The one question that I get asked the most when it comes to running the Wide Zone is without a doubt concerning the footwork and techniques used by the offensive linemen. This makes a lot of sense, because if you cannot cover your basis up front, then it will not matter what you run as an offense scheme. In this article we will cover the techniques used by the covered and uncovered linemen for the Wide Zone.
Covered Footwork and Technique
The steps and hand placement of the covered lineman to the play side will depend on the alignment of the defensive player, and whether or not the covered OL has help coming. The 1st step must be lateral. He cannot step up field or he will lose the fight. The width of that step is directly proportional to the alignment of the DL. Tell that OL that he needs to take the step necessary to get his hat across the face of the defender. We want the shoulders to stay as square as possible but understand that a wide alignment of the DL (like a widened 5 tech) will cause the blocker to naturally open his shoulders some to accommodate getting his head across, this also will prevent him from becoming over extended. A head up alignment might be a 2 to 4 inch step, while an outside shade might be 6 to 8 inches worth of step.
Regardless of how small the step we always need to GAIN GROUND! Ground needs to be covered. Always be vocal about this, they need to hear you say it all the time. Picking the foot up and putting it back down, or worse bringing it backwards will result in the OL being beat by the DL in almost every occasion, no matter what scheme you are running. On that 1st step the OL will also load his hands. Loading the hands means the OL will pull his elbows back with his thumbs turned out. Having the thumbs turned out forces the elbows in tight where we want them. Remember this 1st step CANNOT be up field.
While the 1st step provides leverage and get off, the 2nd steps provides hat and hand placement and the lateral drive of the block. The 2nd step is a hard, aggressive up field step that will split the crotch of the defender. It needs to be violent, and right in between the legs of the DL. I use the coaching cue of “knee him the balls!” They need to understand that the ferocity of this step is paramount to it being successful. The 2nd step is when contact with the defender is made. The hat and hands will strike at the same time. The hat goes to the outside shoulder of the defender. The hands will now deliver a violent punch (thumbs out). We do not extend this punch, we want to stay tight to the defender. The play side hand will strike the play side armpit and the backside hand strikes under the breast plate like an upper cut to the sternum and the OL will work the outside half of the defender.
The 3rd step will again gain ground and work towards the outside half of the defender. The hat of the OL is to remain on the outside half of the defender, HOWEVER! Here is a big misconception of the wide zone. We are not trying to reach the defensive lineman and capture his outside shoulder. We put our hat on the outside to get the lineman to fight outside and help us create lateral movement. By the time the OL takes his 3rd step the DL will either have committed outside or have been pushed outside by the OL that is doubling. Once the DL has been forced or has committed outside the OL will straighten out his backside hand and RUN as fast as he can and take the DL on his path. He needs to keep the back hand locked to prevent the DL from trying to throw him by when the RB makes his cut. Coaching Points: the DL belongs to the covered man unless he makes an inside move on the snap. It is the job of the combination to force him outside so the covered OL can take him on his path. By the 3rd step the OL should be running the DL towards the sideline.
If the covered OL does not have help coming from the OL inside of him (meaning the adjacent OL is also covered) then the technique changes slightly. The hat, hands and footwork remain the same. We still want hat outside, but now it becomes more of a drive block down the middle of the defender, with the back hand in the backside armpit instead up in the sternum (thumbs still turned out). This will take away from some of the lateral get off and movement, but we must protect against an inside move by the defender (see below). Taking the outside half can put the OT in a situation to fail, so we line him up down the middle once contact is made.
(pic below is bad juju…. use the technique described above to eliminate this.)
