How to Defend the Double Wing Offense

In this article I will discuss some of our ideas so that you too will know how to defend the Double Wing offense (or any big personnel grouping, like short yardage packages).

In the mid 1980’s, when I was coaching NCAA Division III in Southern California, I watched the Colton Yellow Jackets coached by Don Markham. Coach Markham, at the time, had one of the nation’s top running backs playing for him – a kid named Hemingway who would go on to play for the Colorado Buffalos. 

Coach Markham was tinkering with some offensive ideas way back then. He was in 2 TE Stack I (3 RBs) behind the QB and center. He was kind of running “student body” USC’s famed Power Sweep. 

It was from these early tinkering and ideas that Coach Markham came up with his famed Double Wing Offense. If you’ve been a coach for a while (1990’s to present) you have faced and had to defend this very physical run dominated offense.

When I arrived in Gold Beach, Oregon in 1997, it was the craze particularly with the small rural schools with limited staffs. In my first 8 – 10 years we would see it 2 to 3 times a year and in my second 8 – 10 years we would see it 1 to 2 times a year. 

In fact, in 2010 and 2011 we would face the Scio Loggers in the Oregon State Championships, who ran the Double Wing close to perfection.

The first thing you must do

Learning how to defend the Double Wing offense is much more about a mind set and execution of difficult assignments. 

If you’re used to defending Empty Formations all the time, this might take some getting used to – but you’re in the right place.

Your defensive linemen must be willing and coached up to sacrifice their bodies to create piles or a wall that running backs cannot find openings in. While we are a multiple front defense that uses stemming a lot, but we will not stem versus a Double Wing team. 

We also prefer to play just three Defensive Linemen inside the tackle box rather than four. We feel that with a Double Wing’s tight or foot to foot splits, three Defensive Linemen can effectively make the piles we need and leave enough players at level two of the defense to make the tackles.

We don’t count our Stud or End as DL inside the tackle box, as we use them as “Crashers” coming down right of the TE’s down block and blowing up the pulling offensive linemen.

It is also our belief that typically in Double Wing offenses the Center is their weakest lineman so we prefer a DL head up on Center. It should be noted that we take our Free Safety out verses Double Wing teams and instead play an extra Defensive Lineman we call our “Bear” lineman. 

Below is our initial Bear Defense vs. Double Wing:

Coaching Points

Tackle, Bear & Nose

Fire out into Offensive Linemen’s shaded knee cap, do not belly flop because they will just step over you.  Instead fire out into shaded knee cap and then, like a wrestler, build a base or bear crawl in an effort to make a pile and close running lanes off. Do not try to sneak a peek for the ball! If you are not being blocked, it’s TRAP and start squeezing down. Do not get upfield!

ILB’s – Sam & Mike

It’s a cut back designed power!  RB is going to look to cutback by design.  So be slow and do not over run the play.  If front side ILB to Flow, stack to your gap and do not just run into a pile.  Backside ILB play slow, do not over run the cut back lane.  Remember with a tight or condensed offensive formation the cut back lane is much closer to your alignment.

Stud & End

Flow to you and TE down blocks, crash right off TE’s fanny and be prepared to wrong arm pulling linemen in an effort to make a pile in front of Running Back.  Flow away, crash down the LOS looking for Double Wing – Scissors/Counter coming back at you.  Do not go too deep because in will run underneath you.

OLB’s Panther & Whip

Flow to your stack to outside and be prepared to contain the bounced RB attempting to go wide.  If RB goes inside your stack position to outside, squeeze keeping outside leverage on RB.  Flow away and be slow to slide to Reverse or Cutback lane coming back at you.


Take 3 read steps! If Flow your way and you see TE engaged in a block be prepared to help contained ball carrier who has bounced. 

You are not a primary run defender so be slow to react to run. Keep outside leverage when finally coming up against the run. Flow away, be aware of backside TE’s release! 

If TE is engaged take a slow pursuit angle through cutback lane and scissors/counter lane.

Your ½ pass defenders verses a condensed offensive formation so spacing in your ½’s to cover 2 released routes is important.

Extra Coaching Points

Obviously, these are just the basic coaching points to use. There is considerably more that goes into the preparation in how to defend the Double Wing.

Some other points or ideas when defending the Double Wing:

  • Do not sit in just one defensive look. Like all offenses of today they will figure out how to deal with it if you just sit in it!
  • Defensive Linemen have to be willing to be extremely physical in building the piles needed on LOS, but also be disciplined enough not to try and sneak a peek.
  • It’s a condensed offense based on power/off tackle. Because it is condensed it is easy to overrun responsibilities or to run in to piles. Backside has to play slower in order to stop the cutback or bend back lane. Do not over run the offense. Front side take your time reacting, do not run into piles but keep your designed leverage a squeeze ball carrier. Be Great Tacklers. Do the basics, defeat base blocks. Defeat reach blocks. Get the basics down!

Other Defensive Looks to Give the Double Wing Offense

Also, one a final note, a story that sums this all up.

In 2010 we lost in the State title game BAD to a great Double Wing team – Scio. In 2011 we beat them BAD in the State title game. In fact, we shut them out.

After the game one of our parents congratulated us and asked how we had come up with such a terrific game plan. I chuckled and said it was the exact same one from 2010, except this year the kids executed it perfectly.

So, without further ado, here are more looks you can use to defend the Double Wing. But remember, it’s about execution!

59 Bear Hawkeye

49 Bear Indian

49 Bear Indian Slant


Now that defending the Spread is mainstream for a lot of coaches, I hope you have learned that it takes not just a different scheme, but a different mindset.

This article was originally published in Headsets Volume 1, Issue 8.


Sign Up for the Best Football Newsletter

You might also like...
Enable registration in settings - general