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Breaking down football’s offensive personnel parlance — and how Florida lined up vs. FAU

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When watching football, knowing what’s about to happen can be all about knowing who’s about to make it happen.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

When Dan Mullen was hired at Florida, I still had a toe in the coaching world, which led to a neat opportunity. Mullen put together a clinic with his coaching staff that was to take place during spring practice. Florida had each position coach in a different area, and you had to choose who you wanted to hear speak.

As we are all well aware, Mullen has a reputation for being a great developer of quarterbacks. And I wanted to check out how the staff went about this development process, so I decided to sit in with Brian Johnson, Florida’s then-quarterbacks coach.

Johnson went through some of the basics of their schemes and their practice plans. He was very impressive, detailing the different nuances on pass protections, or the reasoning behind certain drills. All that information was great, but I was concerned with something else: I wanted to know how they went through the game-planning process.

Breaking the clinic out by position allowed for the ability to ask pointed questions. I asked Johnson a few different questions, but one of his answers stuck out to me — and has stuck with me. I asked if they tried to get all their information for the next opponent broken out by personnel grouping. I had coached in places where we were using a lot of different personnel groups: Four receivers and one back on first down could easily switch up to two receivers, two tight ends, and one back on second down. The defense would often change personnel to match, so this was something we definitely wanted to track when it came to looking at future opponents.

Johnson’s reply? “Not really, we’re going to be in primarily 11 personnel.”

And though that may have been Florida’s philosophy early in Mullen’s tenure, that line of thinking may have changed since. Florida has used a few different personnel groupings in the last couple of seasons, and I think we may see some new ones this year.

And my coach-level understanding what 11 personnel is — and why it and other personnel groupings are used — really helps me understand what I’m seeing as a fan on Saturdays.

After looking at how the Gators stack up in terms of talent by position last week, I wanted to give a primer on personnel groupings, go through which ones we saw against Florida Atlantic, and project some others we may see this season.

Personnel Naming Conventions

One of the great appeals of football, for me at least, is its rigidity. You only gained nine yards? That’s not a first down. You drove the ball 98 yards but didn’t gain the final yard? You get no points. The rigidity extends to personnel, at least in a couple of important ways: For every offensive play, the offense must have a certain number of people on the line of scrimmage, and can only deploy five eligible receivers.

I’m not sure exactly when the convention for naming personnel began, but it certainly seems to have happened before the passing game boom. Personnel groups are given a designation comprised of two numbers. The first number is how many running backs — half and full, technically, though fullbacks are a dying breed — you have on the field. The second number is how many tight ends. You subtract the sum of those two numbers from five to get how many wide receivers are on the field.

I know, I know: “Wide receivers can be the most important part of the offense! It makes no sense to have their presence only implied when talking about personnel groupings!” Like I said, this nomenclature is likely quite old.

Also? I know, I know: You were told there would be no math. However, we can avoid the math with some simple memorization! Here’s a simple table (made significantly more complex with notes jotted at an obscene hour of the morning by the editor — Andy.)

Personnel Groupings Guide

Personnel Grouping Running Backs Tight Ends Wide Receivers Notes
Personnel Grouping Running Backs Tight Ends Wide Receivers Notes
00 0 0 5 Classic "five wide" personnel; provides for "empty" or "five-wide" formations
01 0 1 4 Spread packages, "five wide" looks with TE, 4WR + in-line TE
02 0 2 3 "Five wide" with multiple TEs or rarely-seen split sets in which TEs replace RBs
10 1 0 4 Classic spread personnel; converts from/to "empty" with RB motion
11 1 1 3 Ultra-flexible; supports bunch/doubles/trey/trips WR alignments
12 1 2 2 "Ace"; foundation for single-back alignments with in-line TEs
13 1 3 1 Goal line personnel with WR threat; I-formations; power running typical
20 2 0 3 Once more for I-formation trips, now often two-back pistol/shotgun
21 2 1 2 Often called "Pro"; I-form, strong/weak, near/far, "split"
22 2 2 1 Power formations with lead blockers
23 2 3 0 Traditional goal line personnel; often I-form; allows for "jumbo" packages
31 3 1 1 "Diamond" formation; rarely seen
32 3 2 0 Wishbone/flexbone "heavy" sets; vanishingly rare in modern football

As you likely know if you’ve ever heard coaches talk in this jargon, the terms for the groupings are pronounced like full numbers. 11 is “eleven,” not “one-two”; 12 is “twelve”; and so forth.

As we go through this season, I will be tracking Florida’s use of these various personnel groups. Each week, we will take a look back at how much each group played and how they did, and try to spot trends in the data. It should be a fun way to see how the team plays and what types of adjustments they make for each opponent.

Personnel Groupings: Florida vs. FAU

Before we get into an explanation of each group, let’s look at how the Florida offense performed in game one. Each personnel group is also split by quarterback, so we can get an idea of when the offense performed best.

Personnel Grouping Performance: Florida vs. FAU

Personnel Total Plays Total Yards Yards Per Play Run Plays Run % Rush Yards Yards Per Rush Pass Plays Pass % Pass Yards Yards Per Pass
Personnel Total Plays Total Yards Yards Per Play Run Plays Run % Rush Yards Yards Per Rush Pass Plays Pass % Pass Yards Yards Per Pass
11 (Jones) 47 294 6.26 24 51% 202 8.42 23 49% 92 4.00
12 (Jones) 5 17 3.40 4 80% 14 3.50 1 20% 3 3.00
20 (Jones) 6 16 2.67 3 50% -2 -0.67 3 50% 18 6.00
Jones Total 58 327 5.64 31 53% 214 6.90 27 47% 113 4.19
11 (Richardson) 20 223 11.15 11 55% 183 16.64 9 45% 40 4.44
13 (Richardson) 2 2 1.00 2 100% 2 1.00 0 0% 0 0.00
20 (Richardson) 1 1 1.00 1 100% 1 1.00 0 0% 0 0.00
Richardson Total 23 226 9.83 14 61% 186 13.29 9 39% 40 4.44
Florida Total 81 553 6.83 45 56% 400 8.89 36 44% 153 4.25

On a per-play basis, Florida’s offense was more productive with Anthony Richardson in at QB. However, over 100 of the yards during Richardson’s time on the field were the result of two well-designed explosive plays.

