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

If you’re utilizing pure wide zone run concepts, chances are you’ve encountered what we found are the three main issues defenses present to defend them. These issues consist of blocking wide first level defenders, blocking “off the ball” first level defenders, combating interior penetration and running the scheme into edge pressure. We’ve combed through our research to provide 9 solutions you can use this fall to combat these common problems. And while choosing to use more pin and pull run concepts could be the ultimate solution to these problems, you can still protect your pure outside Zone schemes by adapting the solutions presented in this research.


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


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Issue 1: Blocking a Wide First Level Defender

Any wide first level defender has the potential to alter wide zone blocking schemes, particularly if he is at the point of attack. Sometimes it becomes necessary to alter your footwork based on the leverage of the down defender. In order to block those wide leveraged defenders, consider the following techniques.

Solution 1: Drop & Pop Technique, John Donatelli, Towson University

When defenders are in a wider alignment, Donatelli will use what he calls drop and pop footwork in his middle zone concept. In this technique the play side foot drops, steps behind the L.O.S. for equal width and depth to achieve “Big toe/Little Toe” Landmark. The second step is on the same angle but again on an up field-attacking angle. We utilize this footwork for attacking a hard defender off of our body’s or when piercing the backside second level.

To see how Coach Donatelli teaches the Drop and Pop Footwork, click on the video below:

Solution 2: Open Step Variant, Travis Mikel, Southeast Louisiana University

Although Travis Mikel, the offensive line coach at Southeastern Louisiana University doesn’t calls his technique an open step, it is very similar to a bucket step. His coaching points are below:

Covered offensive lineman takes the following steps:

  • First step is a 6x2 open step by unlocking the hip.
  • The second step is up and through the far knee of the defender.
  • The third step is to accelerate the feet and continue to jam the backside leg through the defender.

“We teach jam the backside leg through the defenders far knee so that we get the defenders on the angle we want,” Mikel told us. “In other words when you just run and put no emphasis on that leg the edge does not get set and the play strings out to the side line. Also it helps turn the DL shoulders. On the backside of the play or a second level cut jamming the knee through the far knee ensures that we get the defender cut off and its not just a dive on the ground by the OL. Also it helps prevent the DL to be able to punch the ear hole and defend the cut.”

“We want our toes, knees and shoulders on an outside armpit aiming point. The punch in the outside zone is opposed to the punch on the inside zone scheme because the arms are in running motion. The punch should land in a one, two fashion. The inside hand should land first on the defensive lineman’s outside peck. It’s followed quickly by the outside hand shooting for the armpit. If we get a go call from the uncovered offensive lineman we immediately move to a punch rip by the covered offensive lineman.”

To see video of this technique, click on the video below:

Issue 2: Blocking an Off the Ball Defender

There is a distinction to be made between a wide defender and an off the ball defender. For a first level defender to be considered “off the ball,” he is usually at least one man removed from the covered offensive lineman.

Solution 3: Four O’clock Step Technique, Gerald Hazzard, Lake Erie College (PA)

“Our zone blocking assignments are the same as any team out there. Where we are drastically different is in our technique. We take what we call a 4 o’clock step with our play side foot as soon as the ball is snapped. This technique is used regardless of where defenders lined up. Absolutely, defenders will not always stay where they line up. Our 4 O’clock step will allow the defense to declare itself so our second step is always correct. We are going to line up our offensive line as far off the ball as the officials will allow us. It creates angles and we should be able to get our second step in the ground before contact is made (commonly referred to as a bucket step). This allows the defense to declare where they are going. Our second step, which we call our crotch step, is designed to split the crotch of our assignment. When these first two steps are executed properly our offensive lineman should be on a perfect course to execute their assignment.

“The next step in executing our zone blocking scheme up front is our hand placement. We are trying to get our inside hand to the center of our assignments chest, and get our outside hand on his hip. If we get this hand placement we should have our defender reached. The next step is to run our feet like crazy and FINISH. If we cannot get our inside hand to the center of the defender’s chest we will switch our hands on the fly and put our outside hand to the center of the defender’s chest and our inside hand on his hip. The next step is the same as before, run our feet like crazy and FINISH. Our offensive lineman can make the decision to switch their hands as soon as they realize they cannot get their assignment reached. It may happen as early as our first step. We believe that horizontal displacement of the defense is just as good as vertical displacement. I want the first level defenders moved. If we can drive them off the ball and put them on their back I’m happy, if we drive them 3 gaps down the line of scrimmage I’m happy.

“Our technique getting to the second level is also a key part of our scheme. We are actively trying to AVOID DOUBLETEAMS. We stress the importance of getting a body on a body and not wasting an offensive lineman on a defender that is getting blocked. Our pace to the second level is as fast as our guys can go. We do not believe in duck walking or any technique that would slow us down. The hand placement on a second level defender is exactly the same. If we get them reached at the second level its good, if we do not, we switch our hands and run our feet like crazy and FINISH!”

To see video of this technique, click on the video below:

Solution 4: Rip to Run Footwork, Eddy Morrissey, Princeton University

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 its 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.

What You’re Missing…

Join X&O Labs’ Insiders, an exclusive membership-based website, and get the full-length version of this report. Here’s a quick sample of what you’ll find in the full-length version…

  • The Two-Step Shuffle and Four-Step Shuffle technique that John Donatelli, the offensive line coach at Towson University, uses to block off the ball defenders at the point of attack.
  • A narrated video tutorial of the Rip to Run footwork and Three-Step Bucket footwork Princeton University offensive line coach Eddy Morrissey uses to block wide technique defenders in wide zone schemes.
  • The Pivot, Punch and Plant technique used at Basehor Linwood High School (KS) to control the edge at the point of attack.
  • How the Drag Hand technique used by the New York Jets and various other college programs can negate inside penetration.
  • Why implementing “gang” calls can negate edge pressure at the front side of the scheme.

Get instant access to the full-length version of this report when you join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders.

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This research was excerpted from XandOLabs.com past clinic and research reports, which can be accessed in full by clicking on the following links:

Drag Hand Technique

Establishing a Full-Field Zone Run Concept

Mid Zone/Outside Zone Special Report

Rip and Run to the Perimeter



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