X&O Labs' New Research

The Middle Zone and Outside Zone Study

Why Florida State University Has Three Different Groupings in 20-Personnel Why the Full Zone Concept May Be More Beneficial Than Pin-and-Pull Concepts Michigan State University’s Base Rules in its Stretch Concept

By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs


>>> The Seattle Seahawks’ Offensive Line Coach Tom Cable contributed to X&O Labs’ in-depth special report, The Middle Zone and Outside Zone Study

As a follow up to our Tight Zone special report, which was released in January, XandOLabs.com presents new research on the middle and outside zone run concepts.  We’ve found that many coaches are utilizing the 6/7 hole run concepts as a complement to the inside zone concept.

Even though it may not be as popular as the inside zone scheme, we’ve found that 45.2 percent of coaches that are utilizing the middle and outside zone run concepts are averaging between 5-6 yards per play.    

The reasoning is simple:  It pushes the ball to the perimeter, it allows the ball carrier to make natural reads in transition by providing lateral displacement and it takes advantage of various defensive structures that may not be so sound in nature.   

It also goes hand-in-hand with up-tempo, no huddle offenses.  The majority of the coaches we spoke to that utilize the middle and outside zone concepts, run an up-tempo system.   It can be a concept that you can implement this summer and reap the rewards of this fall – many of our coaches did just that!

12 Expert Contributors

Our contributor list to this special report is remarkable.  Below is just a sampling of the coaches that contributed to our research on this topic – we also included the yards per play they amassed using the middle or outside zone concept.

  • Tom Cable, Offensive Line Coach, Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks: Outside zone concept averaged 5.1 ypc.
  • John Donatelli, Offensive Line Coach, Towson University: Middle zone concept averaged 7.6 ypc.
  • Jason Eck, Offensive Line Coach, Minnesota State Mankato: Outside zone concept averaged 7.6 ypc.
  • Brandon Jones, Offensive Line Coach, Eastern Carolina University: Middle zone concept averaged 5.8 ypc.
  • Steve Hagen, Tight Ends Coach, New York Jets: Outside zone concept averaged 4.7 ypc.
  • Mark Melnitsky, Offensive Line Coach, Trinity College (CT): Middle zone concept averaged 5.3 ypc.
  • Travis Mikel-Allen, Offensive Line Coach, Southeastern Louisiana University: Outside zone concept averaged 5.7 ypc.
  • Eddy Morrissey, Offensive Line Coach, Princeton University (Ivy League Champions)
  • Drew Owens, Offensive Line Coach, Western Connecticut State University: Outside zone concept averaged 8.7 ypc.
  • Joel Rodriquez, Offensive Line Coach, Fordham University: Outside zone concept averaged 5.8 ypc.
  • Mark Staten, Offensive Line Coach, Michigan State University (Big Ten Champions and Rose Bowl Champions)
  • Rick Trickett, Offensive Line Coach, Florida State University (FBS National Champions)

>>> Here’s where I should explain this further: We’ve put all of our research, including all the contributions of the above coaches, plus over 40 videos featuring drills, game film and presentations in our exclusive special report, The Middle Zone and Outside Zone Study.

In fact, there is so much information in this special report we had to break it down in to four separate case reports.

I’ll show you how you can read this report – and watch all the videos – in a second, but first I want to show you exactly what you’ll find in this historic research study.


Case 1: Philosophy, Personnel and Coaching the Ball Carrier

>>> Rick Trickett, Asst. HC/Offensive Line Coach, Florida State, contributed his expertise to X&O Labs’ The Middle Zone and Outside Zone Study.

In Case 1 of our special report, we present our research on the varying personnel groupings and entry points most utilized in the outside zone and middle zone scheme.  In any zone concept, the aiming points of the ball carrier can be just as important as the actual blocking schemes themselves.  We’ve found that many offensive line coaches, such as Alex Gibbs, coached the running backs just as hard as they coached the offensive line.  When referencing the zone schemes, we’ve heard many coaches talk about “let the running back make you right” which essentially means the onus of the success of the play relies on the ball carrier making the right decision at the point of attack.  If that’s the case, then it’s essential to discuss the importance the ball carrier has on the scheme.

Here’s a quick look at just some of our research in Case 1:

  • Why the full zone concept may be more beneficial than pin and pull concepts (each of the coaches above weigh in on the difference).
  • Why the wide zone thrives in 11 personnel groupings and the middle zone seems to have a niche with 10 personnel programs like ECU.
  • How Trinity College (CT) has found a way to mesh the tight and wide zone concept into a middle zone out of Tight End/Wing groupings.
  • Why Princeton University uses one-foot splits in its long zone concept.
  • Why Florida State University has three different groupings in 20 personnel, its most effective grouping running the wide zone concept.
  • The difference between a play side Tight End or Tackle aiming point and why the New York Jets will use the inside leg of the Tight End as an aiming point in wide zone.
  • The one-man read progression that Jim Cable uses to coach Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in the wide zone scheme.
  • The “three to, three thru” coaching point that Western Connecticut State University uses to teach its backs in the outside zone scheme.
  • The two-to-one read progression that Rick Trickett uses to teach his backs in FSU’s outside zone scheme.
  • The Bang, Bend and Bounce read progression that some other coaches are using to teach their backs post-snap entry points in the middle and outside zone schemes.
  • Plus game film, diagrams and much more.


