Using an H back to enhance your Inside Zone Package

For most Spread teams Inside Zone is the bread and butter of their run game.  It is one scheme that can be installed and run vs any front.  It is a safe play that you can count on to eat up yardage consistently and then BOOM RB squirts up the gut or cuts back and hits the home run.  It was our best, most consistent run play last season.
I feel that I have become better at coaching it this off season through research into what others do and reflection in to what worked and didn’t work for us with IZ last year.  I have decided that our entire first week of Spring Ball will be devoted to IZ.  I am getting rid of my 3 day install plan I used a year ago, and the only run play we are going to use for the first 4 days is IZ.  I want to emphasize it’s importance as well as make sure my kids have at least a basic understanding of the play before adding anything.  Much of our offense relies on our ability to run IZ.
There are various styles of IZ, I won’t get in to that now… whatever your style is… if it works for you, keep doing it.  I believe our style works for us so I will keep refining/improving it.
I am writing this article to shed some brief light on some popular concepts and simple tags off of Inside Zone that I think are worth investing in and plan on running this season.
The core concept here is INSIDE ZONE…. for the sake of the drawings I put up the same front so you could see the differences in each.  This is against a 6 man box and using a true “Read” of the Backside DE as the base way of running IZ.
Each formation I have drawn up has the RB on the left and the H back (he is Y in our offense) on the right side.  I teach an outside the tackle alignment so put the DE in more conflict as now he can be blocked both from the inside and the outside. Some teams prefer directly behind OT, or even more inside for a better position to kick out on power… if that is what you do, wonderful… all of these concepts apply to any position you align your H back.
1. Standard IZ Right
The beauty of IZ is that you can run it from any personnel grouping.  It should be the same for the OL whether you are in a 4 wide environment, or begin adding TEs, H backs, Full backs whatever to the formation.  My goal as an OC, but more importantly as the OL coach is to make life easiest on the 5 Offensive Linemen.  I want to reduce how much they have to think at all times.  To keep their rules the same when we add our Y to the formation, likely he brings another defender into the box with him (likely the defender over him when he is spread out in the slot).  Just like he would spread out in Ace, our Y is responsible for blocking that OLB/Overhang.  He will condense some… could play at true LB depth, could walk up on the LOS, could play somewhere in between, either way our Y is responsible for him. This is just our base IZ RT call and if we are having success there is no need to deviate.

Now if we need to throw something else at the opponent we can begin to use tags to slightly alter the blocking scheme and/or give us a numerical advantage.

2. Slice
I love the idea of the slice tag.  We block IZ RT and rather than read the BSDE we kick him out with the Y. Just like Darin Slack talks about defeating the man advantage in the pass game using routes that cross the center line, I think there is a tremendous advantage in the run game in borrowing blockers from across the center line.  By bringing the Y at the snap on a sharp angle to kick out the DE we set up the potential for a huge cutback lane by the back.  The back must stick with his “chase the center’s butt” read and press the heels of the OL, but he knows when this is called that the cutback has big play potential.  The defense gets almost lulled to sleep by pounding IZ strong over and over, and this cutback catches them off guard. Our best IZ runs last year were on cutbacks and that was without a true kick out on the DE, we only influenced him wide and up field with the QB pull threat.

There are 2 ways to teach this kick out block…

  • A. Aim for kick out on DE every time (log as last resort when beat)
  • B. Have Y Aim for Kick out and read the DE… if the DE flies up field for QB no need to kick him out, instead turn up and be an extra lead blocker for the RB (49ers began killing teams with his when Kap took over)

Some call the Kick vs the bluff kick and lead backside as 2 separate plays, I like reading it instead to “always be right”.

I am leaning toward the latter for our install purposes simply because the way it should time up… if that Y runs a hard angle for kick out, and the DE goes up field far enough where the Y can not touch him… I do not think that DE can come back and get into the play… no need to waste a potential blocker.  Y should be taught a path to kick out… if he has no opportunity to collision the DE, get square and up the field.

