Continue reading to discover Pat Ruel's techniques for a Stretch Hook.
I’ve admired the way the Indianapolis Colts ran the scheme to perfection under center with Peyton Manning and with the efficiency with which Oregon ran it this year out of the shotgun.
So when we started compiling the report, we’ve found that the most heated discussion is whether or not to full zone or man block the scheme. Teams such as the Colts, under legendary offensive line guru Howard Mudd, used to full zone the front side of the play to provide for that fast flow displacement of the defense. Of course, when you have backs behind Manning with the speed of Edgerrin James and Joey Addai, getting to the perimeter of the defense is almost guaranteed.
Before we talk specifics, we wanted to give you a general consensus of why teams are running the scheme. What we’ve found most interesting is that unlike the inside zone, the outside zone does not have to be a cornerstone of your offense. Truth is, 53 percent of coaches feel that it doesn’t need to be a top play in your offense for it to be successful. So why teach it? It’s a curveball, so to speak, to keep defenses off balance and on its heels. But if it’s not a base scheme, we were curious to find out why coaches are spending the time implementing it. Here’s what they told us:
Top reasons for running the outside zone/stretch scheme:
Although these covered and uncovered concepts are the same ones we spoke of on the inside zone report, we wanted to provide a quick refresher.
Covered: There is a first level defender (DLM) from my nose to the nose of the adjacent lineman play side (Diagram 1).
Regardless of the defensive front, these two principles are consistent, and again, 73.8 percent of coaches use this terminology when implementing the zone scheme. But how these coaches teach their blocking assignments will vary, as we will explain below. The majority of coaches want their covered offensive linemen to be able to finish at a second level defender by the time the play is over.
When a play side lineman is covered on the outside zone or stretch play, it is his job to handle that down lineman. How he blocks him can vary – some coaches prefer lead or angle step up field, whereas some tell their offensive lineman to bucket step. According to our research, 48.9 percent teach an up field, angle step as opposed to 36 percent who teach a bucket step. We’ve found that the difference lies more in philosophy than it does in technique.
Pat Ruel, the offensive line coach for the Seattle Seahawks, teaches a stretch hook concept (a combo horizontal stretch and hook) for his covered linemen to the play side of zone. He teaches his players to eye the outside armpit of the defender with the objective to always advance to the second level. Once the lineman is engaged with a defender, he needs to stay engaged until he feels the next adjacent lineman take his assignment over.
Ruel’s Techniques for a Stretch Hook (covered lineman):
Milt Tenopir, the legendary offensive line coach under Tom Osbourne at Nebraska, believed in the same philosophy of having his covered offensive lineman really work to get to the second level. "If our linemen is covered, we let him cross over on his second step as long as it’s up field," said Tenopir. "He wants to get started up field because he is going to come off on the next level. We call it a ‘rip-to-reach’ because we used to take the inside arm and rip it across the outside arm of the defender. We are trying to put both hands on the far shoulder pad. It keeps our shoulders pointed up field."
We’ve found the emphasis on the covered lineman is to have his shoulders pointed up field at all times. This not only provides for a wider blocking surface, but also keeps the horizontal displacement of the scheme giving the running back more room to operate (we will explain the RB reads a bit later). As Jim Sweeney, a 16-year NFL center tells his lineman at South Fayette HS (PA), "We always try to stay parallel with our shoulders because we want the back to have a three way go. If that d-lineman comes straight ahead, his shoulders are square so he can force a cutback (which is detrimental to the outside zone scheme) or make the tackle. We need to turn his shoulders and he can’t turn our shoulders. We do this by keeping both feet on ground." Sweeney recalled a story during his ten year tenure as a center with the New York Jets when star running back Freeman McNeil used to come over and watch the linemen during their individual session in practice. "He was the best in the business at that time and he used to tell us he always wanted to see our butts so that he can make the right cut."
But against stunting first level defenders, keeping both shoulders squared becomes a difficult fundamental to accomplish. So Herb Hand, the offensive line coach at Vanderbilt University (who spent a good part of his coaching career under famed spread coaches like Rich Rodriquez and Gus Malzahn) emphasizes the drag hand technique of the covered offensive lineman. Hand, who teaches a stretch step, not a bucket step, tells his covered offensive lineman to aim for the outside "V" of the neck of the down lineman whereas the majority of coaches (49.1%) teach the play side armpit as the visual aiming point of the covered lineman. "As the covered lineman takes his stretch step to the outside V of the neck, his back-side hand placement is the thing that will slow him down enough to catch the five-technique defender if he slants inside," said Hand. "The aiming point for the drag hand is the back-side pec of the defender. That movement will stop the penetration of the defender inside. The tackle cannot come off the ball with no concern of the defender slanting inside. He uses the drag hand to catch and hold the defender so he cannot penetrate."
