Over the last eight years, I have been using the zone run game with success at both the high school and college level. In learning the zone run game, I have realized its flexibility and many purposes. This post does not cover the specifics of inside zone or outside zone blocking, of which there are many theories and techniques. To learn more about how we block inside zone at Baldwin Wallace University, I suggest our video, “Simplifying Complex Offensive Schemes: Inside Zone Variations”, as a resource.
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At the high school level, we found ways to use the zone scheme so that we could eliminate other plays and, as Alex Gibbs asserts, give it the time necessary to make it effective. When we first installed it in 2004, we were primarily a two back team. Our zone running game consisted of three distinct plays that used zone principles: Stretch, Inside Zone, and Outside Zone.
Stretch was a full reach scheme in which we wanted to capture the perimeter:
Inside zone was used primarily to hit the front side B gap to the backside A-gap depending on the distortion and displacement of the defense.
Later, we found the need to have an alley or C-gap play in which we kicked out force and cut off backside flow. This became a simple addition as we maintained our inside zone technique from tackle to tackle and kicked out both a 9-technique end and strong support to create an alley in the play side C-gap.
In the previous season, trap was one of our main running schemes. We still wanted to run the fullback, so we added a zone dive and it quickly replaced the trap as our favorite fullback run. We used this as a complement to our stretch play. With the QB and tailback on a stretch course, the fullback takes an open step and the quarterback opens like he would on stretch with arms extended, but hands the ball to the fullback. Video of the play is below.
We also eliminated counter, and found a simple adjustment to the zone scheme to allow us a planned run out the back side. Initially, we practiced this with a stretch look in the backfield, but in the video the quarterback is holding the ball like a draw play. The tailback takes his first two steps like it’s a stretch play. The play is much like a sprint draw, but again the scheme and rules were zone for the offensive line.
Tackle trap with the hand off going to the slot – another staple in our previous run game – was fit into our zone runs with the trap being replaced by our zone scheme. The running back and quarterback mechanics remained the same as what we did with the tackle trap.
Clearly, the zone scheme can be used in a variety of ways. Currently, our primary modes of attack with the zone scheme are to either read a defensive player or insert a blocker into the scheme. We use the variations described in this article with both inside and outside zone.
As personnel has dictated, we’ve used the zone read in conjunction with variations of our one back and two back runs with a fullback, tight end or H-back being assigned to block the end. Because of the many variations of the zone play, we have found it necessary to define exactly what variation we want to run. We were always getting questions in practice from the QB and running back asking if we wanted “read it” footwork or “push it” footwork. Our running backs coach, Tony Testa, came up with an idea for a structure to call our zone run variations. We built on this idea and now have a simple way to communicate exactly what we want.
To be multiple and allow our line and backs clarity in which zone run we are using, we came up with a simple tag system that defines the play for our offense. We use our inside zone, termed “zone” and outside zone, termed “Oz”, with this structure. If we are reading a defender, the terminology structure is as follows:
Scheme (Zone or OZ) – Direction (Right or Left) – Tag for Variation.
Example: Zone Right Split
If we are inserting for that defender, the terminology works as follows:
Letter of blocker assigned -Scheme (Zone or OZ) – Direction (Right or Left) – Tag for Variation.
Example: F Zone Left Bob
Tags to create variations -
The following tags are used in our zone running game. Currently we don’t use all of these, but as I mentioned in my first post “Creating an Offensive System” , we want the structure to work like an operating system on a computer, so when we do install these variations, the structure is in place. Some of these apply to both inside and outside zone, while others are used primarily with one or the other. They designate who we are reading or inserting for:
Split – back side defensive end
Bob – back side linebacker
Mike – declared linebacker
Lead – weak side linebacker
Boss – strong side support
Wham – defensive tackle
With all of our tags, we will use read footwork in the backfield and read a certain defender. If we want a blocker assigned to that defender, or as we term it, “insert” for the defender, we will add the letter of the blocker we want assigned. When we insert a blocker, our QB and running back use footwork we term “push it.” When we use this footwork, the QB reverses out and the running back drop steps and take his second step at his aim point. Diagrams 1-2 illustrate the footwork.
Diagram 1 – Read Footwork
Diagram 2 – Push Footwork
Accounting for the Back side Defensive End
The first variation we install is “split”. We term it this because in most examples of this variation, we will get a split flow in the backfield. Whether the player assigned to the end is a fullback/h-back type, or the QB reading the end, the flow in the backfield splits. (Diagrams 3-4).
Diagram 3 – split flow created by a read
Video of the play is below:
Diagram 4 – split flow created by a blocker
Video of the play is below:
*Note: In the second play, the run goes away from the TE. We still tag this as “Split” and the TE is responsible for the defensive end. The play call would be “Y Zone Rt Split.”
Accounting for the Back Side Backer
“Bob” allows us to do something very similar to “Split”, but in this variation the back side offensive tackle will stay on the defensive end, and we will either read or insert for the back side linebacker. (Diagrams 5-6).
Diagram 5 – QB reads back side backer for flow or exchange.
Diagram 6 – a blocker is inserted to cut off the back side linebacker flow.
Video of “F Zone Left Bob” is below:
“Mike” and “Lead” give our zone scheme an “iso” feel as we insert a blocker for a linebacker to the play side. “Mike” indicates an insert for a linebacker to the tight end side, and “Lead” indicates an insert for the linebacker to the open side. We have not created read plays for these variations yet, but we have the structure set up if we decide to in the future. (Diagrams 7-8).
Diagram 7 – a blocker is inserted for the Mike linebacker
Video of the “Mike” variation is below:
Note: Initially this is an open side, but we motion over a TE, so this is “F Oz Left Mike” to us.
Diagram 8 – a blocker is inserted for the weak side or open side linebacker
Video of the “Lead” variation is below:
“Boss” allows us to put a blocker on strong support in the alley. (Diagram 9)
Video of “Boss” is below:
We experimented with “Wham” two years ago in spring ball, but have never used it. We included it in our structure so we have it defined for future use if we have a great read quarterback in our system. It’s an interesting concept in that we can separate the defense and account for a great defensive tackle either with a read or with a trap block by a fullback/h-back It’s another way to cut off flow, but in designing it into our structure, we realized we created a midline option type of play when we read it. (Diagrams 9-10).
Diagram 9 – trapping a DT with “Wham”
Diagram 10 – a midline zone option play for our QB
The great part about using zone runs is that you can make small adjustments to the scheme by adding a blocker or reads. While we have found ways to tie our technique of our gap schemes* (Power and Counter) into our zone techniques and fundamentals, I agree completely with Alex Gibbs’ assertion that you have to commit to the zone running game, and every player must execute his assignment. It takes time and repetition to run a zone offense and execute it with perfection.
We have illustrated the flexibility of this scheme. Again, while we do not intend to use all of these schemes in a given season, we have a structure that adapts to our personnel . This structure allows us to take our zone schemes and the skill sets of the players and match them perfectly. It allows us to have multiplicity in our personnel and formations while the offensive line can work the same scheme over and over to perfect their trade.
Please use the comment section and let us know what variations of the zone running game you use.
*for more on this topic “Simplifying Complex Offensive Schemes – Combining Zone with Gap Schemes”
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