Case 2: Offensive Line Pre-Snap Protocols and Base Rules

In this case, we will present various pre-snap identification systems that coaches are using to teach their lineman who to block in the middle and wide zone run concepts.  Since defenses will stem, move and shift pre-snap, it’s essential that the offensive line knows exactly who they are responsible for by the time the ball is snapped.  While some coaches talk more about “running your track” on the wide zone concepts, others are more concerned about identifying defenders on the first and second level.  Below we present the base rules for the middle zone/wide zone run schemes and the adjustments coaches make to pre-snap movement.

Here’s what you’ll find in Case 2:

  • Why 33.3 percent of coaches think it’s more effective to teach their players to identify defensive structures by concept names rather than numbers.
  • Methods of defensive identification systems such as numbers, concepts and names.
  • Why East Carolina University only uses four defensive identifiers relating to box structure.
  • The tracks methodology used at Princeton University that allows them to play fast, producing 90+ plays per game.
  • Michigan State University’s base rules in its stretch concept.
  • Minnesota State University’s base rules in its outside zone concept.
  • Western Connecticut State University’s base rules in its outside zone concept.
  • Trinity College (CT) base rules in its middle zone concept.
  • Towson University’s base rules in its middle zone concept.
  • Plus game film, diagrams and much more

Case 3: Individual Block Techniques for Covered Lineman

Editor’s Note:  A” covered” offensive lineman refers to any lineman to the play side of the middle or wide zone concept that is covered up by a first level defender.

This case presents data on the different techniques that offensive line coaches are teaching to their covered offensive lineman in middle zone and outside zone concepts.  We’ve found that these techniques will differ based on the leverage of the down defender.  We segmented our research based on tight techniques, wide techniques and inside techniques.  There are so many intricacies that go into these coaching points- head placement, hand placement, foot placement, angle of departure, etc. They are all covered in this case as it pertains to the wide and middle zone run concepts.

Some of our research in Case 3 includes:

  • Why 59 percent of offensive line coaches teach the far armpit as the visual aiming point for covered lineman in the outside zone concept, more than any other aiming point.
  • The Rip to Run footwork used at Western Connecticut and Princeton University in their outside zone concept.
  • The lateral step footwork used by covered linemen in Michigan State University’s stretch zone concept.
  • The reach drive block footwork used by covered linemen in Trinity College’s (CT) middle zone concept.
  • The angle drive block footwork used by covered linemen in Fordham University’s outside zone concept.
  • Why Towson University teaches two separate techniques to its covered offensive lineman in their middle zone concept.
  • Variants of blocking a wide technique defender including Bucket Step footwork, Drop Drive footwork and what Southeastern Louisiana University teaches as its Open Step footwork.
  • How Towson University is blocking off the ball defenders in its middle zone concept.
  • The drag hand technique that coaches are using to help widen the play side gap in middle zone schemes and how it helps clean the read up for the ball carrier.
  • Plus drill work on all these techniques and game film of these techniques in action.


Case 4: Uncovered Lineman’s Techniques, Double Teams and Backside Blocking

In this section, we’ll be presenting our research on the techniques and fundamentals coaches are instructing their uncovered lineman to perform in middle and wide zone concepts. This may be the most important element of wide zone scheme because it is usually these players responsible for sealing the box and getting the ball on the perimeter.   We are also presenting our research on how coaches are finding ways to cut the defense off on the backside to allow for cutback possibilities.  We’ve found various aiming points on defenders to the backside to be cut, including some coaches who prefer not to cut defenders on the backside for various reasons.

Editor’s Note:  Uncovered lineman refer to those lineman who do not have a defender covering them to the play side of the zone scheme.  This is different than inside zone schemes, where coaches are instructing a backside shade differently. 

Some of our research in Case 4 includes:

  • The varying eye progression used for uncovered lineman in zone schemes- and why 36.7 percent of coaches are not even using a landmark as a visual aiming point in outside zone concept.
  • The “Triangle Read” visual that Southeastern Louisiana University offensive line coach Travis Mikel gives to his uncovered players in the wide zone concept.
  • The visual aiming point (that is not even based off the defense) that Jim Cable gives to the Seahawks offensive linemen in its wide zone scheme.
  • Why Rick Trickett at Florida State talks more about the inside pec of defenders as a landmark for his uncovered players in outside zone concepts.
  • The pull step footwork that Michigan State teaches its uncovered players in its stretch scheme.
  • Why coaches like John Donatelli, the offensive line coach at Towson University still feel that the bucket step is the most effective footwork to teach uncovered players in the outside zone scheme.
  • The details behind the three-step read that many coaches are using to drill the uncovered player in zone blocking.
  • Why the Square Drag technique could be an answer for defenses that prefer to use zone dogs to defend perimeter zone concepts.
  • Varying footwork and contact points of combination blocks in the middle and outside zone schemes.
  • The combination scoop technique used at Trinity College (CT) which prevents penetration.
  • How Jason Boyeas, the offensive line coach at Lake Erie College, avoids teaching double teams altogether in his zone schemes.
  • Why 33.7 percent of coaches would rather scoop, than cut, the backside of middle or outside zone run schemes.
  • How Jim Cable trains his linemen to identify pre-snap “cut points” based on the defense front.
  • Plus drill work on all these techniques and game film of these techniques in action.

We also have un-narrated game film on all of our contributors zone schemes which can be found in our Game Film Library.

Here’s Your Invitation: So, I want to take this time to invite you to get instant access to this entire special report because it’s full of all the information, drills, game film and strategies you need to significantly improve your middle zone and outside zone.

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