Utilize the Sniffer Fullback

By Tony Shiffman, FNF Coaches Contributor

About the Author: Tony Shiffman began coaching at Springfield (Ill.) High in 2007 serving as the varsity offensive line coach/JV head coach, and strength and conditioning coach until 2013. He was able to help the Senators qualify for the IHSA playoffs in five of the seven years he coached. He then moved to Roanoke Rapids, N.C., and Roanoke Rapids High, where he helped to turn a 2-9 team into conference champs (10-4) and make a quarterfinals appearance in 2AA while serving as the offensive line coach/JV head coach and strength and conditioning coach. This past season he helped the Rossview Hawks finish with a 5-5 record while qualifying for the TSSAA playoffs. All told, Coach Shiffman has helped coach offensive lines that have blocked for seven 1,000-yard rushers and multiple 1,000-yard passers while helping multiple players reach all-conference status. He also helps co-host a weekly chat for offensive line coaches on Twitter known as the #Hogfbchat. Follow him on Twitter @Coach_Shiffman.

At Rossview (Ill.) we pride ourselves in rushing the football, controlling the game and keeping our defense off the field. When running the football this much from the shotgun, you sometimes need an extra blocker for an overcrowded defense or when you have an outside defender giving you trouble. This is where our “Sniffer” fullback comes into play and helps to benefit a downhill running football team. This player aligns himself directly behind the tackle on offense and serves as a hybrid player. Given where he lines up in the shotgun formation no player would really like to be known as a “Sniffer”, but aside from the title, this player can be a valuable addition to running the football from the shotgun.

Who is your Sniffer?

When utilizing a Sniffer, you have to think about what type of player you want at this position. Do you want an offensive lineman or tight end type who can overpower the defender? Do you want a running back or wide receiver type of player who you can utilize in the passing game as well as the run game? Or do you want a hybrid player – somebody who might not be big enough to be an offensive lineman but also not fast enough to be a running back? Ideally, this hybrid type of player should be used as your Sniffer, somebody who is athletic enough to handle a linebacker but physical enough to handle a defensive end. Some schools also like to use a smaller, quicker type of player for play action purposes and for motioning him out wide as well. Again, this is your own preference by your style of coaching and offense.

Why use a Sniffer?

For the simplest purposes, the Sniffer can block the play-side defender the easiest from his position closer to the line of scrimmage (LOS). When running power from a pro-gun shotgun formation, the play-side end (PSE) often squeezes down hard when the play-side tackle (PST) down-blocks. This can cause a tight fit for the kick-out block, which in turn causes a tight fit for the back-side guard (BSG) and the running back (Diagram 1). When you put the Sniffer in the game, he immediately becomes a more dangerous threat to the defender. When he lines up closer to the LOS, he can cut off that defender as well as have a better body position to make the kick-out block (Diagram 2). The same benefits for power benefit when utilizing the Sniffer in ISO and Counter as well (Diagram 3 and 4). The other key element is that this position lines up off the LOS so they are easily motioned across the formation if you want to run Power or Counter to the three-technique and ISO to the shade – essentially the Sniffer acts as the lead blocker on ISO and as the pulling tackle on Counter. He must be able to be multi-faceted enough that they can handle all of these assignments without having to change personnel.

Drill Work

The beauty of the drill work for this is you can drill the Sniffer as a running back AND an offensive lineman. We will drill the kick-out block on Power, isolation on the inside linebacker for ISO as well as pulling and leading on the linebacker on Counter. These are all simply drilled with bags in the summer and then using a full-speed linebacker or defensive end in the pre-season and in-season. We would often work these drills with a half-line so that you can work multiple backs at once. (It also helps with the offensive linemen pulling and understanding their assignments for these specific plays as well.) We stress for the Sniffer to keep his head inside on the defensive end in Power, turning his defender to the outside and keeping himself between the ball and the defender. The biggest coaching point for power is for the Sniffer to not just look for a big hit but to make a sustained block and keep his feet moving throughout the entirety of the block.  In the Counter and ISO plays with the Sniffer, we preach to MAKE and MAINTAIN the block. We are not so much worried if the Sniffer takes his defender left or right, we just want to make sure he makes the block, and again, keeps himself between the ball and the defender. It is important that the Sniffer breaks down and does not over-run his block. Again, the important coaching point for these drills is not contact but sustaining blocks and keeping his feet firing.

Where do you align your Sniffer?

This is really a coach’s personal choice or dependent on the play. When running Power, we would like to align our Sniffer directly behind the PST with his head almost touching the backside of the OL. This was to cut off the PSE as explained above. When we would run our Counter play with the Sniffer, we would often have him take a step backwards, that way he would have a little more spacing and not run up the backside of the pulling guard. When running ISO, the decision of where to put the Sniffer is truly your own.  Again, if you need to motion your Sniffer back, it is easy and can catch the defense out of position as it cannot adjust in time before the snap.

What’s the best way to use a Sniffer?

We consider ourselves a downhill running team so our top play is Power. Obviously when we run Power with the Sniffer, we are helping put that player in a better position to make a kick-out block. We have the luxury of shifting the Sniffer from side to side or even stacking the RB on the same side to hit the play down the pipe. We can also utilize a quick pop pass with this formation and movement (Diagram 5). We simply add a tag word to this play to let the offensive linemen know that while they need to sell the run, they cannot get too far up-field for risk of a penalty. When running the play-action pass with your Sniffer, it is imperative that his movements at the start of the play look identical to the run-scheme. It is important that the quarterback sells the run so that the linebackers bite and the window opens.


Using the Sniffer is a benefit to any downhill run game. It gives you the luxury of having an extra blocker for linebackers or overhang defenders as well as being able to use him as a decoy or as a mismatch against a safety or a linebacker in the passing game. We have found great success with the use of a Sniffer in our run game. We have recently started to use scheme using our Sniffer as a runner or motion man as well as a receiver in the passing game, especially play-action passing. We feel like we can truly get the best out of a hybrid player and create positive matchups for our football team.

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