Let’s take a closer look at each personnel group that played against FAU.

11 Personnel

This is the grouping that Brian Johnson mentioned to me back in the spring of 2018. 11 personnel is also one of the most common groupings in the modern game. At the NFL level, this grouping was used on 60% of plays in 2020.

11 personnel consists of one back, one tight end and three wide receivers. With the flexibility of modern tight ends and backs in the passing game, this grouping allows you to play in a variety of formations, including spread-out empty-backfield sets.

And modern-day Florida still is, as Johnson told me a few years ago, a primarily 11 personnel team in its opener. Over 81 offensive plays, Florida was in 11 personnel 67 times (82.7%). The offense gained 517 of its 553 total yards with this personnel grouping, good for 7.72 yards per play, and almost all of Anthony Richardson’s damage was done from it.

12 Personnel

This a personnel grouping that is quickly gaining popularity around the country. It’s the second most popular grouping in the NFL and you have seen it pop up at the college level as well. Florida used some 12 personnel packages last season, even in games when Kyle Pitts did not play. 12 personnel consists of one back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers. A lot of offenses use one tight end as an in-line, hand-in-the-dirt type, then use the other as more of a “move” guy, often lined up as a wing and/or put in motion before the snap.

Florida got in this grouping inside the red zone a few times. In total, Florida was in 12 personnel on only 5 (6.17%) snaps. The Gators only gained 17 yards in this grouping for 3.43 yards per play. Regardless, I think we see more of this grouping going forward.

20 Personnel

A personnel grouping without a tight end, 20 personnel includes two backs and three wide receivers. This has not typically been a big part of the Mullen offense at Florida, but I believe we may see this group make more appearances this year. Florida has a very talented group of backs, and their versatility would allow Mullen to deploy them all over the field.

Against FAU, 20 was the Gators’ second-most-used grouping, as Florida deployed it on seven (8.64%) plays. 20 personnel didn’t have a ton of success, gaining 17 yards for a paltry 2.42 yards per play. Still, I think this group has tremendous room for growth and I believe you will see more of it as the season goes on,

13 Personnel

This was a bit of a curve ball, but it made sense in the situation. Down in the low red zone (inside the 10-yard line), Florida broke out a personnel grouping with one back, three in-line tight ends, and one receiver split wide.

The Gators only got in this grouping twice, and only showed downhill run out of it in those two opportunities. I’d imagine you may see some interesting shifts and play-action passes if this particular grouping trots onto the field in future games, though.

Personnel Groupings to Watch For

10 Personnel

This grouping is what comes to mind for many when thinking about the vaunted spread offense. But most modern spread teams have shifted towards utilizing 11 personnel, leaving 10 personnel as a base grouping most common for pure “Air Raid” teams, like those run by Mike Leach or his coaching tree. Leach loves to get in 10 — one back, zero tight ends, and four wide receivers — and you will likely not struggle to picture teams from Lubbock to Pullman to Starkville in the formations it permits.

(Leach really knows how to pick cosmopolitan metropolises to work in, doesn’t he?)

In any case, it could be fruitful for Florida to put a single back on the field along with four wideouts if it thinks that those wideouts are its four best receiving threats.

21 Personnel

21 is a traditional personnel grouping. It includes two backs, one tight end, and two receivers, and it’s the bedrock for classic “I” formations with an in-line tight end.

But 12 and 21 are becoming almost interchangeable in the eyes of some — and 12 personnel generally feeds into a much larger variety of formations, thanks largely to the use of “move” tight ends that could just as easily fulfill the role of the traditional fullback. I don’t anticipate Florida using a tight end, a halfback and a traditional fullback, especially given that there are no players on Florida’s roster listed as fullbacks, but we may see two halfbacks and a tight end at the same time.

00 Personnel

With a running threat at quarterback no matter whom of Jones or Richardson takes snaps, I would imagine that we will see a good number of empty-backfield sets from these Gators. Florida deployed them fairly frequently last year, but usually with its normal 11 personnel, as Kyle Pitts was essentially always among the Gators’ best four pass-catching options.

That might not be the case this year, and so if the coaches want to put their best receivers on the field, they could break out 00 personnel, which features no backs or tight ends.

01 Personnel

Then again: With the flexibility of its tight ends, Florida could give other teams trouble with 01 personnel, which includes zero backs, one tight end and four receivers.

One of the primary benefits of running 01 personnel out on the field is how difficult it would be for defenses to pick their personnel to match. If they went to six defensive backs, Florida could use its tight end as an extra blocker in the run game; if they kept linebackers on the field instead, those bigger defenders might end up matched up with fleet-footed wide receivers.

One of the most fun things about the Florida offensive roster is its wealth of flexible players. There are receivers who could get some carries, some backs that can flex out and play receiver, and some tight ends that can play all over the field.

It will be interesting to see how Dan Mullen and staff choose to deploy this group — and I certainly won’t be expecting to see 11 personnel every down.