Tailback

From Academic Kids

Tailback is an offensive backfield position in the sport of American football. See also college football.

In the strictest sense, the tailback is the back at the rear, or "tail-end", of the "I" formation, in which at least two of the three other backs line up directly under the quarterback, who is under center. (The version with all of the backs so positioned is called the "triple I" or "stacked I".) This name was invented to describe the position of a player who was even farther back than the fullback. However, the term is still used when only three backs constitute the "I", the halfback having been eliminated from the "stack". The term "fullback" having evolved from specifying the deepest offensive back to indicating the heaviest one, the fullback is the blocking back ahead of the tailback, and, with the evolution of the position names to designate role rather than placement, the tailback is sometimes, paradoxically, referred to as "halfback", even though positioned behind the fullback.

When the single-wing formation was prominent, especially in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s, the tailback was one of two persons who received the thrown snap from the center, the other being the fullback. The single-wing tailback was located about as far from the center as the "I" formation tailback, the difference being that there were no players standing between him and the center at the start of the play. (It should be noted that in the single-wing formation, the player referred to as the quarterback is in position to block, or to receive a handoff rather than the snap. It should also be noted that some single-wing nomenclature uses the terms "halfback" and "fullback" instead of "fullback", and "tailback", respectively.)

The single-wing formation is not much seen today, especially above the high school level. Besides the "I", a formation somewhat similar to it, the offset I or power I, is also seen, particularly at the collegiate level. In this formation, two backs stand directly behind the quarterback and a third is offset to one side or the other (the "power" side), and thus the tailback postion still exists. Often teams shift out of this formation prior to the snap, putting one of the backs into motion. In recent years, the term "tailback" (and "fullback" and "halfback" as well) has been largely replaced by the more generic term "running back".

"Tailback" has also been used to designate the primary receiver of a long thrown snap in other formations such as the shotgun, even when no fullback is in the formation, by analogy to the single wing. However, recent usage (again with the philosophy of naming positions by role rather than placement) has tended toward "quarterback" for the receiver of the snap, even when that position is the deepest offensive back.

Famous true tailbacks included Otto Graham in his collegiate days and Johnny Majors, more famous in recent years as a collegiate coach, who finished as runner-up to Paul Hornung for the Heisman Trophy while playing tailback at the University of Tennessee. Herschel Walker was often referred to as a tailback; his University of Georgia collegiate team sometimes ran out of the power "I" during his career there, where he was awarded the Heisman Trophy.

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