Insert Zone - Adjustments in Zone Identification, RB Entry Points and Training the Insert

This report may be a zone study, but it’s essentially an advancement on running the inside zone concept. We specifically researched programs who were “hanging its hat,” as coaches say, on the inside zone concept. Specifically, we wanted to contact coaches who were finding ways to run the inside zone when they had to run the ball, which often came at the expense of seeing loaded defensive boxes.  Of course, one of their answers was to use an insert a blocker such as a fullback or H/Y off the ball. But before we address the three run concepts in this study (Divide Zone, Cut Iso and Wham Zone), we wanted to provide the framework of how coaches teach their offensive linemen who to block. We didn’t want this to be a technical report on how to block the inside zone play. Much of that has been studied and reported in the past. 

In this case, we present our research on how coaches have tweaked their zone identification to account for loaded boxes pre-snap and defensive “back gapping” post-snap. We also researched how these new box counts were correlating to the path and reads of the ball carrier. Finally, we wanted to provide a skeleton outline of how coaches were training their H back in practice to prepare him to make the necessary blocks to make these schemes productive.

Identification Systems
In most programs’ zone schemes, the quarterback or center is expected to make the front identification by identifying the play side inside linebacker (Mike) and the line will work their zone combinations to that defender. The “point” is where the center is working his combination block. In most cases, that player will be the play side (or center side) A gap defender. The count (front side and back side) occurs from there. The guard is responsible for number one (on or off the line of scrimmage), while the tackle is responsible for number two (on or off the line of scrimmage). Consider the following diagram where all defenders are accounted for on the line of scrimmage.

When second level defenders are tied into the count, they can still be given numbers. Consider the following diagram:

This common point system can be implemented against most base defensive fronts.

Consider the following point rules for one of our two-back contributors that will use a default for the center to identify second level defenders and will identify the 30-technique backers (split look) or 10-technique backers (stack look) to start his combination.

Three Down Stagnant Front Identification 

There are some coaches, like Brad Davis at the University of Florida, who chooses not to run inside zone against three-down, movement based structures. “The angles are bad, particularly against two-gap defenders,” he told us. “It’s easier against four down because you can control who the quarterback reads. There is not as much fold action with the defensive end and outside linebacker.”

So when we first started conducting our research, we were curious to see how many coaches were confident in running inside zone schemes against odd fronts. We had to believe that for coaches that hang their hat on the inside zone scheme, they will make adjustments to “do what they do.” Turns out there were some concern about zoning the odd front: particularly the presence of two 4i techniques (otherwise known as the Tuff front) and the potential of movement post-snap. With movement gaps change so it’s vital to get the number count right pre-snap.

We will present our research on how coaches are addressing both 4i alignments and movement, but before we do, we’ll address how they are identifying stagnant box structures.

Base 3-3 Box (see Diagram 1)

The consensus is to “own the stacks” with the Mike LB being the Mike point.

Diagram 1

Base 3-4 Box (see Diagram 2)

Here, the thought process is to push the count to the overhang rush (or Jack linebacker). Tyler Bowen, the offensive line coach at Fordham said, “we will never account for a defender outside the framework of the original six that we declare pre-snap. We will handle all other defenders with a RPO tag or feel comfortable about our matchup with the RB on their unblocked player.”

Diagram 2

Four Down Stagnant Front Identification

Because most four down fronts will include the presence of a 3-technique, coaches are able to tag the inside zone to either the bubble or open B gap. It makes it easier for coordinators to clear the box and paint a more lucid picture for their offensive lineman. In most cases, the point will be the play side stack linebacker when there are two 30-technique backers and the 10-techinque middle linebacker in a stack look. 

4-2 Box (see Diagram 3)

Diagram 3

4-2 Box with Over-shifted Front (see Diagram 4)

Diagram 4

No Count System

There are some tempo teams like Monmouth College (IL) that choose to not even use a point system in their inside zone concepts. Offensive line coach Joe Freitag feels it will slow them down. Instead, they use covered and covered rules. If you’re covered, it’s a man-blocking scenario. If you’re uncovered, you are looking to combo to the next level. “We do not identify any fronts unless they force a check in how we are blocking things,” he told us. “The biggest thing for us in our zone scheme is to have great double teams. We really want to move the down linemen. The first week of camp we will not block any linebackers. We only block down linemen just to emphasize it. That has been a great tool for us in setting that mindset.”

