Understanding Urban: Blocking the Outside Zone/Stretch
By Ken Pryor
(Editor’s Note: This column is the third installment 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. He has been a long-time contributor to The-Ozone, and has been asked to help us better understand Ohio State’s new offense since Urban Meyer was hired back in November.)
When I began compiling the information for this series, I found the most heated discussion amongst coaches is whether or not to implement a full ‘zone blocking’ scheme or continue to use ‘man blocking’ for a portion of the scheme.
The Indianapolis Colts, under offensive line guru Howard Mudd, used to full zone the front side of the play to provide for that fast flow displacement of the defense. Of course, they could do that when they have backs behind Peyton Manning with the speed of Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai, both of whom could get to the edge almost every time.
The predominant question is why teach outside zone at all? Many coaches feel it doesn’t need to be a main component of the offense. So why teach it?
Answer: It’s a curveball used to keep defenses off balance and defensive coordinators on their heels. Although outside zone is not a base scheme, the reasons why teams are implementing it can vary:
Top reasons for running the outside zone/stretch scheme:
Complements the inside zone scheme: While the ‘inside zone’ relies on vertical displacement of the defense, the ‘outside zone’ relies on horizontal displacement. The idea is to ‘stretch’ the entire defense the width of the field. This provides for numerous cutback lanes for the ball carrier. Although the play is intended to corral the defense, it will often cut-up instead of cutting back like inside zone schemes.
Similar line blocking assignments: Just like the inside zone, the outside zone utilizes a full zone scheme. Some teams have chosen to man block the play, but most coaches still use a covered and uncovered principle when running the outside zone. (Covered and uncovered principles were covered in previous columns is this series.)
Gets playmakers the ball on the perimeter: This scheme pushes the ball to the perimeter of the defense. The structure of the play (either in shotgun or under center) dictates how fast that ball can get to the edge. Programs like Boise State and Oregon thrive off running it from the gun, while the Colts ran it from under center.
Great against interior pressure: If the inside run game (inside zone/power) is successful, the offense can expect to see an increase in interior pressure from the defense. This opens the door for the outside zone as a counter to this pressure, by getting the ball to the edge. It uses the defense’s own aggression against itself.
Play-action package off outside zone action: Now we’re about to have some serious fun! (cue the Price Is Right loser music.) However, I won’t cover this aspect of the scheme in this column. Suffice to say the offense can really place the defense in the vice grips by passing out of this scheme. Stay tuned for another column.
Various trigger concepts: By ‘trigger concepts,’ we are referring to the actions off zone-option, such as the flash, jet, or speed sweep. This also includes the outside-zone option as well as the reverse package. We’re talking full displacement of defenders. In other words, we’re going to stretch the defense sideline to sideline to its very limits.
We have covered the zone blocking principles in previous columns so we won’t rehash everything today. Rather, we will focus on a particular outside zone concept favored by Pat Ruel, the offensive line coach for the Seattle Seahawks.
The 61-year old Ruel has coached the offensive line for a number of teams—both college and pro—including Miami, Arkansas, Michigan State, USC, the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants.
Ruel has been in Seattle with Pete Carroll since 2010, and he teaches a ‘stretch hook’ concept for his covered linemen to the play side of zone. He teaches his players to eye the outside armpit of the defender, with the objective to always advance to the second level/tier (linebacker tier).
Once the lineman is engaged with a defender, he needs to stay engaged until he feels the next adjacent lineman taking over his assignment.
Although the outside zone or stretch scheme is an outside hitting play, any interior penetration could slow down the course of the ball carrier. But Ruel doesn’t worry about getting beat underneath, because the ball will already be outside.
The defensive lineman may get penetration inside, but he is immediately placed in backside chase mode while the running back prepares to cut up into one of the many gaps afforded him by the defensive displacement resulting from the defenders being “stretched” horizontally.
Ruel stresses the idea of keeping his linemen’s shoulders square and getting the stomach up field to guarantee the defender gets hooked.
The Path/Reads of the Ball Carrier
Although this topic was not addressed much in this series, it really is a crucial component of the zone blocking series. While the line coach works with the “big uglies,” polishing their technique, Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton has his own work cut out for him.
He must teach the backs the nuances of locating their respective aiming points in the zone-blocking scheme.
Outside Zone aiming points
In outside zone, the aiming point of the running back is typically the outside leg of the tackle, or the inside leg of the tight end. Again, the seam may occur along this aiming point. If not, the cut is usually to the outside and up field.
The outside zone play is a good call against defenses that pinch or crash their defensive end inside. Some offenses will even teach their tackle to jab step inside in order to influence the defensive end to play hard to the inside.
The Stretch Aiming Points
Edgerrin James and the Colts made the stretch play famous. You may recall Manning reaches as far as he can and barely gets the handoff into the arms of James. The idea is to zone block the line of scrimmage while the RB takes a wider aiming point. Many times it will be the outside leg of the TE, or even wider.
Whereas the RB is a little slower and more deliberate in hitting the hole in the inside/outside zone series, in the stretch he has to run full speed from the beginning. Also, the cut is a little less pronounced than the other two zone plays. Instead of cutting inside or outside, the stretch cut is just a plant and get-up-the-field stutter.
Ohio State’s own Rob Harley does a great job of explaining what can happen if the outside zone play is improperly blocked by just one player. Take a look:
A few concluding thoughts
Clearly, there is so much more to be an effective zone blocking team than this. The biggest thing Ohio State’s offensive line coach Ed Warinner will work on are the initial steps for the linemen (often called a “lateral” or even slightly backwards “bucket step”).
Later, they work diligently on the proper technique for double-teaming a defensive lineman and then getting up to the “second-level” to block a linebacker. But again, if a defense “covered” all the linemen, there is no zone. It still comes down to blocking the guy in front of you.