Inside Zone Blocking: Simplify Your Running Game


Are you already feeling behind coaches? The season is a few weeks away for most high schools and colleges, and many teams running game is already behind. Well, if you’re ever in doubt when it comes to a good running scheme that will simplify both technique and mental workload, consider Inside Zone blocking.

Notice how I didn’t say Inside Zone. I said Inside Zone blocking. Why so specific? Because Inside Zone blocking can be used in any scheme, it is essentially dummy proof, and the rules are simple. While over-simplification can get you in trouble, inside zone blocking is a relatively safe concept if you’re kids are struggling with other inside running schemes.

Now don’t get me wrong, most will profess that you need to major on the inside zone blocking rules, and ideally you probably should. But in today’s day and age of offensive coordinators and head coaches changing up everything on a whim based on what they saw last Saturday or Sunday, the rules of Inside Zone blocking can let you be multiple in scheme from a backfield perspective while minimizing new learning up front. Yes, if you don’t major in it you’ll have problems with stunts, that’s natural. However, if you don’t major in it, you probably won’t see too many stunts designed to beat inside zone blocking.

Inside Zone Blocking: Covered Rules

Let’s take Inside Zone blocking from the offensive line’s perspective first. If I’m an o-linemen and I’m covered, what do I do?

Inside Zone Blocking instead of Trap For Wing T teams

Inside Zone instead of Trap For Wing-T Offenses

I learned from Milt Tenopir and a few others. If you’re covered (aka someone is head-up on you or on your outside shoulder), you execute a stretch-base block. Your first step is a lateral step. It does NOT have to go backwards. I do encourage you to emphasize vertical splits here, and have your linemen’s helmets at the belt of the center. You take that first lateral step to the call, watching the charge of the defensive linemen. Be prepared to take him in the direction of his movement, unless it’s a hard spike backwards, in that case, your uncovered backside teammate is there.

Your second step when you’re covered is to the middle of the body of the defender. Do not cross over. Tenopir doesn’t talk about it here, but I start thinking helmet placement and hand placement, especially when we’re taking the defensive linemen horizontally. Work to stay square and prevent dirty reads so we can give the runningback as many lanes as possible.

Right after your second step you should be striking. Basic blocking principles apply. Slight bend in the elbows and keep them inside. I also like thumbs up.

In terms of footwork for Inside Zone blocking, I like six inch power steps. Your heels shouldn’t be flat. Anyone who tells you that, be it a college coach or a pro guy, is absurd. There should be a slight emphasis on the balls of the feet and the heels should be slightly raised on each step. I’m not talking completely raised, I’m saying slightly raised. Emphasis should be on the inside of the feet (balls of each foot).

One last thing. If your using inside zone blocking rules and your backside teammate is covered, you should not expect help. In this scenario, it turns into a base block more so than anything else, because your backside teammate will not have the opportunity to read the charge of the defender. For the center, if the guard is covered on the backside, he should not expect help either. Many noses will “skate” horizontally, so centers with the inside zone blocking scheme should really use their leverage the defender’s momentum against them

Inside Zone Blocking: Uncovered Rules

Let’s start early. There is no such thing as the duck walk, unless you’re a Duck (and not one from Oregon either).

Using Inside Zone Blocking on a Constraint for Toss - aka FB Dive

Using Inside Zone Blocking on a Constraint for Toss – aka FB Dive

Your first step is a stretch step. You’re really trying to gain ground towards your covered teammate’s defensive linemen. Again, back too far can be a bad thing here (trust me… I’ve tried and failed with the bucket step).

That first step should be at the defensive linemen so you can stop the inside slant. If the the step is backwards, you’re in trouble. Your eyes should be watching the near knee or helmet screws of the defender. If their coming at you, be prepared to get your head on the outside of that defensive lineman slanting at you.

For inside zone blocking according to Coach Tenopir, your second step when uncovered is aimed at the “imaginary point directly behind the near foot of the defensive linemen prior to the snap (Tenopir,The Assembly Line). This will allow you to work the zone combo after you took your first hard lateral step towards the defender.

You should be expecting to really get movement here. As the uncovered linemen, you’re tracking the linebacker. If he pushes the line of scrimmage, you should be prepared to come off right away. But, in essence, you stay on this block until he’s within one foot of you. Do not chase linebackers who take themselves out of the play, the runningback will take care of them with his read.

That’s also why I say there is no duck walk, especially in regards to Inside Zone blocking. You shouldn’t be in-space enough to really execute a “duck walk”. I know the purpose for drilling it might be the foot presence, but give me a break. It’s hard to do footwork when there isn’t an opponent on you and you don’t get a real feel for the spacing between your adjacent linemen on both sides of the ball.

Other Keys to Inside Zone Blocking

The backside tackle, if the backside guard is covered, can do a couple of different things. He should really try to over take the man himself. You might try to have the backside guard execute more of a rip technique up and through the inside shoulder of the 3 technique if he’s a heavy player, and if not he can work the one hand punch to help the backside tackle.

In the defensive line aligns inside any other playside gap (aka a 7 technique inside shoulder of the tight end), Tenopir advises getting on them right away with what many coaches call a wrong step. Essentially, the defensive linemen has already slanted, and your helping him to your buddy before you work up to the next level.

Also, you probably need to make someone responsible for the backside defensive end. Whether that’s the quarterback reading, someone blocking him, the threat of the bootleg, or just a play that hits too quickly, he should be accounted for. That being said, having backs aim wider playside (like the inside leg of the tackle for tailbacks in singleback sets) can help prevent him from chasing down the play.

Inside Zone Blocking: Bob Adjustment

Inside Zone Blocking: Bob Adjustment. Also Notice the “Wrong Step” by the TE.

Also, here you see the BOB adjustment. I like this when it doesn’t make sense for the backside tackle to zone block inside, or if we feel we have a better matchup with the fullback on the linebacker (like the fullback isn’t strong enough to block the end or the fullback can overwhelm the LB, or the tackle can’t get to the LB).

Conclusions on Inside Zone blocking

Overall, inside zone blocking can really open up the flexibility for your play callers but still let the offensive line coach really focus on technique without too much mental workload.