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msuBy Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs



Discover how top outside zone teams are dealing with tight shade blocks by covered lineman in ways that can create large running lanes.

By Mike Kuchar 
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikeKKuchar 

Editor's Note: The following report from our complete Mid / Outside Zone Special Report that is available to our Insiders Members by clicking here.  


Zone blocking teams are always looking for tactics to help their linemen have a better chance of winning one on one battles.  This article will focus on the 5 different techniques that offensive line coaches are teaching to their covered offensive lineman in stretch concepts.   We’ve found that these techniques will differ based on the leverage of the down defender.  There are so many intricacies that go into these coaching points- head placement, hand placement, foot placement, angle of departure, etc. They are all covered in this case as it pertains to the wide and middle zone run concepts. 


Our initial research shows that 59 percent teach the far armpit as the visual aiming point for the covered offensive lineman in both the wide and middle zone concepts.   We’ve found our research split on the footwork that coaches teach their covered offensive lineman in wide zone schemes- an even amount teach both the reach footwork and rip to run footwork while 13.3 percent teach the bucket step.  We’ve found that coaches are from two schools of thoughts on the covered lineman- they are either reach step advocates or bucket step advocates and we present both perspectives below. 


Technique #1:  Rip to Run Footwork

36.7 percent of coaches teach the rip to run technique in wide zone run concepts, regardless of position of the defense, so it’s important to present that side of our research.  Rick Trickett, the offensive line coach at Florida State University, is one of those coaches.  For Trickett, the crux of the scheme is the first step of the covered offensive lineman.  “He must bring his shoulders through on the first step on the stretch scheme,” Trickett told an audience of 400 coaches at the C.O.O.L. clinic in Cincinnati last month.  “We work to get our outside breast to his far armpit and our inside foot to crotch.  To do this we bring our shoulder over our knee on the first step.”

Eddy Morrissey, a former Graduate Assistant under Chip Kelly at Oregon teaches the tracks methodology and uses a run to reach footwork for everyone along the front.  “Technically I’m covered, but it’s really ripping and pressing and covering him up,” Morrissey told us.  “We don't want the uncovered player to knock into me and there is all this penetration.  As I feel pressure, I need to lean back into him. I want my guys to face the sideline and now we are on a track.”   He teaches an elbow whip, pivot and run technique to his offensive linemen in his wide zone concept.  He provides a video tutorial on this technique below. 

Blocking Tight Techniques


Technique #2:  Reach/Lateral Step Footwork

The reach step could be classified as a lateral step and not a bucket step.  The width of that step is predicated on two scenarios:

  1. The horizontal leverage (width) of the defensive lineman.
  2. Whether or not the covered lineman is involved in a double team.

Perhaps Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach Tom Cable said it best in a phone interview with us.  “The biggest thing being missed is when you’re coaching that covered player when he’s in combination and when he’s not in combination.  It’s two totally different blocks.  If the guy is covered and he’s in combination, I can come off the ball and annihilate the outside shoulder pad of that defender and have no worries.  I’m not worried about my inside hand, none of that.  I’m going with both hands and on that outside pad.  The uncovered guy is going to protect me and allow me to do that so I can be aggressive in doing it.    The important thing is not for that covered player to swing his butt around to reach all the time.  It’s an open toe reach and knock people back.   Open my toe on my first step, while my second step will put me on that 45-degree angle tilt which mirrors the footwork of the back.  I don’t have to talk about it much.  I don’t talk about drop steps or bucket step.  I just talk about ‘opening your toe and knocking him back.’”

Mark Staten at Michigan State University talks about varying that first step based on whether or not that player has help in a combination.  “With help, we talk about zone reach footwork and without help it’s tight reach footwork,” said Staten.  The specifics behind each technique is below:

  • Zone reach footwork- Lateral to lead position (no bucket).  Step progression- first step toes outside to his outside shoe, second step thru crotch of defender, third step up the field. We want to drive our inside hand thru his down hand into his chest.
  • Tight Reach footwork- Hand thru near breastplate, not sternum.  We know there is no help. 
  • Eyes on target: Aiming point is inside eye to the play side number of the down defender.
  • Steps: Play side shoe position lead outside the wide foot of the down defender; 2nd step through the crotch; 3rd step working to get up field; do not wheel or swing the hips; work through to try and get the shoulders square.
  • Hands: Backside hand just inside of the sternum; thumb up, strike with the heel of the hand through the arm of the down defender; play side hand captures and guides the outside half of the defender.
  • Pad level and position: Keep the backside shoulder down and under the shoulders of the defender to establish leverage
  • If defensive lineman stretches with you – stay on block and uncovered teammate works up to linebacker.
  • If defensive lineman anchors on you – stay on block with eyes on play side arm pit of defender.  
  • If defensive lineman slants inside – force him to flatten his slant by stiff-arming him inside.  Stay on block until you feel uncovered teammate & then come off aiming eyes to play side number of linebacker.

