Using the Sniffer Tight End in the Run Game

Using the sniffer tight end in the spread offense is a versatile way to attack the defense.  Having a physical and athletic player at this position gives your offense a balanced attack in the pass and in the run.  If you have the right personnel for the sniffer tight end, you could have your entire run game base out of this look with zone and gap scheme runs. Below are a few different ways that I plan for using the sniffer tight end when installing the offense each year.

Sniffer Tight End Run Schemes

Inside Zone

If you are a zone blocking team, then the sniffer tight end is a great addition to this run blocking scheme. This is especially true if you are playing defenses that maintain a 2 high structure and keep 6 guys in the box.  He allows you to be more dynamic in the run game by playing 6 on 6 in the box, and can open up the field with RPO’s for defenses that try to fit a 7th man into the box.  

Here are a few different ways that I like to use the sniffer with inside zone.

Split Zone

zone kick

Split zone is a great answer for coaches who are not comfortable with their QB running the ball in space. Split zone ensures that the backside defensive end in the C gap is now being blocked by the sniffer.  It’s also great against 6 man boxes because it gets a “hat on a hat” with 6 blockers on 6 defenders.

Zone Read

zone read

Zone read is great for QB’s that are comfortable out in space and can be treated like another running back in your offense. If you have a mobile QB who can be a threat with his legs, then you’ll really enjoy running zone read. Here the sniffer works back across the formation at the snap of the ball, but he now arc’s around the defensive end, leaving him unblocked, and getting his eyes inside for the first color that shows up.

This is a good look against defenses that use their DE’s to spill or squeeze down the line of scrimmage, forcing the ball into the QB’s hands. The sniffer is now added as a number in the blocking scheme for the QB when keeping the ball.


zone slip

Of the three shown above, slip is probably my favorite because it now becomes triple option with the sniffer “slipping” into the flat. The primary read for the QB is the same in Zone Read where he will give the ball to the RB if the DE squats, or keep it for himself if the DE chases the RB down the LOS. If the QB keeps the ball, he now has the option to run for himself or look into the flat and throw the ball to the sniffer.

The three plays of split zone, zone read, and zone slip compliment each other nicely because they put a ton of stress on a Defensive End. These three different looks are enough to confuse defensive ends which will make them slower to react and attack off the line of scrimmage.


zone wham

Although Inside Zone Wham is best to run against a backside 3 technique, it’s still a good option against a backside nose. It’s also good for DT’s who are aggressive at the line of scrimmage and want to get up field. Another reason why Wham is a good wrinkle to have with the sniffer is because it allows for the backside of the blocking scheme to immediately get to the 2nd level linebacker.

In this example, Zone blocking rules still apply to the front side of the centerline with the G, RG, RT. On the backside, the LG will now leave the DT unblocked and immediately work for the backside linebacker. The LT will base block the 5 technique on his own. The sniffer is now responsible for blocking the 3 technique. He must get into the line of scrimmage on his path towards the DT and attack the back of the DT’s near shoulder.


zone insert

Using the sniffer to insert in the zone scheme is another great way to create an extra gap in the run game. The sniffer is to insert for the backside linebacker on this play. It can be done like the image above where the sniffer is working back across the line of scrimmage for the backside linebacker, or he can line up on the same side.

The same zone rules apply for everyone on the front side of the play. The backside guard and tackle will base block their respective defenders. It’s up to the sniffer to insert cleanly for the LB. In order to do this, it’s best to coach the sniffer to insert through the “bubble”. If there is a nose to the backside (above), then the sniffer should insert through the B gap. If there is a 3 technique to the backside, then the guard will base block out and the sniffer should insert through the backside A gap.

This action in the backfield can disrupt the flow of the linebackers and prevent them from quickly getting downhill to try and stop the vertical run game of inside zone.

Power Read

power read

Not only is there countless ways to use the sniffer in zone run schemes, there are numerous ways to utilize him in gap schemes as well. For starters, power read is one of my favorite schemes with the sniffer. It breaks formation tendencies of zone read, zone split, zone slip as the the play is now designed to read the front side defensive end as the RB crosses the face of the QB.

