The Zone is the first of a 3-part series of articles in the development of an effective 2- back gun offense. The Zone is a term too often used to describe a specific football play, especially when you consider that there are infinitely different types of Zone football terms. Terms like inside Zone, outside Zone, combo blocks, double teams, four hands/ four eyes, bang, bend, bounce, rocker steps, bucket steps, vertical push, one cannot just flippantly exclaim things such as, “We run the heck out of the Zone!” and it mean the same thing to everyone in the conversation. The term “the Zone” doesn’t begin to define the play that is actually being taught at any institution. From Cypress Creek to Waco, from Tomball and now in Brenham, Texas we have developed a Zone that is straight forward in its design and explanation yet abstract in its concept. We meld multiple techniques and terms before presenting them to the offensive line in order to achieve clarity for the OL and allow the backs to use their natural talents for running with vision to achieve maximum execution of our Zone. The key to the success of our Zone over the years has been that our kids buy in to its simplicity which has produced results. Over the past 20 years our Zone and its many variations has averaged just over 6.6 yards per call, which is 2yds above our efficient target of play calls at any level or for any play type.
The concept comes from a combination of Zone principles including those from the contemporary inside and outside Zones, the backside blocking schemes of the wishbone triple option, and the front side schemes of the split back veer. This scheme eliminates more stringent but defined rules from those offenses, relies on the players to trust their eyes while allowing and teaching them to react better to post snap movements and stunts. The teaching of these elements requires a vastly different approach than that of traditional inside Zone processes, thus the drills are not often double teams or combination blocks but steps, terms, vocabulary, visualization, and situations.
Developed to take advantage of having all sizes and types of offensive linemen, and to reestablish the LOS 2 yards forward, we focus on teaching the fundamental techniques of the Zone, less thinking about who to block, and more technically sound individual work on how to effectively block the “zone” each man is in charge of blocking. The offensive line is asked to align as close to the LOS as possible with their helmets at the shoulders of the Center, and we try to have a split as wide as 2 feet. We do, however, cater to the ability of each OL skill level. Typically their split will run anywhere from 12 to 24 inches. We teach our OL through a series of drills that have them focus on their first step (which points them in a specific direction) second step (bringing power to the pending blocking collision), “FAT Tracks” (the area from the tip of one should pad to the opposite tip), 45 degree angles (critical not to step inside one’s self), 6 inches long (short powerful steps that are quick cannot be long), and always gaining ground (OL of any and every size, especially undersized can never lose ground in a war to gain ground reestablishing the LOS). The OL “cock their guns” (fists with thumbs up and at arm pits) on the first step, stay coiled with their chest to their knees (flat back), and “fire” their guns on the second step, driving their hips through contact and a bringing maximum force to the initial part of the block. Both are to happen in a heartbeat, and should be quick and powerful, not light and choppy. The OL should realize that contact with DL or blitzing LB’s is imminent by the second step, and this focus teaches them to anticipate that collision. When completing a drill with a pad or defender across from the OL, the strike point should be no farther away from the OL than 6 inches. This forces the first two steps AND the cocking and firing of their “guns to take place in a short, quick powerful way. (Sidenote: look to insure they do not step inside themselves or lose ground on the those first 2 steps. The finish, if complete after the 2 nd step, should be similar to a leaned over incline press). The drill progression continues having them “elephant walk” (which we consider critical word painting to help them understand the kind of footing they are striving to execute, all of their cleats in the ground but quickly) five yards and sprint the rest of 10 yards with a “jet plane” (flat-backed) take off ; NO helicopters (high hips or high chest). All weight should be on the insteps, and we should drive the defenders at a 45 degree angle. We do not pre-determine double teams or combos, nor do we teach turn back or butt blocks. We teach the OL to stay on their 45 degree tracks and mash everything that appears in those tracks, hitting the middle of the defender and working our hips to the defenders’ playside number. This is the aim, but well-taught DL will not allow that positioning and thus the movement should be at a 45 degree angle or lateral in worst case. Widening the gaps is optimal for the Zone.
The OL are also taught to use wide vision so that they may be aware of and include blocks in their peripheral flanks, especially when they are not taxed with a playside threat within the first 2 yards. When this is the case, and there is no immediate threat in the playside gap, the OL is taught to use a Matrix technique and "punch drag" the defender that hangs in their backside flank. This 6-inch punch is to connect with that backside defender and to drag them at their 45 degree angle. Punch Drag is a key technique that allows the OL with playside immediate threat to move confidently because they should have help from those without an immediate threat. Punch Drag creates double teams, but we don’t emphasize that phrasing, just the technique. The OL must not escape defenders on their way to LB’s, instead they are to drive the DL into the LB’s and block LB’s only when they see the off-colored jersey cross their face. They are to run through all defenders and pieces of defenders which are on their “Fat Track” and trust that the other OL will do the same. We operate on the 3 Commandments of Effective Offensive Blocking:
1 – If it crosses your face, take it. Any defender that enters our path, we should engage and maintain that block.