Fundamentals of Michigan State University’s Tight Reach

To see how Coach Staten teaches the tight reach footwork, click on the link below:

Herb Hand, the offensive line coach at Penn State University teaches the outside V of the neck of the defender on outside zone schemes and also makes the distinction of not taking a bucket step.  In order to get there, he instructs his offensive lineman to use a stretch step, not a bucket step.  “He opens his hips on the first step,” said Hand.  “He has to give ground so he can gain position on the defender.  He does not step in the bucket so to speak.  It is a stretch step.  He gains ground and position on the first step.  He opens his toe, which helps open the hips.”

Bill Mountjoy, a forty-year coaching veteran both at the collegiate and high school ranks, teaches a six-inch lead step in both inside and outside zone schemes.  His aiming point is the play side number of the defender.  The second step will go to the crotch of the defensive lineman, without crossing over.  He has his lineman get their hands to the base of the shoulder pads to check for three distinct reads:


This is the technique used by Trinity College (CT) offensive linemen, tight ends, and H-backs use on its Middle Zone play.  “They use this technique when they are the play side covered lineman on a combo scoop or are required to block a defender solo at the point of attack,” said offensive line coach Mark Melnitsky   A key coaching point is that we must prevent the 1st level defender from beating us outside and up field.

TECHNIQUE:  Take a weight adjustment step with your outside foot, then take a crossover step with your inside foot.  How big of a weight adjustment/crossover step you take will depend on three things:  1)  Shade of the defender,  2)  Movement of the defender, and 3)  Point of attack.  The wider the defender, the more depth you must get on your weight adjustment step.  It is imperative that your crossover step works toward the defender.  Otherwise, the defender will bubble you backwards.  Even though we are reaching the defender, we still want to reestablish the L.O.S. on the defender’s side of the ball.  On a Reach Drive Block, your nose should be on the outside number of the defender on contact, as your objective is to control the outside ½ of the defender.  Your punch will be with the palms of your hands to the breastplate of the defender.  Upon contact, it is imperative you work to keep your shoulder parallel to the LOS.  Once contact has been made with the defender, work to position your head outside then defender’s head and aim to get your inside hip to the defender’s outside hip while pressing the defender up field.  As you work to get your inside hip to the outside hip of the defender, you should gradually disengage your outside hand from the defender.  Continue to work squarely up field and lock the elbow of your inside hand to your torso while maintaining contact to the defender with your inside hand.  This technique will be used when you are at or near the point of attack. 

FOLLOW THROUGH:  Upon making contact, explode up through the defender using a series of short, powerful weight adjustment and crossover steps.  Finish with upward punch and lifting and fast aggressive feet.

To see the drill work used by Coach Melnitsky to teach the reach, drive technique, click on the link below:

Technique #4:  Angle Drive Footwork

Joel Rodriquez, the offensive line coach at Fordham University teaches an angle drive step to his covered lineman in his middle zone concept.  The angle drive footwork is used for the covered offensive lineman.  “ We want to get our lead toe to the defender’s play side toe as the aiming point,” he told us.  “We want to get our facemask to bite the far bicep.  The backside arm needs to come right through the midline. “ He’ll often do drill work with medicine balls in shoots as you will see below. 

Technique #5:  Settle and Pop Footwork

In Towson University’s middle zone concept, offensive line coach John Donatelli makes sure he correlates the leverage of the defender to which step he instructs his lineman to take.  But before he even starts talking about steps, he stresses the following coaching points for covered lineman.

Covered Lineman

  1. Gain leverage advantage with footwork
  2. If hard defender spikes away from POA, Slow down, stay of the L.O.S. and Eyes Must look to the next play side gap.
  3. Once you know there is no threat to the play side gap then and ONLY then can he begin to climb to the next level scanning his eyes play side to backside for the 2nd level defender.

“If trained consistently and properly the above concept is key to handling post snap movement and pressure,” Donatelli told us.  “Not all lineman will be able to process and use their eyes both pre and post snap equally well.  However, I contend that hanging on training the players eyes for post snap movement and believing in those concepts of training will assist in offensive success no matter what scheme you are trying to employ. 

The lateral step technique that Donatelli uses for covered lineman in his middle zone concept is what he calls a  “Settle/Pop” step which is a 3”-4” step along the same plane the lineman’s foot is on pre-snap.  Do not lose or gain ground.  This is a lateral step.  The second step moves slightly up field and in the same increment of 3”-4”.  We use this footwork for hard defenders that are lined up tight on our bodies.


What You're Missing:

Join XandOLabs.com exclusive Insiders membership program and gain full access to this Special Report, which includes:

  • Why the wide zone thrives in 11 personnel groupings and the middle zone seems to have a niche with 10 personnel programs like ECU.
  • The one-man read progression that Jim Cable uses to coach Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in the wide zone scheme.
  • The “three to, three thru” coaching point that Western Connecticut State University uses to teach its backs in the outside zone scheme.
  • Why 33.3 percent of coaches think it’s more effective to teach their players to identify defensive structures by concept names rather than numbers.
  • Why 59 percent of offensive line coaches teach the far armpit as the visual aiming point for covered lineman in the outside zone concept, more than any other aiming point.
  • he lateral step footwork used by covered linemen in Michigan State University’s stretch zone concept.
  • Plus over 40 video clips on the Mid and Outside Zone.

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To see how Coach Donatelli teaches the Settle and Pop Footwork, click on the link below:

To see cutups of these various blocks against tight technique defenders, click on the link below:



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