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fthayesstBy Justin Iske, Offensive Line Coach, Fort Hays State University

We all know that success in the run game starts with the fundamentals up front.  Coach Iske provides a detailed look at how he teaches that hands and feet to help his players win the line of scrimmage.  




By Justin Iske - @justiniske

Offensive Line Coach

Fort Hays State University



fthayesst Editor's Notes: Justin Iske begins his fourth season on the coaching staff at Fort Hays State in 2014. Iske coaches the FHSU offensive line and serves as the team’s strength coach. In Iske’s first three seasons at FHSU, he has coached seven All-MIAA selections on the offensive line, led by two-time second team selection Hawk Rouse in 2011 and 2012 and second-team selection Mario Abundez in 2013. The Tiger offensive line helped produce an average of over 2,000 rushing and 2,000 passing yards per year in Iske's three seasons. Iske came to FHSU after two seasons at Northwestern Oklahoma State University where he was the offensive coordinator, special teams coordinator and offensive line coach. His 2010 team won the conference championship and led the conference in rushing offense, sacks allowed and kickoff returns.

Two of the biggest debates amongst offensive line coaches are whether to load the hands in the run game and whether to use a bucket step on zone runs. This article will take a look at the pros and cons of these two questions.


Many coaches teach their o-linemen to draw their elbows back on their first step (grab your guns) and to throw their hands forward (shoot) on the second step. Three main reasons for doing this are shown below:

-          More powerful punch by drawing the hands back on the first step

-          Times up punch with the second step

-          Keeps the hands tighter for leverage


Other coaches teach their o-linemen to shoot their hands directly from their stance to the defender. Some of the reasons for doing things this way are:

-          Gets your hands on the defender quicker

-          Protects your chest from the defender’s punch

-          Allows you to bring the hips through easier


At FHSU, we do NOT load our elbows in the run game. We teach our o-linemen to shoot their hands directly from their stance to the defender. The number one reason we do this is so that we get our hands on the defender quicker this way. We had problems with defenders beating us to the punch and getting their hands on our chest when we were loading our elbows. We now teach our o-line to punch with the same drills that d-line coaches normally use.

When we lead with our hands we are able to engage our hips much quicker. We tell our players that we want their hips in front of their feet at the point of contact. It is important that your players have something to put their hands on in order to train this technique. It is impossible to take two steps and lead with the hands if going against air. If executed properly, there should be a slight lunging effect. To get this done without pads on, we use volleyballs or medicine balls as a target. We prefer to use the balls because it provides a smaller target than a hand shield would and trains tighter hands.

The most basic drill that we start out practice with most days is what we call Thumblift. (See Drill Video). The offensive player will start out on their knees, with their glutes on their heels and hands on their thigh boards. On the command, the players will shoot their hands to the target (either the bottom of the numbers or volleyball) with thumbs up, palms together, and elbows tight to the ribcage. At the same time, they will shoot their hips forward and upward. If done properly, the o-lineman should end up landing on his chest. (The drill can also be done from a two-point or three-point stance).

One other important note. A lot of times we will get guys that have been taught in the past to load their elbows and it has become a habit. We teach all of our freshmen to clap their hands in front of their chest as they are shooting them forward to keep the hands tight. This has proven to be very successful with keeping inside hand leverage. As they get older, we will give them the choice of whether to clap or not to clap.



In the zone running game, many o-line coaches prefer to use a drop step or bucket step on the first step. There are several reasons for this:

-          Allows us to set the angle of the play and get to the defender’s playside number

-          Provides distance between the d-lineman to react to movement

-          Allows the hands to get in front of the hips


Other coaches feel that a width step or lead step should be used in the run game. Reasons for not using a drop step are:

-          Allows for better movement at the first level

-          Invites penetration

-          Teaches your o-line a soft mentality by backing up on first step


The answer to this question is a little more complicated. In our opinion, there are times to use the bucket step and times to not use the bucket step. On the inside zone, anytime we have a defender lined up on our body (head-up or tight playside shade) we use a width step. This allows us to come off the ball aggressively and get first level movement. We tell our guys it is their job to maul the defender and focus on the hips and hands.

With a wide playside shade (defender is aligned off our body), we teach our o-linemen to use a bucket step. The wider the defender, the deeper the drop step. If the defender is aligned in a ghost alignment (wide d-end) we will even shuffle first, then bucket step. 

For a better look at each of these techniques, check out the film below:


What You're Missing:

This is part of a larger, more in depth study on offensive line techniques in the inside zone concept. This special report includes over 40 separate drills submitted by contibutors at all levels of football including the NFL, NCAA and high school ranks. To read this exclusive Special Report, click here to join and join the Insiders today.

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As with just about everything in regards to technique, there are many ways to do things and all can be successful. In our opinion, if you believe in what you are teaching and you get your players to buy in as well, you are on your way to being successful. We don’t claim to have all the answers, but hopefully you will find something that you can use from this article. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at FHSU if you have any questions. 




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