Simple Youth Football Unbalanced Adjustments
By FirstDown PlayBook on Aug 14, 2017

The first thing that any defense has to do regardless of what level of football you coach is to get lined up before the football is snapped. Granted this can be more difficult when you are coaching younger players, especially when the offense comes out in complicated formations.  When the offense comes out in multiple formations it can be hard on a defense but often times the offense will self destruct as they try to do too much.

It’s the offense that comes out in one or two formations that look very similar to your youth football defense and the offense is very good at running a few select plays out of both of these formations that can be a big problem for you and your defense. Unbalanced formations definitely fall into this category. Unbalanced formations come in a lot of different versions but generally are offensive sets that have five offensive players on one side of the ball excluding the Center and only two on the other.

When these formations are run there is generally a Tight End or Receiver to the strong five man side who is normally eligible but is now ineligible because they are covered up by another receiver. It also means that there is an eligible Tackle to the weak side because this Tackle is the end man on the line of scrimmage.

For the sake of this article we will break the unbalanced formations up into two different categories. “Over” and “Heavy”. You may decide to use different terminology but it is important that you and your team understand the difference. It is also important that you and your coaches speak the same language and understand the difference in these two ways to get into an unbalanced formation.

Unbalanced “Over” Formations

Let’s start with what we will call an “Over” formation. This is when a receiver comes over from one side and lines up on the other side of the formation. As you will see in the two formations below, when this happens there is a five man side to the formation and a two man side. Keep in mind that an unbalanced formation can be created out of any normal formation so this is just one example. There are a few things that your defense and more importantly your coaches must understand and see when it comes to defending these Over formations:

1. There has to be at least seven players on the line of scrimmage to make a legal formation.

2. There can be no more than five eligible players (to catch a pass) in the formation.

3. The widest player on the line of scrimmage to both sides is eligible.

4. Any other player lined up off of the line of scrimmage is eligible.

As an example let’s use this basic Split Backs formation as a starting point and let’s play a 5-3 defense against it. As you compare the first drawing to the second drawing below it you can see that the offense has made a very simple adjustment and brought the weak side receiver over to the strong side.

The Wide Receiver in the top formation has now lined up to the strong side to form what is an unbalanced “Over” formation.

If your defense will always remember the base football rules for formations it will give you a chance to get lined up. In the formations above your weak side Corner and Free Safety should immediately recognize that there is a receiver missing and over on the strong side. This should be like a fire alarm going off as they alert the rest of the defense! “Unbalanced Over!! Unbalanced Over!!”

Once the Linebackers are alerted they can now look for eligibles and designate the Tackle on the weak side as one eligible and know the Tight End to the strong side is not eligible because he is covered up by the extra receiver. In a situation like this when the offense just brings over a receiver to form an unbalanced formation we would simply adjust by bringing the corner over and then after you identify the eligibles just play your normal defense.

Remember that we are talking youth football here and the addition of another receiver to the strong side is not much of an advantage as long as the defense identifies the unbalanced formation and gets all of the eligibles covered. However, there are types of unbalanced formations that are more common to youth football and will require more adjusting on your part to prevent getting outflanked and outnumbered to one side.

Unbalanced “Heavy” Formations

Once again, we are going to use the terminology “Heavy” for these formations. You may want to use something else but what is important is that it is immediately identified that this is an unbalanced Heavy formation with a solid four man side not counting the Center. When this happens you have a whole new set of problems if you do not adjust your defensive front as well as identifying the eligibles.

Let’s take this same Split Backs formation above and now take out one of the receivers and put in an extra Tight End or an extra Tackle to create this formation:


One of the first things you and your defense must notice is once again there is an eligible player in the tackle position on the weak side. Depending on the rules in your league this player may or may not have to have an eligible number on. In this example we have created the Heavy formation with only five offensive lineman but it could just as easily have been created with six offensive linemen and the backside tackle position would be played by the sixth offensive lineman.

The problems this formations gives you do not stop with identifying the eligibles because you now have a four man blocking edge to the strong side. There is a Guard, two Tackles and a Tight End to that side. If your defense does not adjust the front to this then you are likely in trouble with the run game to the strong side.

As you can see if you compare the top drawing to this one the defense has made a “Heavy” check. A Heavy check is different from an unbalanced Over check because it tells the entire front to adjust one man over to the heavy side. In other words the offensive Guard to the heavy side now becomes the Center to the defense even though the Quarterback is not lined up behind him. This affords your defense a very simple rule that will allow them not to get outflanked to the Heavy side and still play their normal techniques. Once again, this has to be over-communicated by your defense as everyone is echoing “Unbalanced Heavy!! Unbalanced Heavy!!” so that everyone is on the same page.

Some of you may be saying to yourself “Man I don’t know if I can get that taught and executed in a game with ten and eleven year olds. Granted, that it will take some coaching and practice time but two things that will help you is to have some very base rules for unbalanced formations like the ones above because as we mentioned earlier these formations can be created off of any base offensive formation.

As a coach you should have these rules down pat and be prepared to draw these adjustments up if your opponent’s offense comes out in something like this in a game. This is also why FirstDown PlayBook is going to go into our five base defenses this week and draw up an Unbalanced Over and an Unbalanced Heavy check for all five so that you can print these out and take it to the field during your games. This way you are ahead of the game if your opponent tries to spring something like this on you!

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