Combination Blocks on the 4i

One of the deterrents of running the inside zone concept against odd fronts is the viability of a dominant 4i defender who will occupy the B gap. For the majority of coaches that teach a play side A gap track on the inside zone, if there is no lateral displacement on this defender, the success of the play could be stymied. So we wanted to make how coaches were blocking this defender a focus of the study. 

Editor’s Note: Because the focus of our study is on schematics, you can find plenty of examples of drill work in our drill library, we limited the fundamental component to how specifically coaches are blocking the 4i defender in these concepts.

Scott Wooster, the offensive line coach at Wayne State University, uses two fundamentals for the covered man and the uncovered man.  Is the covered man covered on his play side pad or backside pad? Then the uncovered man has a first level defender in his zone or someone that can veer into his zone. 

Jack Technique

“Against a 4i technique, the covered man is the play side tackle, and he is covered on his back side pad,” Coach Wooster told us. “So he will use a ‘Jack’ technique stepping up and down with his play side foot and the second step is up the field into the crotch. We use a single under with the backside hand and pump the play side hand.  We try to get the back side shoulder involved get under the 4i’s pad to ‘jack him up,’ breaking the defenders upper and lower body leverage and power.  The covered man works one third of the man and he is the eyes of the operation keeping eyes on the linebacker.” 

Scoot Technique

The uncovered man uses a “scoot” technique pushing off his back side instep to go lateral to the covered man’s hip and then gets vertical working two thirds of the defender with a sternum aim point.  “He uses a double under technique releasing the hips to drive the 4i vertically,” said Coach Wooster. “If the linebacker plays behind the combo, the covered man resets his eyes to the sternum, refits his play side to get a double under hand surface and ‘forces’ the uncovered man to his vertical track to dip-double under and drive the linebacker with a sternum aiming point. If the 4i plays across the play side tackle’s face he ‘accepts’ the defender with his single under hand collecting him into a double under and depending on the 4I’s movement to a row & press torque out. The uncovered man sticks his play side foot into the ground after his scoot and tracks vertical to dip-double under- and drive the linebacker.”

North Cobb High School offensive line coach Robert Ingram chooses to use a two-handed technique. “Therefore we use a great over and up step (which is a lateral step, most similar in flex bone systems), to marry our hips together and punch with both hands on the numbers making sure we gain ground on the first step,” said coach Ingram. “We don’t want the defender gaining ground on us. We want to be the aggressor. Everything else stays the same. We want a great power step. We pull the guns from the holster. We shoot the hands to the near number on the jersey and we accelerate the feet on contact.”

As far as the timing on the linebacker; “We don’t worry about the linebacker,” he told us. “The linebacker will block himself. If we don’t get movement on the 4i and knock him off the LOS, he will make the tackle, regardless of what the LB does. We teach our linemen on a combo to let the LB come to the LOS before we disengage the double. If we ever block a linebacker downfield, we are usually wrong unless the DL is on his back. The guard will have his eyes on the inside gap and the tackle will have his eyes on the outside gap. We don’t have to use our eyes to block a defender on the line of scrimmage on a combo block. The eyes have to be in our gap. Our main focus is knocking the defender on the line of scrimmage backwards. Once we get movement and the linebacker is within arm’s reach, we detach and block him. The guard cannot let him cross our inside eye. The defender has beaten us to the gap if we do. As soon as we detach, we get the elbows back and punch the inside number of the linebacker to keep him from the gap. If the linebacker goes outside to C gap for any reason, the tackle allows him to run, but not cross our face toward our backfield. Once again, if the tackle feels the linebacker penetrating through to our backfield, whether on a blitz or a gap exchange, we treat it as we would on an outside defender and attack the near hip.”

