The Evolution of the Pitchman

Coaches wax philosophically about the good ol days, and about how everything we run now is just borrowed from the legends, and in many ways it’s all true. There aren’t too many new things we can do because of the limitations rules have on the creativity (see: A11 Offense) of a game that has existed for over a century.

One new wrinkle we’ve seen over the last decade that’s adapted an old idea and made it new is the evolution of the pitchman from a RB out of the backfield, to a WR either motioned into the backfield or out in the slot, to what we see now with a WR screen. When I refer to the different styles, I say “Nebraska (Osborne/Solich), PJ (Georgia Tech), Meyer (Ohio State) or Rich Rod (Arizona). PJ and Nebraska have always had a backfield pitchman, Meyer likes motioning the slot into the backfield or having him delay in the slot, and Rich Rod likes the WR screen.

PJ’s system, a wingback as the pitchman. The strength is the momentum the player has, being sent in motion, to catch the pitch and propel upfield for positive yards. While the success is weather dependent more so than a typical handoff, it’s less affected than having to throw the pitch as we will discuss later.  PJ allows for a true triple option read. The negative is having to use a wing back and send them in motion in order to run the play. While there are counters, having the WB motion left to right, then reverse field and turn his body back for a pitch, that obviously requires timing and teaching.


In the Nebraska system, the pitchman was a running back in the backfield, set in the I formation. Osborne and Solich ran the freeze option and speed option. Many people thought it was a triple option, but the dive was always pre-determined as a fake or give. The positives were being able to audible and change the play in and out of dive, not needing motion to complete the play, and being able to go away from the option in sloppy weather. The downside was losing vision as the QB because of the close proximity to the OL, and the QB taking a hit on every play.


Urban Meyer’s triple option, involving a RB and slot WR, was a way for his offenses to stay off the LOS- improving vision. The QB would have an IZ option to the back, if the DE attacks the QB he gives, if the DE squeezes or stays he would pull. The wrinkle here is having a slot either a) on the back-side that stalls and takes drop steps in order to get to 5×1 or having a slot come in high-motion, and he comes around the backside of the play and is there as a pitchman. The negative is, either way it becomes a triple option to a player that isn’t usually carrying the ball, like a TE or WR. This forces those skills players to spend indy time working on catching pitches from QBs instead of only working on catching passes and route running.

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The last system we will discuss is Rich Rod’s triple option, which he’s put in place in New Orleans, Clemson, Morgantown, Ann Arbor, and now Tucson. Rich Rod took the triple option of guys like PJ and Meyer and threw them out the window. His triple involves an IZ option with a RB, but instead of relying on a WR to come in motion or take drop steps and turn into a pitchman, he instead has the WR get spacing and make himself a target for a screen pass. The positive here is WRs are better versed in screen passes than being RBs catching pitches. The negative is if you want to throw to a single WR side, you have to hope either the CB bites on the IZ or spot drops deep into 3 or 4, because if not it will be difficult to get him open without a lead blocker. However, you can also gain a lot of space after the fake if your QB pushes out closer to the #’s and draws the OLB and CB in.


  • *from Smartfootball

Hopefully you’re ready to make your choice on which type of pitchman you would want in the triple option and can see a true evolution in the ‘pitchman.’