2 – Never leave a block to get a block The RB can only react to what he sees. If we release a block to pursue another, the ball carrier, cannot anticipate it and inevitably is tackled or tripped up
3 – When in doubt, pick one out If for any reason we lose sight of our assigned block, we will block the nearest opponent
Our offense is based upon the success of this Zone concept. It allows for a read-option element, as well as a triple option play and a myriad of variations which have proven useful and effective. Beginning with our two-back gun formation (20 personnel), the QB’s heels are at 5 yards, and the RBs’ toes are on the OB’s heels, with the RB directly behind the inside leg of the tackle, if possible. Our Zone scheme is the same in this formation or any other (See figures A, B,and C).
When calling the Zone to the right, we are informing the OL that they will be blocking the defenders to our right. The actual direction of the play will be to our left. Our QB will take a step with his left foot opposite the call and jam his heel to the playside A gap. He will turn his shoulders toward the C Gap defender on the left as his second step will square him to the path of the RB and force the RB downhill so that with squared shoulders, he will be able to use his vision to choose the best opening to pursue. The QB’s base should be wide enough to be strong in the pull yet narrow enough to react quickly when he pulls the football. The QB rides the RB from his back hip to his front hip before deciding to pull or give the football.
The left RB will take 1 lateral, 1 cross-over and 1 downhill step placing his belly button on the ball and chasing the playside A Gap until he is forced to cut by an opposite colored jersey or he is presented open grass. The RB must keep his shoulders square to the LOS throughout these steps so as to make the best decision in which seam that he should accelerate through. The seam could conceivably be anywhere from the front side A Gap to the backside C Gap depending on the amount of push from the OL and the defensive scheme. The RB should also focus on executing a "soft clamp" of the football with his pocket. We use this term to paint the picture that he will be eventually clamping on the football to take possession if it's given according to the read, but also to let him know not to immediately take the football because there is a read taking place. To create said pocket, the RB should raise the forearm closest to the QB and lower the arm away from the QB so that he could hold the ball with either hand.
The right RB will immediately sprint left, replacing the left RB and run to “pitch phase” (5 yards wide and 1 yard behind the QB). He can deepen slightly, but not too much, or he will lose too much ground to be effective. If he gives the football, the QB carries out the fake of the pitch. If the QB pulls the football, he is to “replace” the C gap Space and continue to the next defender outside; the pitch key. Based on the WR blocking schemes, the pitch defender changes from time to time (See Figures A1, B1, and C1). Frequently Asked Questions “What do you do about a blitzing or stunting front?” or “What do you do about the gap exchange technique on the backside?” (See Figure A2 and B2). Against a stunting front, the Zone is a great play. Often the premise of these fronts is to bring pressure unpredictably. As the offensive line attacks their FAT tracks and the defenders in them, the movement allows the RB to roll and accelerate through the opening left by the defense upon their movement. Often versus these kinds of schemes, the RB has multiple choices through which to accelerate. The read by the QB can be troublesome if he doesn’t recognize the positioning of the backside defenders pre-snap and during the read. If he is well-prepped at reading the C gap “Space”, he should have no problem. This set of skills must be practiced diligently in a drill we call the RNP (SEE FIGURE E). He must trust the read, and sometimes it can be different from where his pre-snap analysis points.
Versus the Gap exchange, which is a technique used to combat the inside Zone pull or cutback. We don’t over emphasize the gap exchange for a number of reasons. If we’re reading the C gap “Space,” when the he replaces the tight DE in this technique, the ILB becomes the C Gap defender and we read him. If he hangs and tries to slow play it, playing both the RB and QB, giving to the RB still gains 4 yds in most cases, because of the LB depth and forward lean of the RB. This is efficient by our standard. During the read, if the QB feels his pull read was faulty, he has the freedom to then follow the RB into the hole left by the DE movement. We believe in our Zone play as the most critical base play for us because it allows for variety without much change for the OL. This principle is paramount in our offensive philosophy. “Just because we could, doesn’t necessarily mean we should.” As the catalyst for our simplicity, THE ZONE is essential to our offensive success.
By: Danny Ramsey Offensive Coordinator Brenham High School Brenham, Texas