The Reach Block. Out of any skill utilized by an offensive lineman, this one may have the biggest factor on the success of the run game. If you can consistently capture the edge of a defensive front, you are in great position to control the game and create explosive plays in the run game. However, in today’s era of wide open offenses whose run games consist of inside zone and power, is the reach block still relevant? The answer is, of course it is! After all, a zone block is a reach block modified to allow the back to make reads. Capturing the edge of a defensive front will ALWAYS be a sound strategy for attacking a defense from peewee ball to the big leagues!
The Reach Block can be classified into three main categories. The stretch block, the traditional reach block and the rip and run. All three, allow an opportunity for the flank to be captured, with an emphasis on a desired location for the ball carrier to aim for as a primary attack point. Let’s take a look at each one, and which offense can incorporate it into their general schemes.
The Stretch Block is probably the most utilized variant of the reach in football today. The prevalence of zone schemes in all levels of football show the versatility of the stretch block. The general idea is for the offensive lineman to take a flat step towards the play side, while keeping his shoulders as square as possible. How square the offensive lineman can keep his shoulders will depend on the alignment and ability of the defensive lineman. Like all reach blocks, you want the helmet of the offensive lineman to cross the face of the defensive lineman. Where exactly you want the helmet to target will depend on the scheme you are running.
For the Wide Zone play, also commonly called Stretch or just outside zone… (never say that to the wide zone disciples though lol) You will have the offensive lineman target the play side armpit/shoulder of the play side defender. The offensive lineman should take an aggressive lateral step to accomplish this block. The second step will typically split the crotch of the defender and will also be the step in which contact is made with the defensive lineman. While keeping his shoulders square the blocker will fight to keep his head outside the defenders head and run him in a lateral direction. The great thing about stretch blocks is often the blockers are working in tandem with another blocker, so if the defender goes inside, or is easily reached, the adjacent lineman can over take him. This is a take what the defense gives reach. Most defenders are taught not to get reached, so they will fight outside, allowing for creases to open in the defense. You will find that stretch blocks work best against defenses that are well coached and do a good job of playing technique.
For Inside Zone, the initial step is still a lateral step, but the blocker will target the play side number of the play side defender. Just as with the Wide Zone, the second step should split the defenders crotch and will be the step in which contact is made. As the name of the play would suggest, the ball is going to hit inside the tackles unless the defense is on a stunt and gives away the flank. Here the emphasis is more on forcing the play side defenders OUT, so the ball can hit in the interior of the defensive front.
Examples of Stretch Blocking:
The tradition reach block is frequently used by teams running speed sweep, speed option or a traditional toss out of the backfield. The goal of the offensive lineman here is to capture the outside shoulder of the defender so the ball carrier can get outside. The first step will be a hard lateral step that gains ground both laterally and vertically. The step should be between 20 and 45 degrees depending how wide the defender is. The second step will try to step on the play side toes of the defender with the back hand attacking the play side number. Once contact is made, the blocker will try and turn his shoulders to pin the defender inside. Every play side offensive lineman will be taking the same first step, this allows for any slants or stunts to be picked up by uncovered lineman, so they can then, use the same techniques as the covered lineman.
Examples of Traditional Reaching:
RIP AND RUN
The Rip and Run is most commonly seen by teams using a true Outside Zone scheme. It looks like a mad rush by the offense to get to the edge of the defense. I feel that the rip and run is best utilized by teams that run the rocket toss and the quick bubble/smoke screens. (not the read/RPO variants) The Rip and Run is probably my favorite reach scheme when I am not specializing in the Wide Zone. It has been my experience that in order to stop the Rip and Run scheme, somebody on the defense has to cheat, which will open up your inside run game nicely.
For the Rip and Run, the first step of the blocker will be a hard open step that gains a good chuck of grass. The second step will try to get outside of the defenders play side foot. The blocker will then rip with his back arm and run as hard as he can in order to get outside of the defender. If the blocker can clear the defender, he will then climb up-field and look inside for linebackers chasing the play. By this point, the ball should be outside of the down lineman. If the blocker cannot clear the defender, he will lean into his rip and continue to run the defender on his path. This should be a “Race” to the sideline for the offensive lineman, a term that I borrowed from Coach Nate Albaugh. Simply using the word “race” will help your blockers understand what you want accomplished here. It should almost look like the offensive lineman are pulling, in fact some teams will indeed pull any lineman that are uncovered for a Rip and Run scheme.
Examples of Rip and Run:
TEACHING THE REACH BLOCK
Stance and Starts
The most important aspect of the reach block will always be the first step. This the step that will get the offensive lineman’s head across the face of the defender and allow for proper placement of the second step. The best way to drive this step into muscle memory is with a drill I call Stance and Starts. The players will all line up facing the OL coach and get into a stance. The players will use this drill to repeatedly take the first step and get back into a stance. This is a high tempo drill. The step that you will use will reflect what your primary reach scheme is. So, if you are a Wide Zone team, they will take a hard lateral step. The OL coach will use a cadence of “hand down, set hut, hand down, set hut, hand down, set hut”. You want as many reps as possible in each direction. Your players will get lazy at first and try to use bad technique and miss reps, stop immediately and correct this before continuing. Once you are satisfied with the steps in each direction, you can incorporate two steps, and eventually firing off the ball to put it all together.
Here is where you can work the skills and technique needed for the individual blocks. Again, what you emphasize, will be dictated by the specific scheme that your offense is utilizing. Focus on what your team does. Organize your offensive lineman into two single file lines facing the coach. Then take two players and have them turn around and face the lines. The lines will be your blockers, the two guy you have turned around, will be your dummy defenders. The dummy guy will align based on what you will see that week from your opponent. You can have the dummy guy hold bags if you desire. The two lines will be reaching in opposite directions, one, then the other. The OL coach will stand in the middle facing the blockers so he can watch the first step and then hand placement and pad level of the blockers.
The idea here is to make the drill harder than what it will be in the game, and to reinforce the need for them to run their feet. To do this the tempo will need to be high, and the dummy guy must work outside on the “hut” to force the blocker to run his feet to get his head outside.
Combo Drill (zone)
The Combo drill is a great drill for zone scheme teams. You will set this up exactly the same as the Reach Drill, except you will have two blockers going the same direction to simulate a covered/uncovered tandem. The covered man will use the appropriate zone technique, and the uncovered will attempt an overtake. You can have the dummy guy work inside or outside now. As the technique and skill of your blockers improves, you can start adding linebackers into this drill to simulate in game scenarios.
Whatever variant of the Reach Block your offense is utilizing, it is an essential skill for your offensive lineman to be able to accomplish. Outflanking your opponent will always be a sound game plan. This holds true in almost any sport, and in combat as well. Spend the time necessary to develop this skill and your offense will reap the benefits, after all… a defense that cannot keep contain, is no defense at all! Follow me on twitter here @thecoachvogt and be sure to subscribe to my email list to be updated any time a new article drops!