Case 2: "Uncovered" Blocking Concepts to the Play Side (Reach and Overtake)
Uncovered: There is no first level defender (DLM) from my nose to the nose of the adjacent lineman play side (Diagram 2).
For all intents and purposes, the objective of the uncovered offensive lineman in the outside zone scheme is to take over the play side down lineman while the covered offensive lineman works up to linebacker level (Diagram 3). While we found the objective clear, the methodology or technique that is used by that uncovered player varied among coaches. Again, the purpose of the outside zone is to show a horizontal stretch on the defense. Tenopir talks about the pull and overtake method by the uncovered lineman. "When we put the lead foot where it is supposed to be, the rest of the body will come with you," said Tenopir. "We want the pulling guard (or whoever is uncovered) to get depth and distance on the pull. He picks the foot up and puts it in the direction we want him to go. We tell our guard he must get beyond the man (far jersey number) before he can come back on him. If he tries to pull and come around the back-side number of the tackle, he will never get it done. He cannot get the linebacker until he gets there."
Ruel calls his uncovered technique a "stretch scoop." His objective is to get to the next adjacent down lineman’s play side number with the purpose of taking him over.
Ruel’s Techniques of a Stretch Scoop (uncovered lineman):
Perhaps no other coach knows the zone scheme better than Stan Zweifel. He’s authored dozens of clinic articles and published numerous videos on the outside zone. Zweifel tells his uncovered linemen first to take a deep drop step to gain depth with the second step being a crossover to try to get on line to overtake next down defender. If by the third step, the offensive lineman is not in a position to overtake the down lineman, he’s up on the next path to cutoff whatever comes. Everything that Zweifel teaches in his outside zone progression is based upon the "reach and overtake" mantra that he drills into his linemen from day one. Their objective is to reach and overtake the next down lineman play side. If by the third step, the lineman cannot over take the down defender, he will work up to the next level play side.
Case 3: Back-side Blocking Schemes (To Cut or Not to Cut)
This particular topic was highly debatable among coaches we spoke with. On most outside zone schemes, particularly ones run at the higher levels of football, offensive lineman would cut block defenders on the back-side of the play – regardless of whether that player was a first or second level defender. But when we conducted our research, we’ve found that the majority of coaches we polled (37.8 %) do not teach the cut block back-side. They teach a run to rip technique, similar to the responsibility of the uncovered lineman to the front side of the play. There were numerous reasons as to why high school coaches don’t tell their kids to cut block, but perhaps no other coach was more straightforward about it then Sweeney. According to Sweeney, four things can happen when you cut on the back-side and none are good:
Sweeney’s negatives of cut-blocking on the back-side of OZ:
Case 4: The Path/Reads of the Ball Carrier
Although this topic was not in our original survey, we did do our research to find the most common aiming points of the ball carrier. While they ranged from 1-3 yards outside the tight end or EMLOS, we selected two of the more specific responses we received. Hand tells us the specifics of his ball carrier’s path in outside zone from the shotgun formation.
Herb Hand, Vanderbilt University (Bounce, Bang, Bend)
Keith Grabowski, the offensive coordinator at Baldwin Wallace College (OH) teaches his tailback the six second rule. He will identify the force player then make the decision on whether or not that player can make the play based on his leverage on the player who is blocking him. In Grabowski’s scheme, the fullback or H block gets assigned for force. It is very similar to what Hand teaches, but his rules refer more to the perimeter defenders than to first level defensive linemen. For clarification, the first blocker is the tight end, the second blocker is the fullback and the third blocker is the wide receiver play side.
Diagrams 8-10 (Keith Grabowski’s RB reads on force defender)
Researchers’ Note: You are reading the summary version of this Research Report. To access the full version of this report – including the corresponding Statistical Analysis Report featuring the raw coaching data from our research – please CLICK HERE.
Once again, it was a pleasure to report on the offensive line principles in the zone scheme. It’s a terrific complement to the inside zone and the myriad of schemes that come off the zone concept can provide the defense with tremendous conflicts. We hope that you can take a couple things from this report and bring it back to your program to become more successful.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
Copyright 2011 X&O Labs
We run the outside zone as the staple of our offense and have had a lot of success with it. All of our running game is bases off the OZ. My question is how would you block the playside with no TE and a 5/3 tech look? Would you reach both and leave the PSLB? Or would you combo the 5 tech to the PSLB with G/T? This would make the center reach a 3 tech with no help. I know the obvious answer is don't run it that way. When faced with this front how would you block it?
No tight end means you still have a blocker that you can use, he just isn't in a traditional TE set. We use an HB that is 1x1 off the OT most the time but also put him in the backfield at QB depth (shotgun) or offset behind a guard and he helps on the 5 tech as he works to the 2nd level. The OT and OG are responsible to reach their guys (3 and 5). If we are comfortable with our OT and OG's ability to get the reach blocks on the 3 and 5, we will split the HB out to a true split set and he will come in to take that PSLB from his split set.
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