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fordhamBy Mike Kuchar, Lead Research Manager, X&O Labs

New research reveals two new methods coaches are using to help “clean up” the read for the ball carrier in zone run schemes. The “drag hand” and the “heavy hands” technique are two methodologies coaches are using this season to make the read more simple for the back. According to coaches, the use of these two techniques alone have significantly improved efficiency in both the inside and outside zone run concepts.


By Mike Kuchar

Lead Research Manager

X&O Labs


Drag Hand/Backside Hand Technique

fordhamOn the outside zone scheme, it’s important to teach backside hand and shoulder placement in order to seal off any penetration.  In order to do this, Hand teaches what he calls the drag hand technique.  “As the offensive lineman takes his stretch step to the outside V of the neck, his backside hand placement is the thing that will slow him down enough to catch the 5-technique defender if he slants inside.   “The aiming point of the drag hand technique is the backside peck of the defender.  That movement will stop the penetration of the defender inside.  The Tackle cannot come off the ball with no concern of the defender slanting inside.  He uses the drag hand to catch and hold the defender so he cannot penetrate.”

Alex Gibbs used a similar technique called the “back hand” technique, which is used if there is no help with the next adjacent lineman.  These scenarios could be a 3/5 technique play side or a 5/9 technique play side.  The covered defender against a wide shade must be able to use his backhand to punch or catch the defender if he spikes inside.  This is used particularly if there is no backside help on a combination block.  “He has to use that back hand as a hook to catch the defender if he goes inside,” said Gibbs.  “The Guard has to catch the defender just enough to funnel him down the line of scrimmage.  It doesn’t matter if the defender penetrates a little, because the read tells the runner to go outside.  The key is the backhand coming under the flipper of the defender.  If it goes over the flipper, the defender will knock the Guard’s arm up into the air.  The punch as to come into the defender tight and under the flipper.”

Gibbs mentioned that once the offensive blocker gets on his defender and begins to stretch him, he changes the pressure from the outside hand to the inside hand.  “As defenders work, they constantly peek at the ball,” said Gibbs.  “When the ball approaches them, they slow down and try to throw the offensive blocker outside and react back inside to the ball.  The back has to trust the linemen to keep the defender where he has him so he can make the cut.  It allows the back to cut inside.  If the back double cuts, the play is over.  A double cut occurs when the back breaks inside and attempts to come back outside.” 

Former New York Jets offensive line coach and longtime NFL coach Bill Callahan talks about the drag hand technique as a way to “drag” the covered down lineman with the offensive lineman in order to clean up the read for the ball carrier.  Below, Callahan lectures on the technique of the drag hand and the success that he’s had with it.


Joel Rodriquez, the offensive line coach at Fordham University stresses this point to his play side Tackle because more often than not, he will be involved with the “read” of the back.  More often than not that Tackle will more than likely be involved with the read of the back,” said Rodriquez.  “If a one on one scenario, that offensive lineman must get facemask across defender’s facemask on contact and carry a heavy backside arm.  It’s a minimum three-step post contact read for the following scenarios:


  • If DL fights for outside leverage, use backside arm to use his weight against him & throw him out.
  • If DL gets reached, then square up, press back into him & capture edge


To see cutups of the drag hand technique click on the link below:


Heavy Hands Philosophy

Finally, there is a certain amount of emphasis placed on training the uncovered blocker to assist the covered blocker in the combination scheme and that’s done so by using what Joel Rodriquez, the offensive line coach at Fordham University calls “heavy hands.” This is in reference to helping to take over blocks on the front side of outside zone.  Consider a play side Guard working towards a five-technique with the offensive Tackle play side. “If he (the Guard) feels the Tackle has reached him, he will get facemask to facemask and shove the Tackle off the block and take over the 5-technique,” said Rodriquez.  “ If the guy is not reached, than try to get heavy hands on the defender and shove him across the Tackle’s face and the back follows through his heels up to the linebacker.  It’s difficult to do.  But it’s good against true 3-4 techniques.  Those 4i’s don’t move. You can shove those guys over to the Tackle than climb to the backer."

To see examples of how Fordham University teaches its heavy hands technique, click on the link below:

To see how Coach Rodriquez teaches combination blocks, click on the link below:

To see cutups of various combination blocks in the middle and outside zone schemes, click on the link below:




According to the coaches we spoke with, the use of these two techniques can variably improve your zone run schemes.  Since the ball carrier is such a integral component of the zone run game, helping him identify the read can inevitably produce more efficiency in both the inside and outside zone run concepts.  




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