When Coach Ingram works on the zone combinations on Monday’s, he will stand behind the two offensive linemen. “We begin with a three foot split and alter that based on how good the defensive lineman is,” said coach Ingram. “The better he is, the more we cut the split down, but never less than two feet. I will have the linebacker give each group three looks: stacked, inside alignment and outside alignment. I will then tell the defensive line and linebacker where to go and watch the offensive line that should be combo’ing off on him. Is he leaving early? Is he allowing him to cross our face? Are we getting a punch and movement on the LOS? Once we come off, are we getting a good punch on the LB? Typically, centers and guards work together, and then guards and tackle work together while the centers work on something else for that week. It’s great to have two offensive line coaches to separate at times, but the centers and guards must work together on combos and the guards and tackles must also work together on the combo, whether on the zone or stretch.”

Like Coach Ingram, most coaches feel that the hip-to-hip footwork is crucial when blocking the play side 4i technique because the guard must find a way to secure the B gap against any potential movement before working up the second level backer. The clip below from Southwestern Oklahoma State University is a perfect example of this technique (Diagram 5).

Blocking a Back side 4i Technique

While blocking a play side 4i technique has it’s challenges, perhaps there is not a  bigger obstacle in running the inside zone against an odd front than securing the backside B gap. It’s what Fordham offensive line coach Tyler Bowen calls the most difficult block in the zone play. “The guys that really matter in the play are the center to the backside tackle,” he told us. “In our system, the backside is the front side. The play side tackle is non-existent. The ball should never get there anyway. You don’t get a lot of bounce reads because defenses will have a player to contain it. We want to pry the defense in half and be able to pry out the front side and have your true zone combination on the backside where you are creating horizontal and vertical displacement.”

For Coach Bowen, the key is for the offensive tackle to stop penetration by working hat to the play side number and drive the defender vertically keeping that landmark (see Diagram 6).

Diagram 6

Depending on the ability of the offensive lineman, Coach Bowen will also work a veer release to get that backside tackle to his assignment in zone away. If the step is flat and quick enough, he will be able to get there as indicated below:

For Scott Wooster, the offensive line coach at Wayne State University, the technique of that backside tackle will depend on the alignment of the 4i technique and the backside inside linebacker. “If the backside tackle has a tight 4i, he is foot through crotch and will slide with a lateral step with his inside foot to a far V of the neck aiming point,” said Wooster. “To cover and influence the 4i inside, he will double under the 4i and his back side knee target is the defenders back side knee. He will drive the defender on the angle he finds him on.” 

If the 4i is loose, off the back side tackle’s pad in the B gap he will “scoot” into the B gap, going lateral to vertical, and perform the same block as above. “The back side tackle’s pre-snap indicator is the back side linebacker as well, if he is in a true 30 technique (outside leg of offensive guard) he is thinking more slide step & drive on the angle, if he is wider, more stack 40 then he is ready to redirect for a loop 4i technique,” said Coach Wooster. “It’s lateral footwork, backside foot drive. We are going to enter it just like we’re combo-ing the guy where his eyes are at an inside number aiming point. We want to wash him into the A gap. We talk about drive catch and drive stick. Even if I don’t get a ton of movement if I cancel him out it will lead to a shallow cut off his outside hip entry point. We don’t want to open up hips with pointing our first step. I would rather cover him and cancel him out then give up any penetration because then you’re going to pick your cutter and now you’re in trouble.”

Building the Zone Forward

Blocking stagnant fronts all sounds simple enough: there is a hat for hat and off you go. But when defenses find a way to creep and extra hat (either pre-snap or post-snap) into the run box there are two choices:

  1. Throw off him in the form of an RPO
  2. Change the identification count up front to account for him

Since the RPO game is a whole other world, one that we’ve written three special reports on, we will center our research on the latter.

So now how coaches are blocking the inside zone is changing. The inside zone for years has been a cutback play, but the presence of extra run fitter, such as insert safeties, has forced coaches to change their identification system in order to get a hat on a hat and push the play front side. Now keep in mind this is an entirely new progression, one that we’ve struggled to validate with film. However, these are the discussions at least four of our contributors to this study are having this spring.  Consider the diagram below from a four down front. There is a six-box with a cheat safety coming from the boundary (see Diagram 7). In the traditional sense, the offensive line will declare the combination block to the play side linebacker, without accounting for the drop safety (see Diagram 8).