3. IZ Iso Strong

If the LB who condenses with the Y is still playing soft or you feel he is not a threat in the run game (you can bang it up inside or cut back before he can make a play) then I feel that a strong side ISO is an excellent tag.  In this example the RT base blocks the DE out like on IZ.  The Y is responsible for the Play side LB or “first LB in the box”  (we number our LBs when talking run scheme… starting from play side box, working back).

Y would fold under the tackle (potentially would fold through A gap vs a 3 tech and RG would base the 3 out)

Since Y has the Right ILB… it allows the OL to work their combos not rotating play side to front side backer, but rotating to backside backer… which should allow a longer double IMO. The key to making this strategy work is making sure the OL understands that 1 LB has been taken away so they are working up to LB differently.  The BST can be taught to either use his base zone steps and work with BSG to cut off 3 tech and any backside LB pursuing from outside the box or if you prefer to take the read aspect away from it he can hinge on the DE.

4. IZ Iso Weak
Once the concept of Y being responsible for a backer, and how that effects the OL sinks in, you know have the ability to run Iso week off of zone principles.  You provide a cutback same side play for the Rb (an important key breaker for gun teams who don’t have great run threats at Qb) and again pulling the Y gives the offense an advantage as they can now borrow a blocker from across the center line.

OL blocks IZ Left but leaves the Left Inside LB for Y.  Same rules would apply as strong side ISO for the OL, we are just pulling Y to lead block weak rather than fold him strong.  Again he would be pulling and leading (SQUARE!) up through the A or B gap bubble depending on the front.

5. Bootleg

The last play I want to explore in this series is a Bootleg off of the IZ look.  I can not take credit for the details of this concept as I got it directly from Coach Grabowski’s iBook (if you haven’t bought this yet you are hurting yourself, go buy it now).If I had our H WR on the left side I would just run him on a deep out, I just drew it this way to show how the drag should be run, under OLB and over the MLB.

The OL and RB are selling IZ Right.  OL will take their zone steps and if they have color in their gap will base block it but not go more than 2 yards down field, if they do not see color/feel pressure they will get their eyes up and look for work/help.

The OL HAS to block it the exact same as the run play to fool the defense.  Play side SE (X) attacks inside then gets to the corner.  H runs either the deep cross route or deep out depending on if it is too his side or away.  Y in this case would attack the DE (just like in Slice) and chip off into the Flat.

These are just some examples of what I feel are core plays in a spread offense that bases around Inside Zone.  Each of these concepts could very easily be run from Pistol.  Again the alignment of your H back position could be moved to whatever best suits your needs.

Using Spread Concepts in a Pro Style Offense

I got the idea for today’s post from Internet celebrity @Lochness

I do not know if a combination of routes and reads can necessarily be defined as “for spread teams” or “for pro style teams”… to me they are just moving players and manipulating the defense.  But I decided to take some plays that are widely viewed as “spread” plays and break them down from an under center 21 personnel offense.  I drew up split backs because the RBs are balanced and I have some experience in a pro style splitback offense.  However these concepts could just as easily be used from any other 2 back formation… I do think it is easier for a FB to release if he is offset those extra couple yards than compared to being straight behind the QB.

Each of these plays is a part of most spread passing arsenals… they are the most popular plays I see being talked about by spread people.

I think each of them would work just as well in a 21 set and could be done off of straight drop or play action.

I am by no means an R4 expert but I will do my best to put the concepts into it’s terms.

1. Snag
Seriously, did you guys think I would write about anything else before bringing up Snag?  If you have followed my activity recently you have probably seen how enamored I am with the 3 man snag concepts and variable tags on the backside.  I just think it is a money concept.  In my mind it is just as potent in a pro set.
TE has the Corner route, this is our Rhythm.  The snag by Z is the Read.  The playside RB has a swing (or shoot) route to provide the Rush horizontal stretch on the #2 defender.  X route on the backside can be a quick slant or snag route as a base.  I have it drawn with a Dig tag to exploit middle LBs who want to cheat to the 3 man side.  The backside RB can be left in for protection or run a swing to the backside for a 2 man snag combination.

