Football Understanding Urban: Blocking Inside Zone
By Ken Pryor
(Editor’s Note: This column is part 2 of a 3-part series on zone blocking courtesy of Ken Pryor, an offensive coordinator who works with the wide receivers at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md.)
Through the years, there has been much debate about the concept of “zone runs.” Realistically, there is only so much “zoning” in a zone, since much of it is still blocking the guy in front of you.
Inside zone blocking is designed to use the movement of the defenders against them as the running back finds the crease in the defense. Though inside zone plays are usually called to the guard or tackle holes (3,4,6,or 7), they can break open anywhere from tight end to tight end, depending on how the defense attacks.
Inside zone blocking rules allow linemen to use the movement and attack angles of the defenders against them. Whichever way the defender chooses to go, he is sealed off and the running back is prepared to cut off the block.
Running backs are generally taught to attack the line-of-scrimmage before cutting on inside zone plays. However, they must simultaneously display patience by “pressing” the line of scrimmage.
The best way to define the term “press” in this instance is to say the back must run almost on the heels of the linemen in a way that allows them to set up the blocks in a manner that actually renders the very cut-back lane he (the running back) intends to use.
In the first installment of this series, we talked about linemen rules or keys (i.e. being covered or uncovered). On all zone runs, the linemen must ask himself, “Am I ‘covered’ (is there a guy directly in front of me)? Or am I ‘uncovered’ (there is no one directly in front of me)?”
A covered lineman will take a short step to the “play-side” in an effort to control the play-side shoulder of the defensive lineman. This is called a stretch-step, which is designed to invite movement by the d-lineman, then immediately engage him.
Uncovered linemen execute the same step only with a twist. They employ what is called a “stretch-double” technique. Stretch-double utilizes the stretch step to play-side, but the uncovered lineman attacks the backside shoulder of the same defensive lineman.
In executing the stretch-double technique, the uncovered lineman assists the covered lineman to the play-side (i.e., if the center and play-side tackle are covered, the play-side guard executes the stretch double with the tackle, NOT the center).
If side-by-side linemen are both covered, the play-side lineman is “on his own,” and performs a base block technique without double team help.
When executing the double team, both linemen follow what some coaches call a “four-hands, four-eyes” technique. In other words they have four hands on the defensive lineman and four eyes on the linebacker in the area (their zone—which is where the name of the blocking comes from).
When that linebacker commits to attacking the Line of Scrimmage, one of the linemen chips off the double team and blocks him. The other lineman must be in position by then to take over the block on the lineman by himself.
Theoretically, the linebacker is the responsibility of the uncovered lineman, but in reality, either lineman can chip off and take the linebacker, depending on their position.
The beauty of zone blocking is that the defense is forced to pick its poison. Whichever way they choose to attack, the linemen can account for them. Meanwhile, the running back is trained to watch this block develop and cut off of it, no matter which direction the defenders are moved.
Ohio State’s very own Boom Herron does a nice job of executing in this video:
The goal of the stretch and stretch double is to create a cutback lane for the running back.
If the “stretched” defender has been properly influenced, he will move in the direction of the call, and the stretch-double prevents him from reaching a running back that has “cut back” against the flow of the play.
Many zone teams begin by focusing on the outside zone. Once that is established, and the defense is flowing fast to the sideline, the offense comes back with the inside zone.
It is important to note in zone blocking the linemen operate a system that moves to play-side, NOT toward the hole called.
Example: On a 44 dive, the play is called to the right guard, but the key is that it’s a right side play. The right tackle and right tight end's play-side shoulders are their RIGHT shoulders even though the play was called to the left of them. The 4-hole is to the right side of the center, so right is play-side for everyone on the line.
A very important block on an inside zone play is the “backside seal” block that allows the tailback to cut back all the way to the backside TE spot if the whole defense fights to the play-side. Depending on the formation used, the backside tackle, tight end, or fullback can be used to block the backside.
A sure sign of an inside zone play is when the fullback heads away, toward the tight end without a fake, while the tailback goes straight ahead for a handoff. In one-back sets the backside seal can be done by a wingback or H-back in motion. Look for this from guys like Philly Brown, Jordan Hall and/or Jake Stoneburner.