncertainty he brought to a defense was more important than his playmaking ability. By lining him up in the backfield as an H-Back, defenses could not be certain that his presence indicated either "pass play" or "run play".


We lost Delanie Walker to Free Agency, a player whom I consider to be a very valuable asset to deception formations like the Diamond. As I look toward the future, I can only grasp at straws at the value of specific players pertaining to their possible role in this type of scheme. Certainly, LaMichael James can both run and catch, which would make him very valuable at the "RB" position as detailed in the diagram. However, the question remains on who might be able to function at the rest of the 'skill' positions. In a perfect world in which Crabtree were still available, he'd make an ideal "WR" for this formation because of his incredible abilities as both a receiver AND a blocker, but I'd like to imagine that Anquan would be able to fill a very similar role, although likely slightly diminished in the function of utmost importance - keeping the defense guessing through simple intimidation of versatility.

With the public perception of Vance McDonald being a subpar blocker, I'd consider his inclusion in this scheme as less than valuable. The point I'm trying to foster in this discussion is not the direct ability of the player, but rather the perception of that player's ability in the eyes of a Defensive Coordinator. Until he has proved himself an asset in blocking, I will continue to mentally exclude him in my Diamond formation daydreams.

Naturally, however, the Diamond formation's bread and butter would be our own Mr. Vernon Davis. Lined up as a traditional in-line TE or as an H-back in a 2 Wide set, his value cannot be overstated. A willing and able blocker as well as a very productive receiver (I say this knowing that some jackwagon will mention that all VD can do is posts and fades), his skill set would serve admirably in keeping the defense perpetually guessing where the attack is coming from.

As we continue on, I will mention the likely inclusion of Frank Gore as the "RB", Bruce Miller as a mainstay at "HB", and Kyle Williams/AJ Jenkins/Mario Manningham in a 2 WR set. In a situation where Frank Gore is positioned behind Kaepernick, LaMichael James quickly becomes the odd-man-out due to his stature and inability to be seen as a lead blocker (his inclusion in a "HB" spot would immediately tip the defense that the attack will likely be aerial). Bruce Miller has proved to be an able receiver (although sparse), so his inclusion is something that I would consider nearly automatic. In the mentioned 2 Wide set, Vernon Davis would make an excellent H-back. However, 1200 words and many minutes of your time later, I finally come to my point.

At last, I have buttered the reader up well enough to begin discussing possible options of the future to fill the H-back role. Keep in mind, I am little more than a regular guy who just really likes football, but I have targeted two available players who would make an immediate impact in this scheme. I saw the distinct value of Arkansas' Chris Gragg as an option, but he was scooped up by another team in the recent 2013 Draft. The two players I speak of are our own UDFA Delanie clone, MarQueis Gray (former QB at Minnesota) and the man, the myth, the legend, Tim Tebow (former QB at Florida).

MarQueis Gray is a jack-of-all-trades in the Delanie Walker mold. Built like a TE at 6'4'' 240 and a 4.7 second 40, Gray played QB and WR in college and still put up close to two thousand yards rushing. Despite playing "inferior competition", this level of versatility makes him an ideal candidate to continue the work of Walker. As an H-back prospect, Gray provides the size, strength, and willingness to block, the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, the very desirable ability to run the ball, and the ability to pass the ball if pressed. Pictured below is Gray, doing his finest Heisman pose.


Finally, Tim Tebow. What is there to explain? The man had an unprecedented college career. He passed for over nine thousand yards, ran for close to three thousand, and is built to play the H-back role. With similar measurables to Gray (6'3'', 240, 4.7 40), Tebow would provide more than enough of a threat to keep defenses stumped. It has yet to be seen if he can block or catch, but at this point in his career, it's virtually guaranteed that he'd take a minimum salary just to stay in the NFL. There is, of course, that issue with his unwillingness to move from under center, but unemployment can make even the most stubborn person consider a different career path.

To be completely transparent to you all, I'm very excited about Gray as a prospect. If he can do enough to secure a roster spot, I feel that he can work wonders in this system. Furthermore, I'm like a kid in a candy shop in considering the possibilities that can be run out of the Pistol - but more importantly, I'm nearly giddy over the diverse non-traditional personnel that can be utilized to great success. As far as Tebow goes, I honestly believe there would be little risk in kicking his tires as a camp body to see if he might fill a system role.

Questions? Comments?

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Niners Nation's writers or editors.

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