2.  A similar 3 man triangle concept… Stick!
This concept is essentially the same as Snag as it has the same reads for the QB, and attacks the same grass, it merely inverses who the deep route and the settle routes are and is a great way of getting the ball to the TE (or slot depending on formation) the ball quickly. Z has an outside release GO and is our Rhythm.  Y has the Stick and is our Read.  The Rb is again the Rush route on a flat/shoot/swing whichever you prefer for a horizontal stretch.  I have X drawn up on a slant for  the possibility of working that 1 on 1 matchup should you desire.

3. Spacing is a very popular quick game concept with many coaches.  There is no vertical stretch but we are able to put a lot of pressure on the defense to cover horizontally.  Y is our Rhythm and has the Spot/mini curl, Z is the Read with the Snag route (carry over teaching from Snag Concept) and again our RB provides the Rush with his flat/shoot/swing.  I drew it with the same X slant as above to work 1 on 1.
4.  Now on to a vertical stretch.  I love the horizontal stretches given by the plays above but a vertical stretch play is a necessity in my opinion.  The simple flood concept is easy out of a Pro Set.  This was our best concept when I was at my first coaching stop.  Z has a skinny post, I used to run this as a GO but I like the idea of running a Skinny post instead to occupy a safety lined up on the hash… keep him out of the picture of that out route. That skinny post is our Rhythm.  Y has a 12 yard out and is our Read.  RB is the Rush with another flat route.  Works great off of a play action half roll action with that RB setting up faking a lead block then leaking out.  Key is to work the timing in practice and keeping proper spacing between Y and the RB.  There needs to be vertical spacing (Y at 12, RB on an angle to 3 yards at the sideline) and Horizontal distance between them to increase the chances of hitting one of them.  Backside can run a post or dig route that we can capitalize on later in the game when we see an over reaction.


5.  Finally I want to touch on 4 verts.  So far everything I have drawn has involved the RB releasing on some sort of flat route from the backfield.  Verts is a great play that not many 2 back teams run, or can only run from one of their 1 back sets and somewhat give it away.  I think it is reasonable to be able to run it from a 2 back set with the right field spacing.  X and Z own the numbers.  Y has the right hash.. and ideally we run this play from the left hash or close to it so the RB can start his flat route and turn it up the hash… this route is very difficult to cover from a defense’s perspective.  It should fit in with our timing because the Y is our rhythm and always our first read… We want to zip that ball in to him as soon as he clears the OLB every time… then if we see that taken away by collision or FS jumping it we move to our Read… the left hash vertical (Rb from backfield). The Rush is the backside RB checking down.  Coaches can use tags to work reading an outside vert first if that is the match up you prefer.

My final note is that on any of these concepts with the Rb getting out… We can always tag “Wheel” to convert his route into a flat then up the sideline… this is a nice constraint off of his usual flat route and can hurt the defense that wants to jump his flat route.  Make sure any other deep route to that side is converted to a Post or Dig on this play so we don’t have 2 men running their routes into one another.  For example if we worked that 3 man snag with a “wheel” tag… Y would run a Dig… because a corner would put him and the RB (wheel) into each other’s way deep down the sideline.

Cut up of the day: Snag

I love the Snag concept… it was our best dropback pass play in terms of completions.  We need to improve how we run when we see man coverage but against zone it is money.  We did not always pull the trigger, but I was amazed how it opened up almost every single time… It was almost all we could complete when we dropped back yet flat defenders still had to defend bubble and chase it, and the Snag would open up in behind them.

We need to improve our completion % on this next year and I am going to alter the Snag runner’s route slightly.  When we ran it ugly they broke their route off too shallow.  In the future I do not want them to break in on their angle until they push vertical to 5 yards.  I want them catching the ball at 8 yards deep not 5.  Breaking too soon often got them coming too far horizontally.  I do not want them coming near the Inside LB.  I want to just pick on that flat defender.

Most of the clips below are hitting the Snag route.  There are a few times we found the back mixed in.  Also a really nice TD to the RB after a jet sweep fake.