Diagram 7
Diagram 8

How an offense influences that safety will determine whether or not the play is successful. At times, that can come in the form of a one-on-one situation with a deep safety and ball carrier. While some coaches are okay with that, others are devising ways to “build” the zone play forward and having their identification count one player wider to account for that drop safety. In this case, the play side combination is working to the drop safety (see Diagram 9).  It’s an adjustment that coaches are now making in their game plans to supplant RPOs that may affect that extra run fitter. Some are choosing to change the count system by having that drop safety be the point while others like Chris Fisk at Central Washington are just choosing to full zone the scheme using covered and uncovered principles.

Diagram 9
Diagram 9A

Solution to Even Front Back Gapping

This methodology has become the solution to four down, quarters coverage structure coaches choose to insert with either the field linebacker or boundary safety, thus “back gapping” the zone play. This is triggered by the H/Y off who will run the cut zone path we describe in case two and blocking the backside C gap defender. You see in the clip below, the field side safety rotates late into the box, but is picked off by the front side guard who needs to push the identification system one gap wider.

Because of the hesitation of an experienced back, the play works out, but the backside guard is wasted. It’s something Tyler Bowen, the offensive line coach at Fordham, will be working on in the spring. It’s also a concept that Wayne State University will be developing. But according to offensive line coach Scott Wooster, pushing the count a defender wider requires a wider aiming point for the back, right now Wayne State is using the outside leg of the center as a landmark. “We take our count system one guy wider because even if they roll back, they roll back into us,” said Coach Wooster. “But if they leverage it, we have angles to push everything forward. I think we changed the aiming point of our back and because we get so much leverage and rolling forward it lets us use their momentum against them. We are able to define defenders call side and cut off backside hip.” In order to do this, Wayne State will take their back side combination to the play side split in four down fronts to account for the back gap (see Diagram 10).  

Solution to Odd Front Back Gapping

Against odd front structures, it becomes a little more difficult to identify the extra run fitter. In base odd structures, coaches are identifying the play side split linebacker in 3-4 looks (see Diagram 11) and the stack linebacker in odd stacks (see Diagram 12) as the point to where the play side combination is working. But in most cases, that defender will be the safety to the side of the H, particularly if the back is offset away from that player. 

Diagram 11
Diagram 12

This is one of the reasons why Fordham University runs the same side zone concept as to not tip off whether that H is sealing off play side or backside. But it’s the opinion of offensive line coach Tyler Bowen to have separate words that denote whether it’s split flow or just tight end cutoff. Because when you have same side action and split flow, you will get back gapping. In the clip below against Army, the field safety is able to rotate late to play the B gap while the two stacked linebackers work behind the H (see Diagram 13).

Diagram 13

If the identification count is changed to account for the drop safety, or a gang call is made, the guard is able to get his backside leg vertical and set the point so the back can take it front side into the B gap. The guard can now handle the stunting nose and the center would have a chance to snap back on the linebacker (see Diagram 14). 

Diagram 14

We will address how coaches are handling “back gapping” against the Y/H off formation for each separate concept we detail in this study.

Blocking Movement

Odd fronts are centered on post-snap movement, so it’s important to drill linemen to react to all potential interior twists along the front. The presence of a zero technique and two 4i techniques can account for a quick cancellation of gaps, so we presented various ways to defend against them.

Slam Back Technique

At Southwestern Oklahoma State University, offensive line coach Justin Iske will usually make a gang call against odd fronts. One of these stunts are pirate stunts, where the 4i technique can long stick into the A gap, the Jack or outside linebacker works into the B gap and the nose will cross the face of the center (see Diagram 15). To combat this, Coach Iske has  his linemen work their steps to the play side and if nothing shows for two steps, they are taught to look for a “slam back” to help the lineman inside of them (see Diagram 16). “Against three down teams they do so much twisting and looping so we just gang it,” said Coach Iske. “It’s a better call rather than them working it out by calls. If the center steps to the front side and the nose goes away, we have to be patient on the first level instead of getting to the second level so quickly. We want to pause or even take a step back. We’ve got a lot of teams running pirate, we will bounce it quite a bit. You just have to work the combo and get it picked up as much as you can.”