This first look is great against DE’s that are squeezing down the LOS anytime the tackle is down or away. This is a quick and easy way to outleverage the defensive end with the sniffer being an added blocker to the run. He will arc to the same side of the call with his eyes inside looking for the first color that shows.

Power Read Shovel

power read shovel

Shovel is a popular wrinkle to those who run power read. The read key for the QB is the front side Defensive End. If the DE squeezes down the LOS, then the QB will give the ball to the RB on the stretch play to the outside. If the DE widens as the RB crosses the face of the QB at the mesh point, then the QB will rip the ball out and shovel it forward to the sniffer coming from the backside.

This play can be lethal for offenses because the stretch action between the QB and RB may influence the DE to widen, opening a massive hole for the shovel pass inside him. These two options are simple, effective and a safe way to attack the defense in space.

Power Read Dive Slip

power read dive slip

In this look the responsibilities have switched between the QB and RB. Now the RB is inside on the dive and the QB is outside on the keep. Power Read Dive Slip is effective in attacking the defense because of the amount of numbers that are being brought to the front side of the play with the backside guard pulling for the front side LB, the sniffer slipping into the flat, the RB on the dive or the QB keeping it to the outside.

I like this option because I can avoid having my QB take hits between the tackles by switching the responsibilities. If my QB has the read to rip and run, he at least has the ball out in space and has options to either tuck and run outside, or dump the ball to the sniffer who is slipping into the flat.

This is a great look whether the sniffer is coming from the backside or front side of the play. I like the sniffer slipping from the backside because it gives the same appearance as split zone. Again, this can confuse and slow down the DE making it an easy read for the QB. Although, If he aligns on the same side of the call and slips into the flat, he may influence the DE to widen which opens up the running lane for the RB on the dive who is following his pulling guard.


counter read

This is a simple counter read scheme that uses the sniffer to arc away from the call side. The split flow design in this counter scheme is extremely difficult to defend because of the guard and tackle pulling in one direction for the RB, and the sniffer arcing in the other direction for the QB on keep.

Counter Bash

counter bash

Of all our counter schemes, counter bash has been our most successful scheme. It’s extremely difficult to defend because of the backfield action that really messes up the flow of the inside linebackers. The DE’s are also easily influenced outside because of the horizontal mesh point, which typically puts the ball in the QB’s hands following his guard and tackle on counter back away from the read key.

In the case of the DE squeezing the LOS when tackle pulls, the QB will give the ball to the RB who has the sniffer tight end arcing to the same side as his “personal protector”. The split flow to this play really stretches the defense horizontally which is perfect when trying to execute gap schemes.

Counter Slip

counter slip

Counter slip is another triple option scheme that can put multiple defenders in conflict by stretching the defense horizontally. This is a great concept for the sniffer to slip towards the single WR side against 2 high or 1 high defensive structures. If the defense is in a 2 high look, the sniffer will immediately slip into open space with the safety playing from depth and the LB inside the box.

If the defense is in a 1 high structure look, then the OLB will be put in conflict as he’ll either have to widen with the sniffer, or take the QB on the keep. The idea is to make the OLB wrong. If he plays the QB then the ball should be dumped to the sniffer. If the OLB widens with the sniffer into the flat, then a running lane has been created for the QB to tuck and run the alley.

Multiple Ways to Use the Sniffer Tight End

With the exception of wham and insert, the sniffer tight end is usually kicking out a defensive end, arcing around him, or slipping into the flat. This will help you have answers for how defensive coordinators will play the C gap with their defensive ends. If DE’s have a tendency to get up field then split zone is a great answer to kick them out and create a nice cut back lane. If DE’s are constantly squeezing the LOS, then arcing the sniffer is best as the QB will keep the ball and run out the same side. If teams like to gap exchange by sending the DE down the LOS and an added defender off the same edge, then slip is a great response because the triple option gives the QB a chance to throw the ball into the flat.

These different options can be applied to your zone schemes and gap schemes. That’s why using a sniffer in the run game is so versatile because you can get a lot of mileage out of the position and you have countless ways to attack the defense with your best run plays.

Scroll to Top