We can describe what personnel an offense has on the field with a two digit designation. You’ll hear people talk about 11 personnel or 21 personnel or things like that. Those two numbers describe how many backs and tight ends the offense has out there.
It’s assumed that six of the 11 players will be the quarterback and the five offensive linemen. The first number counts how many backs there are, and the second number counts the tight ends. The number of receivers is what’s left over.
The two most common personnel groupings you’ll see the Alabama offense using are 11 and 12 personnel. So for 11 personnel, it’s one running back, one tight end, and then three wide receivers. For 12 personnel, the grouping has one running back, two tight ends, and two wide receivers. Alabama will, of course, use other groupings; but those two account for the vast majority of plays.
Both give you plenty of flexibility on formations and play calls. For the very first play of the season, the Crimson Tide lined up in ace formation (QB under center and one running back behind him) with 12 personnel. O.J. Howard and Miller Forristall are both lined up on the left side, and Damien Harris is about five yards behind Blake Barnett.
Most of the Trojan defense gets caught up expecting the inside zone to the right; but ArDarius Stewart, who had been the lone receiver on the right, took the handoff from Barnett on the jet sweep.
Alabama hurries up to get set. They keep the same exact personnel out there, but the formation is totally different. Barnett is in the pistol with Harris behind him. Howard is lined up as a receiver, bunched with Calvin Ridley on the left. Forristall is flexed out on the right side on the inside of the hashmark.
It’s an option this time, with Barnett able to hand it off to Harris or pull it and pass to Ridley. The result is an incomplete pass; but the personnel out there gave the Tide options. Forristall is a solid blocker and gets matched up against a defensive back. There should be room to run if Ridley gets the ball. On the other side, Howard was in position to block a defensive back as well if Harris had gotten the ball.
You can also make it a little more old school looking. Two tights end, one on each side of the line, both with their hand in the dirt. Mac Jones is under center with Najee Harris behind him. Jones hands it off for an outside zone run.
11 personnel also provides plenty of flexibility, especially with the emphasis Bama wide receivers put on blocking.
Alabama has 11 personnel here in shotgun. Damien Harris is the running back on Hurts’ right hip, and O.J. Howard’s a step off the right side of the line. Dieter and Stewart are also both on the right. Howard flares out into the flat, and Hurts goes right to him. It’s a quick, easy play.
Two plays later, the same personnel is still out there; but now Hurts is under center. Howard, Ridley, and Gehrig Dieter are bunched left while Stewart is all by his lonesome on the right. Hurts takes the snaps and tosses it Harris, who takes it around the left side.
Want to help your tackle with the edge rush and still have four options for your QB to throw to? Keep your tight end in, and let your running back match-up against the linebackers.
You can take that personnel and line up in the same exact formation the very next play. This time, of course, you hand it off to your running back (bonus Najee Harris hurdle there).
Like I said, those aren’t the only two groupings. Alabama sent out 01 personnel sometimes (0 running backs, 1 tight end) that left Hurts with an empty backfield. That would indicate that it’s likely a pass; but, with Hurts’ running ability, the defense has to wonder if they’re just being spread out for an upcoming QB keeper. This year, with no proven studs at tight end, perhaps Brian Daboll will go with 10 personnel to get utilize more of the deep, talented wide receiver corps Alabama has. Or, with his history as a TE coach, maybe he’ll up the number of plays run with 12 personnel.
There are a lot of different groupings the offense can use, and there are a number of ways those groupings can be aligned.