November 7, 2011

Outside Zone - The Running Back

I would like to dive into the running back's responsibility on Outside/Wide Zone. This isn't a Stretch Zone where you are trying to get to the edge but is more of an off tackle play with the possibility of getting to the outside. This play is designed to either go to the outside or it is going to be "Cut-Up". Many times the play looks as though the running back is cutting back but if you pay close attention the running back is actually getting north and south in a hurry.

Alex Gibbs is the grandfather of this play and the master of teaching it at the highest level of football. I have watched countless hours of Gibbs talking about the play. OZ is a very expensive (in terms of time) play to install because it takes everyone on the field to execute it to perfection. As Gibbs says: "You can't run this and run everything else... There just isn’t enough time".

Coaching the Running Back

In order to run zone plays successfully, you got to coach the running back on where to run the ball. Zone plays live and die by what the running back does. If you aren't willing to coach a running back on where to run, then OZ play isn't for you. Many times the running back is the most gifted player on the field and many coaches rely on the running back's ability to make their run game successful. With OZ is it important to make sure the running back knows when and where to take the ball because everything revolves around where the ball is being ran. For example the blocking techniques are based on the path of the ball carrier. If the running back doesn't make his cut where his reads tell him to, the play is going to look ugly and it might appear the blockers weren't doing their job. With Outside Zone, there is a right and a wrong way to run the ball and it needs to be coached everyday and every rep.

The Running Back's Footwork and Landmark

The running back's toes should be aligned at 7 yards from the ball. The depth of the running back can and will vary depending on the back's athletic ability. Fast backs can align a little deeper and slow backs can align a little closer to the ball. The landmark the RB is going to aim for is the butt of the play side tight-end. If there isn't a tight-end to the play side then the running backs landmark is going to be the butt of a ghost tight-end. The most important thing with the first step is the running back needs to get aligned on a track with his landmark. The footwork between different running backs is going to differ. However, upon getting align with his track to the landmark the running back it going to run straight at the landmark.

The Running Back's Read

Majority of the time, the running back's primary read is going to be the first down defensive lineman from the outside in. Let’s take a look at some examples. Against a 43 Over front (1) the running back is going to read the 7 tech when running OZ to the tight side and the 5 tech when ran to the split side. The same holds true against a 42 Over front (4) except the running back is going to read the 6i tech when running OZ to the tight side. Against the 34 Odd front (2) and the 43 Under front (3), the back is going to read the down defensive lineman and not the linebacker aligned on the line of scrimmage.

The primary read for the running back is either going to tell him to take it to the outside or cut it up north-n-south. This decision needs to be made by the third step on his track toward the tight-end. If the primary read gets reached and sealed, the running back is going to take the ball to the outside (end of story). If the primary read keeps outside leverage or skates toward the sideline, the running back is going to immediately look inside to the next down defensive lineman as to whether he is cutting the ball outside the second read or behind the second read. The running back only gets 1 cut and he has to live with it (this is a very important coaching point). Once the running back starts dancing in the backfield, the running back needs to be pulled off the field and reminded of the "One Cut Rule" because it is going to result in negative yards. If the running starts to make multiple cuts, he will never be able to explode through the line of scrimmage and burst through the backside defenders that are being cutoff.

Let’s walk through this with some diagrams. Below are pictures of 4 scenarios while running OZ to the tight-end side of a 43 Over defense. The rest of the defense isn't shown because they should be getting cutoff from the point of attack. In the first scenario, the running back reads that the tight-end has reached and sealed the defensive end by his third step. This read tells him that he is taking it to the outside. In the rest of the scenarios (2 through 4), the defensive end has keep outside contain or he is skating towards the sideline. After seeing this on the third step, the running back is now going to immediately look in at the 3 tech to see where he is going to make his ONE cut. In scenarios, 2 and 3 the 3 tech has been reach and this now tells the running back that he is cutting the ball up and outside the 3 tech. In scenario 4, the 3 tech has not been reached. In this case the running back is going to cut behind the 3 tech.

Below, pictures some scenarios that could occur when running the play toward the split-end side of a 43 under front. All else remains the same expect that the secondary read become much quicker because the primary and secondary read are right next to each other.

Video Break Down (Michigan State Spartans - 2010)

When watching these clips watch the running back's read. They tell you every time where to take the ball.

On this play, I don't like how the running back bows his path. Running sideways allows more time for the defense to pursue to the ball and increase the chance of a negative play. I believe a bad first step cause him to have to bow out. The running back needs to make sure to get aligned with landmark and stay on his track until his read tells him to take it outside or until he cuts it up. However he does a great job at reading his keys. The primary read skates towards the sideline and the secondary read get cutoff, allowing him to cut it up north-n-south outside the secondary read.

On this clip, notice where the running back makes his cut to get north-n-south. It is at his landmark. He does a good at recognizing the DE keeping outside contain. In addition, having the 3 tech get drove down the field make the secondary read whole a lot easier. (Side note: If the running back would have started to dance around in the backfield, the 1 tech would have dropped him for a loss. "One Cut Rule")

This is hard to see but notice the primary read get sealed. This tells the running back to take it outside. (Side Note: The play-side receiver knows how to "Push-Crack". I will take a 1 on 1 situation with a running back against a corner any day of the week.

This is a better example of seeing the primary read get sealed and telling the running back to take it outside.

In this example, the primary read skates toward the sideline (telling the back to look inside to the secondary read). The secondary read doesn't get reached and the running back has to cut it up behind him. In addition, the backside tackle doesn't get his job done at cutting off the backside 3 tech so the back has to cut behind him too. Notice where he is cutting, it is at his landmark making OZ a "Cut Up" play and not a "Cut Back" play.

4:50 & 4:57
These two plays are great examples of the back running towards his landmark and cutting it up when he gets there. Both the primary and secondary reads skate towards to the sideline, allowing the back to cut it up north-n-south.


You have got to coach the running back in order to become great at this play. The running back needs to align at 7 yards behind the ball. On the first step, the running back needs to get aligned on a track towards the tight-end's butt. The running back is going to read the first down defensive lineman from the outside-in, making his decision to either take it outside or cut it north-n-south by the third step (One Cut Rule).

Check out Coach Hoover's Running Back drills and the videos posted by Brophy with Alex Gibbs talking about OZ.

Gibbs - Outside Zone Videos 6-8

News:  Coach Mike Pope is going to make a website for all positions. He hope to have the changes to the website done by January.  If you haven't checked out his site, you should.  

Let me know if there is anything special you guys would like to see.  Enjoy!!!

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