By Rich Alercio
Offensive Line Researcher
In a 25-year career as an offensive line coach and clinician for youth, high school and college coaching staffs, I have come to one conclusion: Teams have way too many running plays with varying blocking schemes in their offenses. They block one play this way and another play that way. For example, they think if the 3-technique shifts to a 1-tech a different play must be called. I have always subscribed to the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) methodology, especially for the big guys up front. The offensive linemen do not care about all the creative ways you can get the ball to your best player and all the window dressing used to do so. They just want to have great confidence in knowing what step to take and where to take it.
Regardless of the offense, most running plays can be categorized into one of three offensive line schemes: Zone, Gap or Man. Instead of having a dozen running plays with a dozen different blocking assignments, consider grouping all of your running plays into one, two or all three of those schemes. Once the offensive lineman understands the scheme, he can easily adapt his technique to the play. For example, if Iso and Lead Draw are both Man schemes, the playside tackle just needs to know he has #2 on the LOS (which is mainly the defensive end). The assignment is the same, but the footwork may change. For example, if it is an Isolation play, he takes a run step with his inside foot. If it is Lead Draw play, he will pass set with his inside foot first. Its two different plays blocked the same way with the same leverage with just a change in technique. Basically, it's two plays for the offense that the defense has to defend but only one scheme for the O-Line to learn.
Before I begin grouping running plays into the three "run families," I'll define the 5 run steps that the offensive linemen will use on the plays. Although this may sound elementary, it's essential that coaches teach all footwork techniques first so that players can identify their technique based on the play concept. The first is a "Base" step. A base step is a vertical step straight ahead where the heel of the foot you are stepping with will replace the original alignment of the toes of that foot ("heel replaces toe").
The next step is "Reach" step. A reach step is a vertical step as well but with lateral displacement. With a reach step, the offensive lineman gains ground vertically and laterally. The vertical distance of the step is the same as the Base step: heel replace toe. The lateral distance will depend on the alignment of the defender Base and Reach steps are both vertical steps. The shoulders of the offensive lineman will stay square to the line of scrimmage.
The third step is an "Angle" step. Angle is a 45° angle step forward. Again, the heel of the foot taking the Angle step does not go further than the original alignment of its toes.
The next step is a "Bucket" step. A bucket step is a backward 45° angle step. After the step, the toes of the foot taking the Bucket step will be at the depth of the original alignment of the heel of that foot. Both the Angle and Bucket steps get the shoulders of the offensive lineman turned at a 45° angle.
The last of the run steps is the "Pull" step. The Pull step is a 90° step towards the sideline. The alignment of the heel after the step should be directly behind its original alignment.
Concept Blocking the Man Scheme
Following the example used in the opening paragraph, we will begin with a Man scheme. Each offensive lineman is assigned a defensive player which allows for the most accountability. There can be no excuse of "your man" slanting to someone else's gap. It also allows the coach to tell the RB with great certainty where the hole is going to be. In a Man scheme, the Guards will block #1 on the line of scrimmage (DT) and the Tackles will Base step with their inside foot to block #2 (DE). The Center has the Middle Linebacker aligned over him (4-3, 3-3) or the back-side ILB vs. a two Inside Linebacker front (4-4, 3-4).
Man Concept vs. Even Front
If the Center is shaded by a #1 (DT/NT), he must combo with that Guard to his LB.
A head up Nose Tackle in a 3-down front is #1 on the play side while the back-side Guard is free.
Man Concept vs. Odd Front
The playside Guard will take a Reach step with his outside foot vs. a 3-technique, a Base step with his outside foot vs. a 1-technique and a Reach step with his inside foot vs. a Shade technique on the Center in the Combo Block. The back-side Guard always steps with his inside foot. He will execute a Base step vs. a 3-tech, a Reach step vs. a 1-tech or Shade on the Center for a back-side Combo block. The Center steps with his playside foot when he's uncovered (without a shade) and his back-side foot when covered (with a shade). He will take a playside Reach step vs. a MLB (in a 4-3), he will execute a Base step vs. a back-side ILB (in a 4-4). On all Combo blocks when covered by a #1 down lineman, he will Base step with the foot away from the other offensive lineman in the combo. They both step with the same foot.
