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

See how coaches across the country are teaching H backs to attack loaded boxes pre-snap and defensive “back gapping” post-snap.


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




The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “Zone Inserts,” which can be accessed in full below.

Training the H Back

Because the role of the H/Y is vital for insert zone run concepts, we wanted to find out two things from our contributing coaches:

  1. What kind of personnel do they look for in this position? Do they need to be physical blockers? Do they need to be as big as tight ends or fullbacks?
  2. How do they find the time to train these players in practice? Do they work with the offensive line or backs? What drills do they use?

We took direct quotes from our sources and segmented our research based on question.


H Type Personnel

Scott Wooster, offensive line coach, Wayne State University (MI): “We’ve had our best success with a 6’2, 6’3” bigger body types. Athleticism isn’t necessarily the primary trait. One of our best guys isn’t very athletic but is a thumper and loves contact. Our senior tight end was about 6’4”, 255 lbs. and was good on the split vs. defensive ends, but had some leverage issues on the insert on linebackers. Our senior fullback was 5’11”, 260 lbs. and was good on the cut iso but struggled with length on defensive ends on the split. The guy I referenced before will be a junior H and is 6’3”, 260 lbs. but he struggles a little with stiffness and flex on linebackers and is long enough for defensive ends, but is a great Wham guy. We like that body type, even giving up some athleticism for a physical guy that’s long enough for defensive ends and can get under linebackers. In Division 2 there is no “perfect” guy and we try to personnel what we are doing.”

Tyler Bowen, offensive coordinator, Fordham University (NY): “Ideally, we are looking for a 6’4 - 6’6, 235 to 250 lbs. guy. We always want to have guys that can stretch the field vertically from a pass game standpoint before anything else. I think this player needs to possess a mentality of physicality and toughness. You don't need an ass kicker as long as you stress where the landmarks are. It’s all about displacing the defense. When they are displaced laterally, you can move them laterally. The running back and press and make his read.” 

Joe Freitag, offensive line coach, Monmouth University (IL): “Our H-back is a fullback. It typically is an overgrown running back or a guy who isn’t quite big enough to be a true tight end. Our current H-Back was an option quarterback in high school.”

Tom Clark, North Cobb High School (GA): “Our F’s have been 205 to 220 lbs. range, big strong kids. We’ve never had a prototype tight end type, so our Y is not a kid we can bring in to do that. That’s why we use our running back. I’ve played with smaller guys as long as they were physical. I tell them if you don’t block, you’re not running the ball.”

Mike Rowe, Rocori High School (MN): “We do not have typically large H-back players. This past season we played with an athlete about 180 pounds. We preach technique as much as we can and as long as our player can get in the way we are happy. Two days a week we have a run period where our H-backs block bags, landmarks, and defensive players.”

Delegating Practice Time for the H

Justin Iske, offensive line coach, Southwestern Oklahoma State University: “We cross train all of our tight ends to play on and off the ball. We teach the H to block Wham/Split Zone the same as we teach the guard to kick out on counter (Open Pull) and Cut Iso the same as Power (Square Pull). This ties into a lot of levels where these players are playing multiple positions. We just teach our offensive line if they are blocking a first level defender, it’s an open pull. If they are blocking a second level defender, it’s a square pull. It’s the same concept. How many high schools have a tight end coach? You’re teaching your linemen the same principles. Our TE/FBs will typically spend the first 10 minutes of practice with the offensive line working footwork, then be on their own to work run blocks and releases for ten minutes, then work with the receivers for what is left of individual and group time.”

Joe Freitag, offensive line coach, Monmouth College (IL): “Our H-backs use 10 minutes of their individual period everyday working to practice a variety of blocks including their zone blocks.”

Scott Wooster, offensive line coach, Wayne State University (MI): “We work it in individual on cones or barrels. We work leverage and spill defensive ends for the split zone and linebackers for the cut iso.  Then we half line it with the offensive line to get moving parts. We do a three-quarter run thru as an offense. During spring and camp, we do good-on-good half line and obviously inside run. I would say we devote a period a week in individual and some substantial time in run thru/practice time.”

Tyler Bowen, offensive line coach, Fordham University (NY): “A great deal of time needs to be spent training the path and landmark. I like to set up two cones representing the width of the OL (use a RB Hole Strip if you would like). Have the tight end align off of the offensive tackle and train the path to a defender holding a shield for the following schemes:

Split Zone: Path: Through the inside leg of the opposite offensive tackle and be ready to square up and insert vs. hard spill. The landmark is a kick path aiming at inside number.

Insert Zone: Path is outside leg of the opposite offensive guard and be ready to get around the trash or potential movement. Shave tight off of the opposite offensive guard’s backside hip, track linebacker hat for fit. Must be ready to adjust vs. interior movement. The landmark is a kick path, aiming for play side number of linebacker.

Wham Zone: Path is inside leg of the opposite offensive guard with a landmark of a kick path, inside number of defender.

Chris Fisk, offensive line coach, Central Washington University: “We will drill all our H movements in pre-practice for the first 10 minutes where we will work pass protections. Then we go to a seven-minute team walk through, which is movement or shift based. I’ll bring H backs with me and when we work two man combinations or zone drill work, we will bring a defensive end into the drill and have them work their slice blocks off the zone combinations. The H back coach is watching that and getting them coached up.”

Tom Clark, North Cobb High School (GA): “We call our F the back and our H is our inside receiver. When we go two back, the H comes into the backfield and our F moves up to be the blocking back. We cross train them. They are big enough to do both. Years where we didn’t have a pure running back to block, we would substitute another back in for that H. In practice, we do most of the work in the summer camp. Our running back coach, Steve Butler, will cross train them. One rep they are the runner the next rep they are the back. If we’re doing a mesh period with the quarterback working on a handoff, they will switch each rep.”