Diagram 15
Diagram 16

Guard Must Control B Gap:

Coach Iske made an adjustment against this movement this season by telling the front side guard that no matter what, the 4i technique can’t cross his face (see Diagram 17). The back now is told that any inside zone scheme was A gap to backside. The intent is for the ball to cram up into A gap and not bounce.

Diagram 17

RB Aiming Points and Entry Points

The majority of coaches, 49 percent, choose to use the inside leg of the play side guard as the aiming point in inside zone concepts. This is the aiming point that offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen uses for his back when he is starting from across the ball. But, since Coach Bowen will use some same side zone concepts, he will use the midline of the center if the ball carrier is inserting from the same side. His read is the first defensive lineman play side working inside out from the center.

Bang, Bend or Bounce Methodology

He will use the bang, bend and bounce methodology common to most coaches. Bang would be a cram into the open play side A or B gap, bend would be a bend back across into the back side A gap, while bounce would be a jump cut into the back side B gap which Coach Bowen says rarely occurs. “The thing is the back has to have a big awareness of where the entry point is. His initial footwork is taking him to that landmark and his initial read is the play side defensive lineman,” said Coach Bowen.  “But as soon as that clears itself, and he can’t get it out of the front side B gap, he’s really thinking to get it back to the insert.”

The clip below shows a perfect bang entry point into the A gap.

The clip below shows a perfect bend entry point into the backside B gap.

The clip below shows a perfect bounce entry point into the backside C gap.

Three Down vs. Four Down Entry Points

We did find many coaches that were teaching different entry points to the back based on whether the defensive front is an even or odd front. At Monmouth College (IL), offensive line coach Joe Freitag will also use the front side leg of the guard as the aiming point but his read will change based on whether it’s a three down or four down front. “We really like the cutback runs against a 4i,” he told us. “It naturally happens if the back presses the line of scrimmage and the tackle gets movement. The biggest key is to not give up penetration to that B gap on the backside with the 4i.”

The clip below illustrates this technique.

Coach Freitag teaches the footwork is to slide with a play side step crossover and press the line of scrimmage. “The biggest key is our running back must wait until the quarterback has the ball to take the step for the timing of the play.”

The clip below illustrates this technique.

At Southwest Oklahoma State University, offensive line coach Justin Iske will tell his back that the aiming point is the read. He separates the aiming point based on front:

Three-Man Front: Inside leg of the front side tackle, which can widen our aiming point to the four technique. “We’re often to hit it front side many times against a three-down front. Against a three down front our initial read is that 4-technique, but when that 4-technique goes play side he snaps his eyes to the nose.”

The clip below illustrates this concept.

Tom Clark, the offensive coordinator at North Cobb High School will also teach the pressing of the center on all his inside zone run concepts and will make sure the back is at arms length from the quarterback with his toes on the quarterback’s heels in offset alignments. “He takes what we call a ‘bottle step,’ which is where he steps over a Coke bottle and his aiming point is the center’s tail,” Coach Clark told us. “We want to press the center. If that center is getting movement, he should press the center all the way until he feels he can make a cut. That normally doesn’t happen, but if he’s trying to do that it may work better. We get too many guys who are looking to cut after two steps. The play doesn’t have time to develop.”

The problem is when the 4i long sticks and cancels the A gap, the ball must bounce outside of it. The clip below illustrates this concept.

Four Down Front Entry Points

Four down front defenses will either set its front to the H or to the offset back, so once that is determined, the following conclusions must be made:

  • For fronts that set the 3-technique to the A back, run same side zone.
  • For fronts that set the 3-technique to the H back, either motion the H pre-snap or use a detached tight end to seal off the C gap.