The Fullback or lead back runs between the Guard and Tackle to block the first LB to the playside. A tight end will base step with his inside foot to block #3 on the line of scrimmage (usually a LB) or if there are only two down-lineman on his side, he takes a Bucket step to arc release and block the alley defender (OLB or Safety).
Teams can group Iso, Lead Draw and Counter together as Man Blocking schemes. On Lead Draw, the first step for everyone is the same except for a covered playside Guard. If the guard is covered, he always Base steps with the foot away from the DT. However, as stated in the example, the technique for the linemen changes. On the first step of Lead Draw, all offensive linemen will pass set to show a "high hat" read to the defense encouraging DLs to get into pass rush lanes and LBs to drop into coverage. The Fullback/lead back reads the covered playside Guard to go inside or outside his block depending on the rush of the DT.
The Counter scheme has an assignment change. The back-side Tackle and Fullback exchange jobs. The back-side Tackle takes a Pull step to block the first LB to the playside and #2 on his side will be blocked by the Fullback.
Counter Scheme vs. Even Front
The Center and Guards block Counter the same as Iso ensuring no penetration inhibits the Tackle's pull. The playside Tackle blocks Counter the same as Lead Draw to get the DE to rush upfield and provide a bigger hole.
Concept Blocking the Zone Scheme
Zone schemes may be the easiest for the offensive line because all they need to know is where the ball is going. If it is going to the right, they all step with their right foot first and are responsible for the gap to their right. If it is going to the left, they step left foot first and have the defender in that gap.
Zone Scheme Footwork
They also need to know if the play is an Inside Zone or Outside Zone run.
The movement of the entire offensive line in the same direction is what causes the lateral displacement of linebackers and opens running lanes between the first and second levels. This allows for running backs to make cuts anywhere along the offensive line and pick up positive yardage. There is no true hole in a Zone scheme, only a point of attack.
Offensive linemen, in a zone scheme, step with their playside foot and are responsible for the defender in their playside gap. There are only four scenarios for an individual OL in a Zone Scheme:
- He can be covered on his playside (Diagram 1)
- Covered on his back-side (Diagram 2)
- Uncovered with a defender aligned in his gap (Diagram 3 or 4)
- Uncovered with no one in his gap (Diagram 4)
The responsibilities are the same for all Zone runs but the technique differs on inside runs and outside runs.
For inside runs when an OL is covered on his playside, he will Reach step and drive block (Diagram 5).
An OL covered on his back-side will Base step and combo block with the back-side OL to the near LB (Diagram 6).
An uncovered OL with a defender aligned in his gap will Reach step and combo block that defender with the playside OL to the near LB Scenarios 2 & 3 work together. An uncovered OL with no one in his playside gap will Reach step and climb up to the second level to block the near LB (Diagram 7).
On outside Zone Runs, all of the offensive linemen take Angle steps to cut off their playside defender or to be quick in and out of Combo blocks.
Plays that can be categorized as zone schemes are:
- Inside Zone
- Dive, Belly
- Outside Zone
- Belly Keep
- Load Option
The assignments for all these plays are the same for the O-Line. The only difference comes in their technique. If it is an inside run, they will take little or no lateral displacement and work vertical. On outside runs, they will take substantial lateral displacement as they work downfield on an angle. They will never block the back-side end man on the line of scrimmage with the offensive linemen. He can be accounted for with a Fullback or H-back block, a QB boot action a zone read or perhaps an Orbit or Jet motion by a wide receiver.
Concept Blocking the Gap Scheme
A Gap scheme is the most complex of the schemes. It combines playside linemen blocking to their back-side gap and back-side linemen pulling to the playside. Power and Counter Trey are Gap schemes. On the Power play, every offensive linemen, except the back-side Guard, step with their back-side foot to block their back-side gap. The back-side Guard pulls to the playside to lead up and block the first LB to the playside. The playside end man on the line of scrimmage is blocked by the Fullback (lead back) or can be read by a QB in the "spread" offense for the shovel play.
