Minnesota’s Bread and Butter: Th e Ins i de Zone

n behalf of the entire staff at the University of Minnesota I would like to thank the AFCA Summer Manual Committee for inviting me to share with you our thoughts about the inside zone. We have been running, researching and fine-tuning this play for a number of years, going back to our days at the University of Kansas. There are a number of coaches that have impacted and influenced my thoughts, and I would be remiss not to thank them for their contributions to the improvement of the play. First and foremost, Head Coach Glen Mason has always had a strong commitment to the development of the running game. Those directly involved; our former offensive line coaches Pat Ruel, Elliot Uzelac and Steve Loney, and indirectly, two offensive line coaches for whom I have great admiration and respect, Jerry Hanlon and Larry Beightol. All of these coaches have had a tremendous impact on me from both a fundamental and schematic standpoint. The ability to run the football is a thing of beauty. It is an art. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and patience. There is no easy way or short cut to having a great running game. It’s an ATTITUDE! You and everyone involved have to be totally committed. Realistically, the running game is not for everyone. Upon taking over the Gopher program in December of 1996, Coach Mason challenged us to develop and produce an offense based on an effective running game. Undoubtedly, the development and consistency of our running game would be imperative to our success at the University of Minnesota. We knew this would not be an overnight process since Minnesota had consistently ranked near the bottom in rushing offense nationally and in the Big Ten. Patience but perseverance! Based on our offensive success at Kansas and the personnel we inherited at Minnesota, we decided that the zone running game gave us the greatest chance for success. We were going to hang our hat on zone blocking. What is Zone Blocking? Zone blocking is two adjacent offensive linemen responsible for blocking two defenders in a certain area. As movement begins, either the inside or the outside offensive lineman remains engaged and blocks the down defender and the remaining offensive lineman comes off and blocks the second level defender.


The Purpose of Zone Blocking 1. Deny penetration. 2. Create movement on level one, the line of scrimmage. 3. Seal off the onside/playside linebacker. Why the Inside Zone? 1. We can run it from multiple formations and backfield sets (15 different sets in ‘02). 2. We can, do and must run it to both the tight end and split end. 3. We can, do and must run it into everything. We run it to both the low shade and the three technique. 4. We keep it simple, allowing our offensive linemen, tight end(s), runningback(s) and wide receiver(s) to be confident and aggressive. 5. We don’t have to have superior players to be successful. 6. We minimize mistakes, which results in very few lost yardage plays. 7. We have a minimal number of techniques for offensive linemen/tight end(s). 8. We can game plan by personnel groups/formations to gain advantages. 9. It typically features our best player, runningback. 10. Misdirection off the inside zone — keeps, nakeds, bootlegs and reverses. 11. It sets up our play-action passing game. The inside zone play (Diagrams 1, 2, 3) has been the “bread and butter” play in our rushing offense since 1997. Over the course of the 2001 and 2002 seasons, our inside zone has accounted for 26 percent of our called running game, 26 percent of our rushing offense and has averaged 5.43 yards per carry.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

Diagram 3

Diagram 6

Offensive Line Requirements 1. Deny penetration. 2. Control and/or get movement on defensive lineman. 3. Stretch defenders east and west to create seams and running lanes. 4. Get to the point of attack. 5. Come off the ball with short steps and flat backs. 6. Keep hips and shoulders square. 7. Maintain proper splits: two feet-two feet-three feet. 8. Take proper aiming points and hit landmarks, the playside number. Running Back Requirements 1. Align with heels at six-and-a-half yards. 2. Footwork — open, crossover, plant, and square shoulders to line of scrimmage. Aiming point: One yard behind original alignment of tight end. 3. Keys: Primary key — run off blocking of first down defender (Diagrams 4 thru 7).

Diagram 7

• Move the linebackers — run a disciplined track. • Press the hole — B gap. • Patience! It’s not the speed to the hole, but the speed through the hole. 5. In my opinion the biggest mistake a coach makes is to draw the runningback course as a cutback (Diagram 8).

