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

When defenses add safeties into the box it leaves an offense with two options: read him with an RPO or go right after him in the run game. One prominent SEC OL coach told X&O Labs he’ll choose the latter: “If he wants to come fit let our back go one on one with that dude.” In an X&O Labs exclusive interview, this coach talks about why a numbering system slows down tempo offenses, how he implements key breakers in the H/Y off formations and what he does to handle back side 4i defenders in the odd front, all focal points of the insert zone study X&O Labs released in February.


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




When defenses add safeties into the box it leaves an offense with two options: read him with an RPO or go right after him in the run game. One prominent SEC OL coach told X&O Labs he’ll choose the latter:  “If he wants to come fit let our back go one on one with that dude.” In an X&O Labs exclusive interview, this coach talks about why a numbering system slows down tempo offenses, how he implements key breakers in the H/Y off formations and what he does to handle back side 4i defenders in the odd front, all focal points of the insert zone study X&O Labs released in February. We wanted this perspective on how coaches were teaching the insert zone as it pertains to the following four contentious issues in blocking the inside zone:

  • The issue of using covered/uncovered principles vs. a numbering system in tempo offenses
  • Why changing the back’s landmark to combat defensive back gapping is flattening out the zone scheme
  • Implementing key breakers in the H/Y Off formation
  • What to do to handle the read side 4i defender in Odd front 

His thoughts on these topics are below:

On Using Covered/Uncovered Principles vs. a Numbering System…

“We’re more along the lines of what Joe Freitag (the offensive line coach at Monmouth College IL) is doing with just blocking fronts and not going to a numbering system. We don’t use covered and uncovered rules. We block what is in front of us, rather than saying ‘this guy is a minus one or this guy is a zero.’ Then when the ball snaps they move and it changes everything. You better be ready to play when the ball is snapped. You can’t overload your offensive line with too much information. You don’t want to over coach it.”

On Defensive Back Gapping…

“This is what people are going to see more and more of. Defenses are trying to fit everything like a 4-3 team with the safety being the front side fitter. You can either control that safety with an RPO or you can block the hats we are responsible for. My mindset is screw that guy. If that guy is going to come fit, we will let our back go one on one with that dude and see if he wants to be the leading tackler of the team. If he wants to be, then we will have our moments as well.

The other thing you can do is push to him with our coding like a gang call.  We did this against one program this season who was blitzing as soon as they got off the bus. We gang called everything and gap tracked it. The whole key with that is getting in vertical tracks after the first step. We would go lateral for six inches than press vertical. If you don't everything starts to wash sideways. Now the track of your line doesn’t match the track of your back. For us, we only have one landmark on our inside zone concept, which is the crack of the Center’s butt. In your study, North Cobb High School (GA) talked about not changing landmarks and that is like us. We don't want it to change. We want to be consistent regardless of the front. You change the track and it becomes like a mid zone and not an inside zone. If you’re going to be a B gap zone team, that’s a mid zone.  It’s a totally different concept. It’s not a vertical departure angle. We want to get vertical. I don't want the line moving laterally on inside zone. When you start pushing the line to that fitter from the top shelf that is the danger of it. It flattens out and it moves laterally on what should be a vertical push.”

On the Benefits of Using Same Side Zone Schemes…

“What I find most interesting from the study is what coaches like Tyler Bowen (now the offensive line coach at Maryland) are using to break keys in the Y/H off inside zone scheme. If you don’t want to use pistol formations, this gives you another option.”

On Handling the Backside B Gap Defender…

“Against odd front, if I have two 4i technique’s with no overhangs, I will double team both 4i’s and solo block the Nose with my Center. We’ve also tight arced the tackle and read him or whammed that defender. To wham him or to run the cut iso, which was also detailed in your study. It is a really inexpensive add to the zone scheme. This past season one team wound up blowing up the mesh point in our zone schemes so instead of running split zone we would run split zone but lock the backside and insert for the backside linebacker. You’re getting a hat for the defensive end right now without giving him an opportunity for him to blow it up. We have tags that will get us to that stuff.  You’re still running an inside zone concept you’re just adjusting. It’s simple. You can get it taught and understood quickly.”

To read the entire study devoted to all of these components, click on the link below:

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

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs

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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