Counter Trey is the same as Power for the playside OLs and Center, but the back-side Guard, back-side Tackle and Fullback all exchange responsibilities. On Power, the Fullback has the playside kick out block, the back-side Guard leads up on the Playside LB and the back-side Tackle has the back-side end man on the line of scrimmage. On Counter Trey, the back-side Guard has the play side kick out block, the back-side Tackle leads up on the playside LB and the Fullback blocks the back-side end man on the line of scrimmage or the QB can read him in a "spread" offense.
Power and Counter Trey are similar to Man and Zone schemes in that combination blocks are created. When the outside man of two adjacent linemen on the playside is uncovered but has a man in his back-side gap and the inside man is covered with that man on his playside shoulder, they Combo to the back-side LB.
Gap Scheme Double Team
When an offensive lineman is blocking back or down on a DL in a solo block, he will use the Bucket step. When he is blocking back to a LB in a solo block he will use an Angle Step. On the Combo block in Power and Counter Trey, the inside (covered) OL will use a Base step with his inside foot and the outside (uncovered) OL will use an Angle step. As in all Combo blocks, both OLs must step with the same foot.
You will see that there are some crossover similarities between the schemes. All of the man schemes and gap schemes described have a different player isolating on the first LB to the playside. Iso and Lead Draw put the FB on the first LB to the playside while Counter and Counter Trey have the back-side Tackle on that LB and Power has the back-side Guard on him.
A team that utilizes a complex passing game including a number of screens may only have time to incorporate one type of run blocking scheme. A team that hangs their hat on running the ball could use all three schemes. Those teams that decide to run all three schemes should consider installing them in the order they are discussed in this article. Start with man schemes such as Iso followed by Lead Draw then Counter. Inside Zone runs should come next followed by outside Zone runs. Power then Counter Trey should come last as they are the most expensive to teach and execute.
Man, Zone and Gap schemes are not specific to any one type of offense. They can be used for "I" teams, "Spread" teams, "1-back" teams, "Pistol" teams, "Pro Style" teams, etc. Be as creative as you can in who gets the ball, how they get it and what motions or formation changes you use as window dressing. We will address all this in future articles.
In closing, a confident offensive lineman is an effective offensive lineman. Don't put too much on those guys. By having multiple backfield actions and "window dressing" with the same line schemes, you can make your offense look complex to a defense while keeping it simple for the big guys up front. My intent was to introduce how coaches can group all of their plays into concepts, it makes them easier to install and provides for instant recognition for your players. In my other reports on this site, I detail the specifics on the footwork and techniques needed to successfully run each of these above schemes.
The Blocking SystemThere is nothing more pivotal to an offense than a consistent blocking system.This system contains four core types of blocking: Conservative blocking, Liberalblocking, Counter blocking, Zone blocking. In one way or another, all of these kindsof blocking are related to each other. Each play revolves around a hole, and the typeof blocking used centers around that hole. For instance, we can attack the 6/7 hole ina variety of ways. We can conservative block and run a power off-tackle (46/47Power), we can base block and have a guard pull underneath (46/47 Blast), we canconservative block an option (16/17 G Option), we can liberal block and run severaldives (26/27 Dive) and options (16/17 Veer), we can counter block (46/47, 26/27Counter) and we can zone block and run a (46/47 Zone) and (16/17 Sprint), etc.Now, the words after numbers represent certain codes that tell the offensewhat kind of blocking will be used. The following is a brief list of the differentmeanings of words in regards to the linemen and backfield:Blast – Linemen execute
with backside guard running an insideSeal. Designated lineman will Release defender on LOS; fullback kicks out.Buck – Linemen execute
As fullback dives the opposite directionlead running back will utilize the fullback’s
Counter – Linemen will utilize
Backfield will use counter responsibilities AWAY from the hole.Dive – Linemen will utilize
quick liberal blocking
. Called player will dive into thehole; rest of backfield will flow to the side of the hole called.G – Linemen will utilize
with PS guard kicking out theFMOTE. Backfield will either run a fullback dive option or the fullback willget the ball.Lead – Linemen and backfield will utilize
Power – Linemen and backfield will utilize
Sweep – Linemen and backfield will utilize their respected blocking: responsibilitiesdepend on type of sweep.Trap – Linemen will utilize
Backfield will mirror this TO thehole.
Andrew Ward, WCSpartan53@hotmail.com