The intent of this case was to provide an overview of how coaches were moving the zone forward by changing the identification system of their offensive linemen and the aiming points of their backs. In the next case, we will detail the split zone concept specifically. 


BREAKING: X&O Labs' Brand-New Special Report...

The Insert Zone Study


“The toughest zone block on the field is the backside tackle on the 4i.
Now we have an angle and an answer.”

- Tyler Bowen,

Offensive Line Coach,

University of Maryland

Sure, we get it. You don’t want to run the inside zone against the tuff front. Those first level B gap defenders could be menacing. They twist, they stunt, they move, they two-gap. It’s play caller suicide. You’re better off running the pin and pull or outside zone scheme.

It’s understandable. In fact, many of the contributors to our brand-new special report, The Insert Zone Study, would agree with you. But what if you hang your hat on the inside zone scheme? What if you’re like Fordham University, where 83 percent of its run game menu consists of various forms of the inside zone concept? What are you going to do, tag the pin and pull and stop running the IZ altogether?

We knew there had to be a better way to protect this play. So, we studied coaches dedicated to pure inside zone based offensive structures and prodded them on how they still run these schemes against movement fronts, like the odd. These were programs like Monmouth College (IL), where over half its run yardage this season (over 230 per game) were off variants of the inside zone scheme. We found the answers to protect these runs. And many of those answers came in the form of inserts, inserting an F/H/Y to create an additional gap, thus separating the defense.

The Insert Zone Study focuses on the following three zone insert concepts:

  1. Divide Zone
  2. Zone Iso or Cut Iso
  3. Zone Wham

This study is not just devoted to attacking odd fronts. If you’re seeing mainly even fronts, no need to stop reading. These concepts are killers against those fronts particularly, and we address how our coaches are using them.

So now offenses are finding ways to build the zone concept forward, accounting for potential box defenders that will introduce themselves post-snap. We’re not talking RPOs here, we’re talking about running the ball when you have to and when you need to and handling a “plus one” box defender.

It’s essentially a two-back offense under the guise of a one-back formation. And while using inserts may not be entirely new, they are certainly a “work in progress,” as evidenced by how many of our contributors sent the “good, bad and ugly” cutups of using them this season. Which is why some of the elements of this study fall under the “we should have done this” narrative, and with the benefits of hindsight from our contributors, we have plenty of those corrections addressed for you.

The details of using these zone inserts are being sketched out in meeting rooms across the country this spring. Because of this, we have documentation from our sources on how they would do it moving forward, using the film from this previous season. It’s the prototypical cause and effect, scenario and the offense has the chalk last.

Our contributor list to this brand-new special report is as follows:

* Tyler Bowen, Offensive Line Coach, University of Maryland

* Tom Clark, Offensive Coordinator, North Cobb High School (GA)

* Brad Davis, Offensive Line Coach, University of Florida

* Chris Fisk, Offensive Line Coach, Central Washington University

* Joe Freitag, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach, Monmouth College (IL)

* Larry Hill, Head Football Coach, Smithson Valley High School (TX)

* Robert Ingram, Offensive Line Coach, North Cobb High School (GA)

* Justin Iske, Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

* Brent Myers, Offensive Line Coach, Weber State University (UT)

* Mike Rowe, Head Football Coach, Rocori High School (MN)

* Scott Wooster, Offensive Line Coach, Wayne State University (MI)

The Insert Zone Study is segmented into four main components:

* Case 1: Adjusting Zone ID, RB Entry Points and Training the Inserter

* Case 2: The Divide (Split) Zone Concept

* Case 3: The Cut Zone (Iso) Concept

* Case 4: The Zone Wham Concept


5 Solutions to the

5 Biggest Problems


Naturally our research is continually centered on protecting these concepts by focusing on alleviating the issues coaches were having in using them. We knew the common issues that teams were having running the inside zone concept, so we felt that it was our responsibility to produce methods these coaches were using to alleviate them. So, we focused on 5 specific problems these coaches were presented with in running these schemes and in-depth details of the strategies they are using to solve them. Of course, greater detail is given to these solutions within the cases of the study. These are in no particular order:

Problem 1: Defenses are finding ways to creep an extra run player into the box post-snap.

Solution: The identification system of blocking the inside zone play has changed to account for that extra run fitter and as a result, so has the aiming point of the ball carrier.

Problem 2: Defensive back gapping has caused a perpetual shift in the entry point of the A-back; he may no longer have cutback access because of it.

Solution: The aiming point of the A-back needs to be shifted to a play side entry point, and because of this, coaches are shifting from Pistol sets to offset sets with same side footwork.

Problem 3: The presence of a physical play side 4i defender in the B-gap limited the lateral displacement needed to effectively run the inside zone.

Solution: Offensive line coaches are using more vertical, not horizontal footwork, in getting the displacement they needed to run the zone play.

Problem 4: The presence of an athletic 4i defender back side negated the possibility of a cutoff block.

Solution: Coaches are finding ways to account for that back side 4i defender, whether it comes in the form of arc/wham scenario or “out call” scenario, which can separate the defense more effectively.

Problem 5: The H-back (or insert player) may not be physical enough to make the blocks needed at the point of attack on these concepts.

Solution: Coaches are now teaching their OL to block landmarks, not defenders, when dealing assignments for these insert concepts. As long as the player holds the gap, he’s won. It’s an extra hat for an extra gap. And according to our contributors, he doesn’t have to a “bad ass” to do so.

67 Videos Provide You With Real-World Options: 
All four cases of this special report are absolutely loaded with game film. These videos will take you inside our contributors’ programs and see their concepts in real-world situations.


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