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amerst5321By Mark Melnitsky, Offensive Line Coach, Trinity College (CT)

Trinity College morphed and inside and outside zone scheme to develop its Middle zone concept which netted over 6.5 yards per game this season. OL coach Mark Melnitsky details everything you need to know about the scheme to implement it into your offense.

By Mark Melnitsky
Offensive Line Coach
Trinity College (CT)

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The Middle Zone is an excellent complimentary play to the staple run play in our offense, Inside Zone.  With a wider landmark, the Middle Zone play provides us with an effective way to potentially run the ball outside the tackles.  It is a play we run from a wide range of personnel groups and formations.  We are also equally comfortable running the play from under center or in the shotgun.  This past season, the play was very productive for us as evidenced over our eight games where we ran the play 77 times and netted 512 yards for a 6.6 yards/play average.  In addition to being an efficient play, Middle Zone provided our offense with the ability to generate a good number of explosive plays (plays that gain at least 20 yards) on the ground.

The genesis of the play in our offense took shape several years ago when we were primarily a one-back, three-receiver offense.  From that personnel group, our two primary run plays were inside zone to the two-man surface and one-back power to the three-man side.  Occasionally we ran an Outside Zone concept to the three-man surface.  However, the Outside Zone scheme required one of our receivers make a crucial, point-of-attack block on the alley defender. 

More often than not, that block was a mismatch for us, with a receiver being asked to hold up for several seconds against an outside linebacker.  With the tight landmark of our inside zone play (outside leg of the guard), the only way we could consistently run the play at the three-man surface and control the end man on the line of scrimmage (E.M.O.L.S.) on the backside would be to motion a receiver over to cut him off or to have the QB read him.  Having the receiver motion over to cut off the E.M.O.L.S. made us relatively predictable.  Additionally, our quarterback was not very athletic, therefore we were not inclined to invest in a read scheme. 

This being the case, we decided to merge concepts of two plays in our offense, Inside and Outside Zone, to create a new play – Middle Zone. In a nutshell, we widened the Inside Zone landmark for the running back to the outside leg of the tackle.  We kept the blocking scheme for Middle Zone the same as our Inside Zone play.  However, we employed the techniques of our Outside Zone for our offensive linemen and tight ends.  We kept the read for our running back the same as it is on Inside Zone.  We just bumped it one defender wider.  For instance, in the case of an even front, instead of reading the front-side 3 Tech to the backside Nose, we had him read the DE to the 3 Tech.  In doing so, we made the backside E.M.O.L.S. much less of a factor, eliminated the match-up issues for our receivers, and added a “new” play to our offense using concepts and techniques our players were familiar and comfortable with.


QB:  If under center, step with play-side foot at 10/2 o’clock.  Race ball to mesh point at depth of approximately 5 yards.  After handoff, execute boot fake opposite the run play.  From the shotgun, extend ball in front, secure exchange, and execute boot fake opposite the run play.  From the shotgun, we can also ‘tag’ the play and have the QB read a backside defender to determine whether to hand the ball off or keep it.

RB:  Lead step, crossover, and chase the outside leg of the tackle.  Stretch the ball wide, aggressively chase the landmark, and “crease” or “bounce.”  The read is the E.M.L.O.S. to the first front-side down lineman inside.  If the first read is reached, bounce the ball outside.  If the first read (E.M.L.O.S.) does a good job containing the play, look to crease the ball underneath the first read.  You now must make a quick determination where your second read (down lineman) is and hit the underneath crease accordingly.

FB:  If “Boss” (Back on Support), arc release for alley defender.  If “Lead” read the PST’s block to determine best path to block playside ILB.

PST:  Zone playside C gap.  If covered, either combo scoop with PSG to playside ILB or reach defender solo.  If uncovered, combo scoop with TE to alley defender.

PSG:  Zone playside B gap.  If covered, combo scoop with C to playside ILB or reach defender solo.  If uncovered, combo scoop with PST. C:  Zone playside A gap.  If “Odd” front, combo scoop with BSG.  If “Even” front, combo scoop with PSG to playside ILB or MLB (If ‘43’ front).

BSG: Zone cutoff backside A gap.  If “Odd” front, combo with C.  If “Even” front, backside combo with BST to backside ILB.  Look to cut on the 2nd level.

BST:  Zone cutoff backside B gap.  If “Odd” front, “Rip & Run” through B gap to the next level.   If “Even” front, backside combo with BSG to backside ILB.  Look to cut on the 2nd level.

TE:  Playside = Zone playside D gap.   If covered, either combo scoop with PST to alley defender or reach defender solo.  If uncovered, arc for alley defender or combo scoop with Wing to 3rd level.  Backside = Zone cutoff backside C gap.  “Rip & Run” through C gap to the next level.  Look to cut on the 2nd level.

PSWR (Outside): If solo, outside receiver will push/crack and block support defender.  If “Boss” tag or slot receiver is with you, block the corner.

PSWR (Inside): If “Boss” tag or TE is with you, work to 3rd level safety.  If “Lead” tag of no TE with you, block near level defender.

BSWR:  Cross-field cutoff. Below are diagrams of the base Middle Zone concept to four and three man surfaces vs. common fronts.        

To see video of Trinity College’s Middle Zone concept, click on the link below:

What you’re missing…

X&O Labs Insiders members will gain full access to the entire clinic report including:

  • “Boss” and “Lead” tags that adjust the blocking rules for the FB.
  • Backside “read” tag concept which will option the C gap defender.
  • Backside “arc” tag to defend gap exchange defenders.
  • Backside “bob” tag used to read the first defender outside the box.
  • “Tag” concept used to read first level defensive linemen.
  • The specific techniques of the reach drive and combo scoop blocks which secure the front and back side of the play.
  • Plus in-game film of all these concepts.

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As will see if you run the inside and outside zone concepts this is an inexpensive scheme to combat over aggressive backside defensive ends and it keeps the ball on the front side of your zone schemes.  Plus, all the adjustable tags makes the concept proficient against defensive front or scheme.    



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