Teaching Level Two Zone Reads in Gap Schemes

Dec 5, 2022 | Offense, 12/21 Personnel Concepts, Run Game, Gap Run Concepts, 22/13 Personnel Concepts, Personnel

By Mike Kuchar with Glenn Caruso
Head Coach
University of St. Thomas (MN)



There’s an argument around football circles that there is no better teacher of gap schemes than University of St. Thomas (MN) head coach Glenn Caruso. And with the Tommies capping off a 10-1 season as the only non-scholarship team in the AFCA FCS top 25 rankings, that argument continues to gain merit year after year. Coach Caruso has been an advocate of gap scheme runs since his early days as an assistant in the Missouri Valley Conference and he’s continued his success running them ever since. He’s one of the more cerebral coaches at any level of football and he approaches gap schemes in the same fashion. “People think it’s a meathead play but it’s not,” he told me. “It’s a very intuitive play because of how many ways it can hit with two different inserts.”

The focus of this report is on how Coach Caruso and his offensive staff teach his gap schemes using zone principles. This mainly applies to how the back is taught in making the right read.

“There is so much lateral movement in football today that if you’re not adding zone principles to your isolation and gap schemes then you are putting you offensive line in a very mitigated situation,” he believes. “The RB has the width, depth and vision so he has time to make a decision. That is a zone principle.”

So, he calls it “power at level one, zone at level two.” “Everybody thinks that in gap schemes the more you block for leverage the less of a read it for the back, whereas in zone schemes there are level two reads at linebacker depth,” he said. “But at the end of the day our gap schemes are run like a gap scheme at level one, but the read that gets promoted to level two is more like a zone. We don’t look at the edge. It’s less about edge more about how LB’s are playing it.”


It Starts with the Backside LB:

Coach Caruso believes in having the ball carrier read gap schemes from the backside first and that starts with how the backside linebacker is playing the combination block. In fact, he says the second most important defender is the weak side outside linebacker. “The running back’s read will change based on the width of the linebacker that they are combo-ing to,” he said. “The closer that linebacker gets, the read becomes a little more ‘zone-ish’ in nature. At some point the power play is going to have to cutback. That will be the 14 yarder on first down not the 6 yarder that breaks the game open.”


Kick vs. Load Player Decision Making Process:

Before accentuating the running back reads in gap schemes, it’s important to note that explain how Coach Caruso teaches gap schemes. Most gap schemes are taught with “kick” and “load” players. The first blocker is the kick out block and the second blocker is the load block, usually pulling from the backside. We all know that. But St. Thomas is a heavy personnel offense, where there are four different human beings who can play those roles differently. His Guards will often play fullback roles, which is why he doesn’t teach any skip pull techniques. “We turn and run and read it out to give our running back the longest amount of time to read the play,” he said.

Coach Caruso talks about the three most important decision makers in the play. The first decision maker is the kick player, who has to make one of two decisions: either he kicks his defender or he logs his defender. The second decision maker is the puller, who has to make one of two decisions off the kick player: either he inserts inside the kick block or wraps around it. Finally, the ball carrier is the last decision maker in the play. The ball carrier has to make two decisions off each of those two blockers decisions. That becomes 16 total factors.

Sounds cerebral enough... we told you. But stay with us. According to Coach Caruso, the efficiency of the play all comes down to making sure everyone reads the guy in front of them. “But you need to give the decision maker all the information,” he said. “And the only way you do that is to teach your ball carrier to get behind those guys. The ball carrier needs to be laterally behind the second to last decision maker. If the running back gets too wide and not behind it he can’t read it. People teach the running back to be in the hip pocket but that doesn’t allow anything but a bang bang decision when contact is made on a kickout block. So, you turning them into robots. Getting behind that decision maker is that important.”

The focus of this report is to show how Coach Caruso and his staff teach the running back to adjust to all the different reactions off the decisions above.