While we will explore each of those scenarios in the following cases, here is a baseline of what some coaches, like Justin Iske at Southwestern Oklahoma State is teaching against four down fronts:

Four-Man Front: Crack of the front side guard (If Pistol RPO, front side heel of the center). If we are running it at a 3-technique that is his aiming point.

“Against a 3-technique, it’s definitely going to cut back,” said Coach Iske. “There is no doubt. We talk about secondary reads. If we’re running the ball at the 3-technique, that is his primary read, but his secondary read is that nose. Now that becomes our read.”

The clip below illustrates this concept:

“We will talk about cutting back, but the biggest thing we tell him is that he may see the cutback on the third step,” he told us. “You still have to press it to get the linebackers to flow so that we can block them.”

Mike Rowe at Rocori High School (MN) also teaches an aiming point of the center’s ass, which will not change. “From there our back will read double team and backside cutback,” he said. “If backside is cloudy, find the double team and don’t hesitate. If the cutback is there take it and find green grass. “We push front side trying to get the inside linebackers to over play. Our running backs always have their eyes on backside B-gap and that seems to be where we make the most yards. If the backside is cloudy, we always try to find the double team.”

The clip below illustrates this concept:

Pistol Alignment Footwork and Aiming Points

We’ve found coaches are transitioning into pistol alignments to help defend against back gapping defenses. One of the advantages of using Pistol alignments, particularly with H/Y off formations is that the defense can’t get a read on which way the zone is working to. Just as Fordham uses a same side entry point, the Pistol is a key breaker as well. “We like to run it out of Pistol because teams don’t know if that H is going across the back’s face on zone,” said Coach Iske. “If you are a team that runs regular off-set, you have to run power or counter to keep that H front side. The hardest thing is seeing the back gapping, so we work on teaching that back to stay front side and being in the Pistol helps us with that. It gets the back downhill better and gives him time to see it. He’s not taking a left turn before he even makes his read.”

The clip below illustrates this concept: 

Coach Freitag will even take his aiming point tighter in pistol alignments by working to the backside of the quarterback. “The back will step with his play side foot backwards just for timing much like he would on power then they will go straight downhill to the backside of the quarterback,” he said. “If we run zone right the back goes to the quarterback’s left side. This makes the aiming point tighter for the back and allows us to manipulate it.”

The clip below illustrates this concept.

Training the H Back

Because the role of the H/Y is vital for insert zone run concepts, we wanted to find out two things from our contributing coaches:

  1. What kind of personnel do they look for in this position? Do they need to be physical blockers? Do they need to be as big as tight ends or fullbacks?
  2. How do they find the time to train these players in practice? Do they work with the offensive line or backs? What drills do they use?

We took direct quotes from our sources and segmented our research based on question.

H Type Personnel

Scott Wooster, offensive line coach, Wayne State University (MI): “We’ve had our best success with a 6’2, 6’3” bigger body types. Athleticism isn’t necessarily the primary trait. One of our best guys isn’t very athletic but is a thumper and loves contact. Our senior tight end was about 6’4”, 255 lbs. and was good on the split vs. defensive ends, but had some leverage issues on the insert on linebackers. Our senior fullback was 5’11”, 260 lbs. and was good on the cut iso but struggled with length on defensive ends on the split. The guy I referenced before will be a junior H and is 6’3”, 260 lbs. but he struggles a little with stiffness and flex on linebackers and is long enough for defensive ends, but is a great Wham guy. We like that body type, even giving up some athleticism for a physical guy that’s long enough for defensive ends and can get under linebackers. In Division 2 there is no “perfect” guy and we try to personnel what we are doing.”

Tyler Bowen, offensive coordinator, Fordham University (NY): “Ideally, we are looking for a 6’4 - 6’6, 235 to 250 lbs. guy. We always want to have guys that can stretch the field vertically from a pass game standpoint before anything else. I think this player needs to possess a mentality of physicality and toughness. You don’t need an ass kicker as long as you stress where the landmarks are. It’s all about displacing the defense. When they are displaced laterally, you can move them laterally. The running back and press and make his read.” 

