For offenses that are either handcuffed by not having a durable tight end to block in the box or looking to variate from common 10 personnel runs like Inside Zone and Pin and Pull, the Middle Zone run concept may be a solid alternative.
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Football is an ever-evolving game, however, the one constant that has remained is the fact that you need to be able to run the ball to win games. At Trinity College, the Middle Zone is the staple of the run game. In 2018, Trinity ran it over 15x per game, for an average of 5.6 yards per carry and 9 touchdowns. One of the reasons they like the mid-zone so much is the flexibility it provides against different defensive fronts, schemes, and structures. Offensive coordinator, and offensive line coach, Mark Melnitsky says the reason they run it so much is that "We like it against, 4-3, 4-2-5, 3-man fronts, cover 2/4 structures, one high, man, for us it doesn’t matter the defense because we will be able to run mid-zone against any defensive look. It can also be run from under center or shotgun and offset or pistol when we do go shotgun. We can also tag our midzone to get many RPOs, play-action and bootleg pass to make the play that much harder to defend.”
Why Run the Mid Zone?
- Provides flexibility vs. various fronts
- Can be run from Under and Gun alignments
- Multiple first and second level built in reads
- Versatile package of RPOs and PAPs
What is Mid Zone?
Football is a game where coaches often borrow ideas from one another and blend ideas into one concept. The Trinity Mid-Zone is one such Concept. Coach Melnitsky describes their midzone as a combination of the inside zone scheme and the outside zone, hence the midzone name. Coach explains his midzone by saying: “on the inside zone, the landmark is the inside foot of the play side guard and, when we used to run outside zone, the ball carrier's landmark was 1 yard outside the TE or imaginary TE if run to a non-TE surface. The read on Inside Zone was the 1st play side interior DL to the 1st backside interior DL. The RB would sink the ball to his landmark and either drive it frontside downhill or hit the cutback in front of or behind the backside DL. In Mid-zone, we want the ball carrier to chase and press his play side landmark (outside heel of OT) and either bounce or crease the ball based upon how the tackle handles the DE. If the tackle reaches the DE, the ball carrier bounces the ball outside. If the tackle stretches the DE, the ball carrier must stick his outside foot in the ground and crease under the DE. We’ve essentially moved the landmark a player wider on MZ than IZ.”
Blocking the Mid-Zone
To truly understand any running play, it all starts with the offensive line and their identification of the front and the blocking techniques that they are going to use to block the myriad of fronts they will see. The first thing that the Trinity OL will do is identify the front as either odd or even according to their rules. Next, they determine who the Mike backer is and that will determine the combination blocks or man blocks being made on the MZ play. On any even front, the front-side tackle is by himself on the end man on the line of scrimmage. The play-side guard and center are working together for the Mike backer and first down lineman past the center. The backside guard and tackle are working for the first adjacent backer away from the Mike and the next interior down lineman.
On odd fronts, the scheme is a little different, but Coach Melnitsky has simple rules to help his players know their assignments. For odd fronts, the blocking scheme is determined by if the play is being run into the boundary or the field. “We will run this from 3x1 with the solo side being into the boundary,” explained Melnitsky. “Into the boundary, if there is an overhang there, which most teams have, we will make the boundary inside backer or the playside backer the Mike. This pulls the front side guard into the scheme. The Backside Guard and center will work from the nose to that Mike and then the frontside tackle and frontside guard work from the playside down lineman to the overhang.
“If you run this to the field or the strength, we will make the backside backer the Mike. Here versus an odd front, the backside guard is working with the center to the Mike. We can do this because we have no overhang defender. He is being blocked by the TE or is responsible for a receiver in the trips and can be taken up by the route.”
The Playside tackle and guard have the first backer playside away from the Mike and the first DL. The Center and Backside Guard have the nose to the Mike and the backside tackle is ripping through the B gap and blocking whoever shows.
The diagrams below detail how Trinity runs its Middle Zone concept against various fronts:
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- The pre-snap thought process Coach Melnitsky teaches his offensive line, including the tell he gives them based off the placement of first level defenders feet.
- The technique and drill work he provides for both covered and uncovered linemen in the Middle Zone concept.
- The adjustment in footwork and aiming points for the ball carrier in both Under and gun alignments.
- How he troubleshoots the concept against bigger defensive linemen who have the ability to cripple the movement of the scheme.
- The technique and drill work he provides to teach the double teams in the Middle Zone concept.
- Coaching points and film of the Mid Zone variations such as jet sweep, first level manipulations, RPOs and Play-Action passes.
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The Middle Zone is a very cost-effective staple of the Trinity run game. Coach Melnitsky has done a great job detailing how to install the play from the offensive line assignments and techniques to the running back aiming points. The play is incredibly flexible vs. various fronts from odd to even, boundary to the field, strong side to weak and from different formations and personnel. The play has built-in options off it, including the qb read game, play-action pass, jet sweep from empty, and the ability to run from two backs and/or Tight End formations.
Meet Mark Melnitsky: Coach Melnitsky has been in the college ranks for twenty-four years with stops at Hamilton College, University of Pennsylvania, Ursinus College, Widener University, Fordham University, and Trinity College. At Trinity, he has had the fortune to win 5 NESCAC Championships and coach 28 All-NESCAC offensive linemen and 3 All-Americans. Offensively, Trinity has led our conference in scoring 5 of the last seven seasons, including the last four (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). The 2018 Trinity Offense led the NESCAC in Scoring (36 ppg), Total Offense (464 ypg), Rushing (228 ypg) and Passing (236 ypg).