Every single day you need to start practice with a drill called Stance and Starts. This can be your 1st drill in individual period, but I prefer to do it as a pre-practice drill. The Drill reinforces foot, hat and hand placement and once taught, the drill should be done rapid fire, as quickly as possible. Start off by having all the OL line up on the goal line and get into a proper stance: Feet set at shoulder width or just inside the shoulders, toes pointed in, flat backs eyes up. Balanced stances, you should be able to kick their hands out from under them without them having to take a step forward. This is actually important! If they have too much weight forward, they cannot step laterally and will step forward and lose. It’s just physics. Make them hold this stance in 15 to 30 second increments. You can use this time to speak to them about anything you need as well. After the stance hold, have them partner up on the goal line facing each other. One side will be dummies, the other side will be blockers. (see below)
Here is how you will operate the drill. You will use this cadence: “hand down, set hut, hand down, set hut, hand down, set hut”. This is done fast. Make them work. The presence of the dummies is to provide landmarks for the blockers. The dummies will start off head up. The blockers will take one step (lateral) to the right and load hands (thumbs out) with head outside of the dummy. Do this over and over again until satisfied. Then move to 2 steps. 1 lateral, 1 splitting the crotch. On the 2nd step the blocker delivers the hat hand strike on the outside half of the defender with all the proper land marks for the hands (thumbs out). Do this over and over again until satisfied. You then will work overtakes, the blockers will overtake the adjacent man’s dummy. Like this:
Force them to sprint back to the start point, you want to keep that “hand down, set hut” cadence going. Once satisfied have the dummies and blockers flip and do the same thing. Once finished with the new blockers flip back to the originals and go to the left. The whole thing should take 5-10 minutes. It gets shorter as the OL learns how the drill works and can operate without much instruction. Coaching Points: if I catch one of the blockers using improper footwork or hand placement on this drill it is because they are being lazy, I make both the blocker and dummy do up-downs. The blocker for being lazy and the dummy for allowing his teammate to cheat the drill and not get better. The dummies also operate as coaches, if they see improper feet, hands or hat, they must correct it.
1 Knee Reach Drill: The 1 knee reach is designed to emphasize the lateral drive of the reach block. You will set the drill up in two lines. It will look like this:
The lines will work in opposite directions, one blocker at time so you can watch each block. You will use the same cadence as the Stance and Start Drill. Left side will go, then right side will go. The blocker will get down on his outside knee and drive off his inside foot to take a lateral step and get on the outside half of the defender. Make sure the blocker loads hands (thumbs out) on first step and splits the crotch and strikes on the 2nd. You will quickly see which of your lineman are weak in the hips and legs with this drill. Really stress getting that head outside, and getting on half the man. Do not blow the block dead until you have the pair running sideways! By the blockers 3rd step he should be working to straighten the back and sprint that dummy to the sideline.
The dummy will be in a 2 point stance in head up alignment to start, take a short outside step on contact and work outside trying to act like a defender fighting the reach block. Once the block is whistled dead, the dummy will go to the back of the opposite line and the blocker will become a dummy. Make the new dummy sprint back. He should be back and set before the block going the other way is finished. You CANNOT wait on them to stroll back, it will kill your reps. Every drill you do will be at a high tempo. If you need to slow down for teaching purposes, then do so. Once you have adequate reps with head up alignment then move the dummies to outside shades. Coaching Points: always spend the most time on what you will see that week. No point in working the shit out of head up alignment if they will be in shades on Friday.
Reach Drill: The Reach Drill is essentially the same exact drill as the 1 Knee Reach. The only difference is that now, the blockers are in normal 3 point stances. Spend the majority of your reach work in 3 point stances. You use the 1 knee reach when your OL is having footwork issues, such as stepping backwards, or not gaining ground laterally on the 1st step.
Remember to stress the difference in the 1st step in relation to the alignment of the defender. The 2nd step splits the crotch and you get the hat and hand strike (thumbs outside). By the 3rd step the OL needs to start working on straightening that back hand to torque the defender outside and RUN! 2 things should be repeatedly heard by your OL. “RUN!” and “GAIN GROUND!” In live situations, improper hand or hat placement can be overcome by these 2 things. Optimally of course you want it perfect, but when the bullets are live, you don’t get do overs. So they will at least have pretty good chance if they are running and gaining ground! You need that lateral movement. Of course it’s great if you get some vertical push, but the lateral push is a MUST. The key to establishing this is the uncovered offensive lineman.
Uncovered Footwork and Technique
The footwork of the uncovered lineman will remain the same no matter the alignment of the defensive lineman. He will take a flat, open step directly at the adjacent lineman that he is in combination with. He MUST gain significant lateral ground bringing his body with his step. He MUST open his hips and shoulders to do this. He must NOT step up field on the step. The aim point for the uncovered OL is the nose of the adjacent OL. His 2nd step will aimed directly at the nose of the adjacent OL. This the path that must be taken in order to overtake any inside move by the defensive lineman. (example below)
The goal of the uncovered OL is to get his hat across the face of the DL on an inside move by the DL. If this does not happen by the 3rd step of the uncovered OL he will shove the DL onto the lap of the covered lineman and climb to the 2nd level for a linebacker. The uncovered OL will initially make these fundamental flaws when installing the wide zone.