Joe Freitag, offensive line coach, Monmouth University (IL): “Our H-back is a fullback. It typically is an overgrown running back or a guy who isn’t quite big enough to be a true tight end. Our current H-Back was an option quarterback in high school.”

Tom Clark, North Cobb High School (GA): “Our F’s have been 205 to 220 lbs. range, big strong kids. We’ve never had a prototype tight end type, so our Y is not a kid we can bring in to do that. That’s why we use our running back. I’ve played with smaller guys as long as they were physical. I tell them if you don’t block, you’re not running the ball.”

Mike Rowe, Rocori High School (MN): “We do not have typically large H-back players. This past season we played with an athlete about 180 pounds. We preach technique as much as we can and as long as our player can get in the way we are happy. Two days a week we have a run period where our H-backs block bags, landmarks, and defensive players.”

Delegating Practice Time for the H

Justin Iske, offensive line coach, Southwestern Oklahoma State University: “We cross train all of our tight ends to play on and off the ball. We teach the H to block Wham/Split Zone the same as we teach the guard to kick out on counter (Open Pull) and Cut Iso the same as Power (Square Pull). This ties into a lot of levels where these players are playing multiple positions. We just teach our offensive line if they are blocking a first level defender, it’s an open pull. If they are blocking a second level defender, it’s a square pull. It’s the same concept. How many high schools have a tight end coach? You’re teaching your linemen the same principles. Our TE/FBs will typically spend the first 10 minutes of practice with the offensive line working footwork, then be on their own to work run blocks and releases for ten minutes, then work with the receivers for what is left of individual and group time.”

Joe Freitag, offensive line coach, Monmouth College (IL): “Our H-backs use 10 minutes of their individual period everyday working to practice a variety of blocks including their zone blocks.”

Scott Wooster, offensive line coach, Wayne State University (MI): “We work it in individual on cones or barrels. We work leverage and spill defensive ends for the split zone and linebackers for the cut iso.  Then we half line it with the offensive line to get moving parts. We do a three-quarter run through as an offense. During spring and camp, we do good-on-good half line and obviously inside run. I would say we devote a period a week in individual and some substantial time in run through/practice time.”

Tyler Bowen, offensive line coach, Fordham University (NY): “A great deal of time needs to be spent training the path and landmark. I like to set up two cones representing the width of the OL (use a RB Hole Strip if you would like). Have the tight end align off of the offensive tackle and train the path to a defender holding a shield for the following schemes:

Split Zone: Path: Through the inside leg of the opposite offensive tackle and be ready to square up and insert vs. hard spill. The landmark is a kick path aiming at inside number.

Insert Zone: Path is outside leg of the opposite offensive guard and be ready to get around the trash or potential movement. Shave tight off of the opposite offensive guard’s backside hip, track linebacker hat for fit. Must be ready to adjust vs. interior movement. The landmark is a kick path, aiming for play side number of linebacker.

Wham Zone: Path is inside leg of the opposite offensive guard with a landmark of a kick path, inside number of defender.

Chris Fisk, offensive line coach, Central Washington University: “We will drill all our H movements in pre-practice for the first 10 minutes where we will work pass protections. Then we go to a seven-minute team walk through, which is movement or shift based. I’ll bring H backs with me and when we work two man combinations or zone drill work, we will bring a defensive end into the drill and have them work their slice blocks off the zone combinations. The H back coach is watching that and getting them coached up.”

Tom Clark, North Cobb High School (GA): “We call our F the back and our H is our inside receiver. When we go two back, the H comes into the backfield and our F moves up to be the blocking back. We cross train them. They are big enough to do both. Years where we didn’t have a pure running back to block, we would substitute another back in for that H. In practice, we do most of the work in the summer camp. Our running back coach, Steve Butler, will cross train them. One rep they are the runner the next rep they are the back. If we’re doing a mesh period with the quarterback working on a handoff, they will switch each rep.”

The intent of this case was to provide an overview of how coaches were moving the zone forward by changing the identification system of their offensive linemen and the aiming points of their backs. In the next case, we will detail the split zone concept specifically. 

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X&O Labs 2017 Football Trends