By Rich Alercio
X&O Labs Offensive Line Columnist
"Who do they think they are the New York Jets?" You may recall that line from the Disney classic Remember the Titans when Ed Henry’s offense showcased an Empty formation (then a rarity) in a high school state championship game. Five receivers gave the Titans fits in that game and it is still causing problems for defenses today.
Offensive coordinators can be on the board all day devising route combinations for five receivers but what they must first learn how to do is protect the passer. Sure, you can only block five but you can account for many more.
While it is not the intent of this article to discuss receiver play, it is important to note that they must become involved in site adjusting or running hot routes off of second and third level blitzers. Blitzes vs Empty formations can leave huge voids in the defense. We will address blitz protection a bit later. For now, let’s start with the base rules.
We will utilize a Man protection scheme with combinations to potential blitz threats. We are Big On Big (BOB) in our blocking scheme. The O-Line is responsible for all down linemen and Inside Linebackers. In other words, they have the box. If an offensive lineman is covered by a defensive lineman, he is responsible to block him. Any Uncovered lineman will check to block Linebackers. It’s as simple as that- at least to start.
Empty Pro vs 4-3
The 4-3 front is the cleanest and easiest to protect in empty. The four covered OLs have the four defensive lineman. The one uncovered OL is responsible for the MLB (Mike LB). He can either call a combination with the near interior lineman (Diagram 1) or set back to the "hole" to block him solo (Diagram 2).
If the Center is the uncovered OL, he has the Mike and can either set back to the hole or combo with the Guard who has the 2i.
If the MLB drops into coverage with the "combo" call, the two OLs will stay on the DT. When the MLB drops with a "hole" call, the uncovered OL is free to help the first threat Inside-Out. That could be a DL who won his 1-on-1 or a DL on a line stunt. Versus a 4-down front the O-Line has no responsibility for pressures outside the box. The receivers must site adjust or hot route off of outside pressure.
Empty Protection vs Odd Fronts
The 3-down fronts become a bit more complicated as the O-Line now has 2 uncovered Guards. Versus a 3-4 or a 3-3, following on B.O.B. rules, the Center handles the Nose and both Tackles block the DEs. Both Guards will check Linebacker blitz Inside-Out (Diagrams 3 & 4).
If there is no blitz, the Guards will help secure the Center’s block if Nose rushes to his side or they may help with Tackle’s block on DE if Nose rushes away (Diagram 5).
If two LBs blitz from the same side, the Guard will pick up the inside threat and the QB will have to throw hot off of the outside blitz (Diagram 6).
If only the Outside Linebacker blitzes in a 3-down front, the Guard can pick it up.
When the Guard has to pick up the OLB on the Inside-Out read, this is the only time that we will abandon our good pass demeanor. There will be no time to kick-slide back to the intersection of the blitz before he gets to his target. After the uncovered Guard checks inside blitz then recognizes outside blitz, he must just turn and run to give a high kick out of the blitzer over the top of the QB; but since the receiver will not know if it is just outside pressure as opposed to overload pressure, he always site adjusts outside blitzes.
Editor's Note: Get access to the full-length version of this report including:
How to turn the A gap defenders loose (yes, we said, "A gap defenders") in pass protection and still get the ball off on time
Protecting against 6 and 7 man pressures, including overloads
A detailed video tutorial on Coach Alercio's scheme from his game film
Line up your best five athletes in an Empty set and keep your fingers crossed that the defense will send pressure. Your O-Line will now be able to handle the pressure and your receivers will get big yardage. When they decide to sit back after getting beaten deep, your QB will be able to pick them apart. Have fun and let your athletes run.
Share Your Two Cents...
If your team runs empty formations, we would love to hear how your protection scheme is similar or different to that of Coach Alercio. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.