Coaches spend a lot of time studying and experimenting with blocking at the line of scrimmage. Different blocking schemes are used depending on whether an offense is passing or running, and within those subgroups is a range of blocking assignments and changes that can help give a team the edge. The wingback is a position that has evolved, but it is still used in today's game to provide more blocking options and confuse the defense.
Wingbacks line up right next to the down lineman on one side of the line. Unlike the rest of the line, though, wingbacks stay standing and line up a step back from the line of scrimmage. Wingbacks help increase blocking ability on the line, particularly at the outside, but they also pose the threat of taking a handoff or breaking downfield to receive a pass. This puts the pressure on the defense to determine what the wingback's likely role is, and how this player should be covered.
Some players have been identified primarily as wingbacks. Johnny Rodgers, for example, was identified as a wingback when he won the Heisman Trophy playing for Nebraska in 1972. Rodgers was a player who could perform as a running back and a wide receiver and would line up in multiple positions on the field. Today, these players are more often referred to as hybrid players or multiposition athletes. A player lining up in the wingback position on a set play could be a running back, full back, wide receiver or tight end, depending on what the coach desires. It is advantageous to place skill players at this position.
The wingback has always been an option for football coaches devising schemes in games. One such scheme that made the wingback a prominent figure was the single-wing formation, developed by Glenn "Pop" Warner to take full advantage of running back Jim Thorpe's talents in 1907. The plays run out of this formation were similar to a sweep or outside toss in today's football, and the wingback was out in front setting up blocks to free the running back. Different formations have since placed the wingbacks in different positions, including behind the tackle and to one side of the quarterback and running back, but the function has remained largely the same.
The wingback is not always referred to as such, in part because the personnel or primary position of the wingback is often expected to use the skills of his primary position. A wide receiver in at wingback, for example, would alarm the defense that a passing play might be called, whereas a tight end used for blocking would suggest that a run play is coming. Wingbacks are used to improve blocking at the edge of the line. They can be brought in for several reasons, including to slow down defensive pressure or provide blocking assistance on one side of the field, particularly if an outside run to that side will be called. A wingback might also be brought in to confuse the defense and mislead them about the upcoming play. However, the wingback is not characteristic of any common football formations as it was in earlier days.