Guest Post: Personnel Packages and the Colts

Editor's note: This week's guest post comes from reader and friend of CA Grant Sinning. Grant visited training camp during the same days that I was there, and charted different personnel packages that the Colts used in practice. This is a great introduction to the most common packages the Colts have shown. – KJR

In football, planning is everything. Offensive and defensive coordinators spend time each week studying their upcoming opponents. One of the key steps of defensive game planning is studying personnel packages and what plays typically stem from each package. A personnel package defines which offensive players will be on the field for the play; they are commonly referred by a number system, such as 11 personnel or 21 personnel, although different teams have different terms.

As a fan, you sometimes wonder how the coaches on both sides of the field are able to have the right players on the field at the right time. It all stems from knowledge of the opponent’s personnel packages. Coaches have a small army of scouts that watch the next week’s opponents and for each game they will write down how many times a certain personnel package was used and what type of play was run out of it. So when game planning the defensive coordinator will see that when the opposing team comes out with a 12 personnel (1 RB/2 WR/2 TE) on 2nd down they run the ball 60% of the time. Having this knowledge allows the coordinator to put the right defenders on the field.

What does this mean for fans? Well just like the defensive coordinator you are able to keep track of what happens when certain players are on the field. This knowledge lets you feel more in tune with the team and maybe even impress your friends and family.

Earlier this week I had the privilege to visit Anderson, IN for Indianapolis Colts training camp for three consecutive days. While I was there I took notes on what personnel packages Pep Hamilton favored during scrimmages.

12 Personnel

The 12 personnel package includes one running back, two wide receivers, and two tight ends. For the current roster that would usually mean Vick Ballard, Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Dwayne Allen, and Coby Fleener. However, remember it could also be Donald Brown, T.Y. Hilton, Griff Whalen, Coby Fleener, and Justice Cunningham. Pep Hamilton, during my time at training camp, used this personnel grouping almost 60% of the time; we have to remember that during open sessions of training camp that he isn’t going to let very many secrets get exposed so take that number with a grain of salt.

Personnel packages are not the same as formations. In each personnel package there are multiple options for different formations.

In the top formation we see a trips formation on the left side with the quarterback in shotgun, a tight end to the right, and a lone offset back. This is still 12 personnel even though the formation is different from the base. The same goes for the bottom formation in which we see a quarterback in the shotgun with an empty backfield.

I believe that the heavy use of the 12 personnel will continue into the season. It gives Hamilton the use of our very potent resources. It keeps our very good tight end combo on the field which can help set up the run, play action, or even spread pass attack. The 12 personnel should be the bread and butter for the season and Hamilton’s stay as OC in Indy.

11 Personnel

The 11 personnel is becoming the most popular personnel package in the NFL. It requires one running back, one tight end, and three wideouts (the Colts will primarily use Ballard, Allen, Wayne, DHB, and Hilton). Its popularity has risen due to the increasing spread passing attacks that have taken over the NFL. It forces defenses into nickel packages and can set up the run rather than running to set up the pass as defenders are forced to align for extra receivers.

Here are some other formations that can be used out of the 11 personnel packages. In the top one, notice the bunch to the right and the tight end to the left; which is suitable for run plays to the weak or strong side or can be used for passing plays with extra protection from the HB. The bottom formation is another spread formation that is increasing popularity in the NFL.

This was the second-most used package during my three days at Colts training camp and I believe that it will be used extensively during the regular season as well. It allows for our three best receivers, tight end, and running back on the field. With the speedy DHB and Hilton extending the field it gives Allen, Ballard, or Wayne plenty of field to use.

21 Personnel

One of the biggest changes Colts fans will notice this year is the addition of a traditional fullback; Stanley Havili was brought in from the Eagles to fill that role. The 21 personnel consists of two backs, two wideouts, and one tight end. The 21 personnel package requires two backs and it doesn’t matter if it is one full back and one halfback, which is traditional, or two halfbacks.

One formation that I expect we will see a lot of during the regular season will come from the 21 personnel package and that is the spread (bottom of Fig 6). Regularly during training camp Ballard and Havili would go wide and leave an empty backfield. This should cause mismatches all over the field.

Hopefully you’ve gained a little more football knowledge while reading this post; I think interjecting football knowledge is essential for being more than your average fan. While watching the preseason games try to name out the personnel packages you see and take note of the play type (run or pass) and you will start to appreciate all the work that coaches do throughout the week to put their team in the best position to win.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.