Diagram 8 Wrong

In our inside zone blocking, our lineman must know: • Rule — block playside gap — either covered or uncovered. • Technique — stretch base. • Proper fundamentals. • If offensive lineman to your inside is covered (ex. 5 & 9 technique), the offensive guard-offensive tackle are the tandem and the tight end is “manned-up.” His technique is to “base block.” The defender and his landmark tighten down to the defender’s sternum because he has no inside help. Our inside zone utilizes power zone blocking schemes, and we talk in terms of offensive linemen/tight end being covered or uncovered. Defensive front recognition and communication between linemen/tight end(s) is essential to insure everyone is on the same page and to correctly identify tandems. The coaching points and techniques coached and executed up front are the same from position to position. This enables us to effectively interchange personnel within our offensive linemen and allows us to rep and coach five, six, or seven positions simultaneously depending on personnel. Due to the nature of this play, we consider everyone up front to be pointof-attack blockers. We do not “butt block” on this play. Covered Blocker vs. Down Defender • The covered blocker’s rule is to stretch base the defender using a 4-6 inch quick lead step with the outside foot. The width or angle of the first step is determined by the alignment of the defender. The wider the defender, the wider the first step. As a general rule, we want the first step to be slightly wider than the defender’s outside foot. This opens our hips to the target. • The second step with the inside foot is in the crotch of the defender and is also a short 4-6 inch step. • The third step is a width step. It is important to press the defender and stay square. This widens or stretches him. • Our landmark and contact point is nose and eyes to the playside number with our inside hand contacting the opponent’s sternum. We are going to get movement off the ball and/or widening and stretching by the defender to create wider running lanes. We must deliver a blow by cocking our elbow tips and punching the defender’s breastplate as we come off the ball. • If the defender widens, stay square and continue to widen and stretch him.

Diagram 4
Quarterback Requirements 1. Open with depth to five or seven o’clock with ball seated. 2. Get the ball to the runningback as deep as possible. The runningback must press the “B gap” (Diagram 9).

Diagram 9 Correct Diagram 5

3. Always carry out a good boot fake. Secondary key — next adjacent defender on line of scrimmage. 4. Runningback can and must help linemen. Wide Receiver Requirements 1. Crack safeties. 2. Man block — stalk or run off the corners.

• If the defender veers inside, stay square and squeeze him off to adjacent offensive lineman. Note: You should feel adjacent offensive lineman contact you and force you to the linebacker level. It is important to stay tight so you don’t get beat underneath by the linebacker. • Offensive line courses should mirror the runningback’s course, just as if they are ball carriers. We continually emphasize short steps, flat backs and coming off the ball. Keeping our hips and shoulders square. Summary — Covered Blocker • Once engaged, stay engaged. • Come off the ball vertically. This will force the defender to stretch. • You cannot allow defenders to come off blocks. Control the defender with your hands by taking him where he wants to go. Uncovered Blocker vs. Linebacker • Our first step is a short 4-6 inch lateral lead step. It must open our hips (point crotch at defender) to enable us to overtake the defender if he veers inside. We don’t talk in terms of “bucket” step, but we will at times “lose ground to gain ground,” depending on the width of the defender. We coach “short steps, flat backs, coming off the ball and staying square.” • The second step is also a short step; cannot crossover, with our eyes on the down defender (inside hip) feeling the linebacker’s reaction and flow. • The third step is for width and should put you on a course for your landmark, the playside number of the linebacker. • With the down defender playing outside/away from you, redirect your hips and shoulders (mirror runningback course) north/south to linebacker’s playside number. It is imperative to hit linebacker square and fit him up so we don’t glance or bounce off the defender. • This block, offensive lineman vs. linebacker, should be the desired block up front due to the physical mismatch. • If the down defender veers inside to you, attack him and overtake him. By attacking him you will physically force the adjacent offensive lineman to the linebacker level. Note: Coaching points and techniques are the same on the backside. Example: Left side mirrors right side when play is going to the right and vice versa. Summary — Uncovered Blocker • Key down defender for movement.

1. If movement is away from you, look up linebacker and work up to him. 2. If movement is to you, attack, overtake and force adjacent offensive lineman to linebacker level. Drill Teaching Progression 1. Drive block by offensive lineman/tight end vs. different alignments. Chute progression not covered in this article 2. Run Boards vs. Air.

Diagram 13

Diagram 14

Diagram 10

Coaching Point: Offensive linemen/tight end come off the ball with flat backs, short steps, staying square. 3. Stance and start 1/2, 3/4, full speed vs. shade, three, five, seven, nine techniques.

6. We then advance to 1/2 line. This enables us to work as an entire playside group and get more teaching repetitions.

Diagram 15

Diagram 11

Repeat with the shade, three, five, seven, nine techniques veering inside.

Diagram 12

Conclusion Again, I would like to thank the AFCA for the opportunity to share some of our ideas. The inside zone has been the “bread and butter” of our offense for the past 12 years. Hopefully, these concepts will benefit you and your program. We, as coaches, are part of the greatest team game ever. It is your job and mine to make sure we serve this great sport in the manner it has served us.

Coaching Point: Short steps, flat backs, stay square, and handle movement. 4. Stance and start 1/2, 3/4, and full speed vs. shade, 3, 5, 7, 9 techniques with linebacker (Diagram 13). Coaching Point: Come off the ball with short steps, flat backs, and stay square. Handle movement on different levels. 5. Same drill as three above but add adjacent offensive lineman. (Example: Center & guard, guard & tackle, tackle & tight end) (Diagram 14).

Keep football a safe game with concentrated efforts toward proper techniques.

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