Install an Empty Backfield Base RPO

By Chris Parker

Empty is a big part of our offense. We started using empty when we realized our defense had a hard time adjusting to the formation, and we worked hard at coming up with ways to defend it.

After a few years, we came to realize we rarely saw the formation but had to devote practice time working on defending it regardless each season. Thus our empty package was born, and it has become something we have expanded on annually.

As a result, empty has given us a unique package within our offense to exploit the frustrations that defenses feel when lining up across from five receiver sets.

Empty formations can create great matchups for your players and give them a chance for success regardless of how the defense aligns. The defense must remove defenders from the box in order to cover all receivers, or they must keep the box sound and leave a receiver uncovered.

If the defense stays with two high safeties, a receiver is always uncovered.

The first part of our empty package is to take the numbers advantage if it is there.

On our basic empty RPO, the trips side of the formation runs a fast screen to No. 1. The weak side runs hitches. The offensive linemen block zone with the backside tackle locking onto the defensive end.

The quarterback should look both sides for a great throw and take it. If he does not see a throw, he can run.

Play rules by position: Quarterback

  • Read the grass. Throw hitch or fast screen if grass is there. If not, run zone. If unsure, it is probably a run read.
  • Pass read: Grip and rip. Get the ball out as fast as possible.
  • Have confidence in your teammates. The QB is the point guard on this play. Get the ball to the guys that have the best matchups and let them make plays.

Play rules by position: Strongside receivers

Blocking various trips alignments

Play rules by position: Weakside receivers

  • 5 hitch. Great get-off and stick route at 5.
  • Hands up. Anticipate the ball on the break.

Play rules by position: Offensive line

The offensive line blocks zone with the backside tackle locking on the backside defensive end. They should use their zone rules to account for the defensive lineman and the inside linebackers.

If an odd front gives the offensive line problems, the blocking scheme could change to a “gut” scheme where we block the defensive end with the guard and pull the tackle around for the inside linebacker. The most important thing for the offensive line in this scheme is that you find something where they can block the five people in the box.

Always remember: I there are more than five defenders in the box, there should be an uncovered receiver, and you should not have to worry about the run on the play.

Play-caller notes

This is a great call in the middle of the field or to put the strength into the boundary. This will create a mismatch on the inside hitch by the F receiver in many cases. It also creates a quicker, easier screen throw.

  • Offensive line note. This play is just as good with dart, trap or any other blocking scheme that takes care of five defenders in the box. We run zone because we work zone more than any other scheme. We have changed to run something different for different opponents.

Other empty formations


If we switch the strong and weak sides switch responsibilities, now the strong side runs all hitches and the weak side runs the fast screen to No. 1. The offensive line still blocks zone with the backside tackle locking on to the defensive end.

The QB should look both sides for a great throw and take it. If he does not see a throw, he can run.

Chris Parker is the head coach at Pickens High School in Jasper, Ga. Follow him on Twitter @PickensFootball.