By Steve Hopkins
Basehor Linwood High School (KS)
Editors Note: Steve Hopkins is completing his 36th year of teaching and coaching; the first 22 years as an assistant – at 3 different high schools in Missouri (Warrensburg - 3A - where he coached WR's and DB's; Harrisonville - 3A - where he coached the Offensive Line; and his longest stint as an assistant was at 5A Blue Springs High school (largest high school in Missouri at that time) as the offensive line coach from 1983-1998, winning a state championship in 1992. In 1999 he became a head coach for the first time at Odessa, Mo. (class 3 school), and coached from 1999-2003 and then moved to Basehor-Linwood High school in Kansas (class 4A), where he has been since the fall of 2004. His overall record as a head coach is 92 wins and 52 losses, and as a head coach he has been a part of 6 league and 8 district championships. He and his wife Ann have been married for 35 years and have 4 children aged 18-32.
All throughout my time at Blue Springs High School in Missouri as the offensive line coach, and at Odessa High School in Missouri then Basehor-Linwood High school in Kansas where I have served as the head coach, we have relied on the Stretch/Outside zone to give us a simple but effective run game. We recognize the need to have a consistent running game that allows various players to touch the ball, while keeping the blocking scheme simple for the Offensive Linemen, and for us the "stretch" or outside zone has been the basis of our run game for nearly two decades. In our view, the stretch can look like multiple plays to the defense from the "jet/rocket" sweep to a power off tackle play, and yet, for the front line, one set of techniques and basic rules allow us to block nearly any front and "make 4 yards" each time we touch the ball. For us, the stretch can be all of the following plays:
- A deep handoff from under center or with a quick near motion (wing T concept) in the gun.
- A load option (usually in the gun)
- A Rocket or Jet Sweep (both under center and in the gun)
- A Toss Sweep (under center and in the gun)
- A QB Sweep (disguised as sprint out pass - 3 steps with QB having ball in the cocked position)
To do this, we incorporate key "trigger" terms, such as "Reach, Rip, and Run," "Lift, Lean, and Leave," and "Pivot, Punch, and Plant," for our linemen, Tight Ends, and Fullbacks to create gaps in the defense, or to gain the edge for a big play. We, like all teams, emphasis strength development in our weights program, but we also want to incorporate weight room skills onto the football field. Our linemen have really bought into this and it shows in our weight room and on the field.
Offensive Line Mechanics
For us, the power clean is the basis of our weight program, which we feel fits into our blocking and tackling techniques better than any other weight room lift. We focus in particular on the width of the feet (armpit width) when the high pull begins, and the landing width slightly wider (outside of the shoulders), and then incorporate that teaching into our blocking stance and demeanor. Our landing position in the catch portion of the clean, is in a power position, with the knees flexed and the chest and eyes up. We want them to "feel" that bend in the knees and ankles on the catch, while their eyes are up and focused on a target. Then we want to take that muscle memory and repeat it on our steps and blocking technique in our stretch play. An example of this is in the picture below:
Reach, Rip and Run
Why we don’t use Covered and Uncovered Principles:
- Defenses stem and move – especially as we motion.
- Defenses in high school alignment issues.
- Does it really change our initial steps?
- Hesitation or confusion is the enemy – we want full speed – attacking OL.
For a detailed breakdown of each part of the reach, ride, run progression, click here to join the insiders.
At this point, we give the combo player (the uncovered man on the inside), a "cloth rule" – if he sees cloth, he attacks and blocks with his partner, turning the block into a running double team. If we see cloth, as your partner, my reach hand will now come off the hip and together we will finish the man, as we get all four hands (outside man’s two hands on outside pit; and inside man’s two hands on his center or far number), and drive him off the ball. Or, if there is no cloth, he pushes with his hand into the back of his partner to let him know to drive the defensive linemen wide. We love the scene in the movie/book The Blindside, where Michael Oher drives his man off the field and over the fence saying he wanted to "put him on the bus." We have said for years to take that player "to his Momma" in the stands and put him in her lap. In our experience, most good opponents are taught to protect their outside shoulder so as we threaten his outside number, he will fight to stay wide, and thus give ground, or at least have a softer inside shoulder fighting to hold the edge. We can then widen him creating seams in the defensive front line. This creates a natural vertical crease as I now push you into your block and go to level two with my eyes inside. I don’t ever chase wide, but look to cut off linebackers flowing over the top. A good example of this in the pictures below.
For a deeper look at the Cloth rule and its progression, click here to join the Insiders.
Ball Carrier Responsibilities
For our offense to stretch the front, we want the ball carrier to "aim wide," so we give him an aiming point of 3 yards outside our EMOLOS. As the ball is seated in his belly, no matter what the play – jet sweep, conventional handoff, toss, option, etc. we then want the running back to bring his outside shoulder forward, and by his third step after controlling the ball, make a decision. We feel by starting wide, we can get the edge in some cases, and then attack the outside level two or level three defenders. Normally, however, the widening effect of the scheme creates a crease. Once it opens, we want the running back to stick his foot in the ground and run downhill and make 4 yards.
The final key piece in our blocking scheme is the fullback (we call him the ST for the "Stallion" because he must be able to do everything well – block, run the ball, and catch the ball). He will be in charge of "leaks" as we attack the edge – I tell him he is a "plumber." If a linebacker runs through, the ST has that as his first responsibility to "plug the leak." He eyes the play side linebacker from the snap, and if no immediate threat occurs, we want him to attack the outside linebacker’s – outside armpit/number. We rarely have only the linemen in charge of the edge, but will use the fullback to punch the DE/OLB often to lead the ball carrier to threaten the edge.
For drills and video on Coach Hopkins Stretch Scheme, click here to join the Insiders.
We feel this one blocking scheme can allow us to run what appears to be a multitude of plays – all looking different to the defense, but all with a single scheme for the linemen. We believe the stretch allows multiple players to run the ball (TB; ST; Z, H, or X receiver; QB, etc.) and on any one of these plays we can possibly gain the edge, or more often – gash the front. By utilizing the stretch as our basic offensive blocking scheme we can prepare for any front (and by not using "covered/uncovered" we avoid any confusion about who to block), and account for blitzes, pressures, etc. This has helped us to have a consistent running attack, set up play action, and allowed us to utilize our advantages (good size up front and tough runners with modest speed).
What You're Missing:
All X&O Labs Insiders members will gain full access to Coach Hopkins entire clinic report on his Stretch concept including:
Why he feels the "rip, reach and run" terminology is more a more effective teaching methodology than uncovered and covered principle in zone schemes.
Why the ball carrier must make a decision on his third step
The Specifics of Coach Hopkins Rip, Reach and Run techniques used by offensive lineman in the stretch scheme.
The Specifics of Coach Hopkins Punch, Pivot and Plant techniques used by offensive lineman in the stretch scheme.
The three drills Coach Hopkins uses daily to teach the Stretch concept to his lineman.
Game film of Coach Hopkins stretch concept which details all of the concepts mentioned in this report.