- Taking a lateral step instead of a flat step
- This takes repetition and demonstration. A good way to show the “why” is to have a DL take one step and the OL take one step so the OL can see where the hat of the DL is and understand it will be impossible for him to get his own hat across. Then have them do the same thing, this time with correct footwork to show the difference. Make sure in the stance and start drills you are vigilant about taking the proper 1st and 2nd
- Shuffling instead of turning and running
- The disdain that offensive lineman have for running is usually the cause of them being offensive lineman. Shuffling is easier than turning their bodies and running. You must make them do this over and over again. If you see that they are shuffling instead of running it needs to be addressed and fixed immediately every time. A drill to help with this is the 5 man sled fit. The OL will line up leaving the last dummy on the sled uncovered. Each OL will take uncovered footwork and fit on the dummy that is one man over and hold it there for the coach to check. The last man on the line will go to the back of the line and the next guy will fill in so each OL gets 5 reps in a row before resting. Make sure they fit on the outside half of the dummy. Once satisfied, switch directions.
Another good drill for this is the 2 man fit and run. 2 OL will start fitted up to a DL and will RUN him sideways until the uncovered man can push him outside. This drill is more for demonstrative purposes to show the importance of running. By running often times a combo can take the down guy and sit him in the laps of scraping LBs. If the DL can’t or won’t run with the combo your offense will have the edge! When you capture the flanks good things happen. This is true in all combative sports and is strived for in military tactics. You will repeatedly smash the football into B and C gaps until the defense jumps inside or can’t run anymore and you will get big plays on the perimeter.
- Going straight into a 2nd level climb instead of combo blocking the down guy
- You must stress the importance of taking care of the down guy 1st at any cost. Even at the cost of leaving an LB unblocked. The down guy will get you for a loss. The LB will have to make a tackle in space, we at least have a chance there. The job of the uncovered lineman is to take 3 steps on track so he can shove the DL outside and then climb. The 3 step minimum takes care of any inside move by the DL. If he has not made his inside move by his 3rd step he is not going to do so. After the 3rd step he will climb to the 2nd level
The uncovered OL will see 3 possible scenarios: an inside move in which he will overtake, an outside move in which he will push (if he can, the DL make disappear outside) then climb, and a sit/read technique by the DL in which he will push, then climb. The 2nd level climb is so the uncovered OL can block the linebacker that is flowing with the play. Coaching Points: Good linebackers always go underneath. They are better athletes than your OL will ever be. They will make him look like a fool in space. The OL must take a path that forces the LB to bubble over the top. Your uncovered OL will also never chase a linebacker over the top of the combo, rather he will turn back for the next LB. (see below)
The reason for this rule is under the circumstances in which the uncovered OL is the climber the ball is going to cut back! The LB that ran over the top of the combo has just run himself out of the play. The ball carrier will hit this behind him. If the LB plays disciplined and stays in his gap, the OL will block him on his track and make him bubble over the top. Remember that good LBs always go underneath the block and make a play. Force that guy over top. The track of the OL should reflect this. Once the OL is in a climb phase he will slow down to 7/8 speed and take a 45 degree path while squaring his shoulders. Once contact is made he will accelerate his feet and finish the block. We aim right between the numbers of the LB. We do not want to give him the opportunity to slice under us and make a tackle by aiming at his outside shoulder. By doing this we can ensure that the ball carrier will get an extra few yards even if the LB makes the tackle. This happens because the LB had to lose ground in order to avoid us. Of course, we would much rather make contact and block his ass.
As far as the individual lineman goes, this covers the techniques needed for the successful running of the Wide Zone. If you would like more information about this scheme such as combination techniques, change ups, leveraging defenders and play action passes, you will need to go grab a copy of “Installing the Wide Zone“. Make sure you sign up for my email list so you can be notified any time a new article posts and follow me on twitter at @thecoachvogt.