Cut up the day Finale: Cross/Boot

The last “base play” in our arsenal, and the final in post in my “cut up of the day” series is the cross concept.  It has got to be the most popular bootleg concept in football.  It is essentially the same as our Flood play but from a 2×2 alignment.  This concept is run at every level of football and from any sort of personnel group.

You end up with a Go/Clear out
a quick route in the flat (from spread it is a slow played out to sell the run look)
teams often use a TE, H back, or FB to chip block and then get to the flat

The backside slot or TE runs the deep cross over the inside LBs (who should be biting on play action)

We hit the out very often as the OLB covering him was often out leveraged due to his alignment and initial run read.  We were also able to hit the cross a few times when the OLB jumped the out, and ILBs sucked up on the play action, leaving a void.  Even against man the cross is a great concept because it is difficult to cover a speedy slot WR across the width of the field.

We sprinted to this concept, play actioned with sprint out pass pro
but my favorite way to run this concept was using a “boot” protection featuring a guard pull

I thought this concept worked exceptionally well for us because the guard pull added to the run action and in one game particular (where they had a DE who we simply could not block) this played slowed him up a whole lot.  He could no longer crash down when he read down block and blow up our guard.

Some of the clips feature a QB who began the year as our 3rd stringer! Starter got suspended a game, and he beat out the kid who was our backup all year during that week of practice.  The clips with #12 at QB were his first start at QB of his life.

I didn’t include it in the film but he even picked up a huge 4th and 4 conversion on this play with his feet when the defense didn’t bite on the run fake and flew out for pass.

I see this concept being a bigger part of our offense in the future as we begin to explore the use of some TE/H back stuff.

Cut up of the day: Sprint Draw

The Sprint Draw has been a hot topic in the coaching community.  It was a great play for us and was set up nicely by the amount of sprint out we ran, and the fear our QB as a run threat put into the defense.  This was a beautiful constraint play for us.

We got a lot of movement in most cases from the playside DE trying to fight reach blocks, and more importantly we made LBs move, in some clips they SPRINT out of the box to try to get under routes and by the time they realize the RB has the ball it is too late.

OL wise we work to our sprint side and pick up “our man” based upon our pass pro rules and how we ID the front (we use a typical air raid pass pro based on the Center IDing the front each play).

I LOVE this play… there are a lot of times we do not even block it great up front, you will see 1 or 2 guys getting killed, but as long as they remain engaged, the flow gives the RBs enough room to do their thing and be the great athletes they are.


Cut up of the day: Sprintout

The sprint out game was a huge part of our offense this year. Our QB was a great athlete and was at his best when he could threaten the defense with both his arm and his legs.

By definition we can sprint to any concept in the play book with a one word tag for sprint, but our main sprint out game was

Curl/flat from a 2×2 set

And Flood from 3×1

I was AMAZED at how often we were able to hit the quick out. It was an easy completion for us especially near the goal line… At times I felt the entire stadium knew we were throwing it but we still completed it. It was a great answer for us when defenses wanted to load the box and bring everyone on the goal line.




The best constraint to all of the sprint out passing IMO is the sprint draw…

I have written multiple posts about it in the past.  Tomorrow I will load some sprint draw clips.

Cut up of the day: 4 Verts

4 Verts wasn’t necessarily a huge part of our offense but it was our way of backing off corners some and hurting a team when they played single high against or no safety against us.
We hit one of the slots a number of times against cover 0 or 1.  Even on the completions I still think we sailed the ball too much, it needs to come out faster than some of the clips here.

There is also a long TD pass clip from a stop n go we ran.


Cut up of the Day: Outside Zone

Our OZ wasn’t as big of a part of our offense as I wanted it to be.  Part of this was because of the backs we had and some mistakes we made.  We actually had much more success running QB OZ with the RB leading.  This was a great play for us because our QB was fast, ran hard, and it gave us an instant numbers advantage.  One thing that helped us was all of the sprint out we ran… it looks very similar to the defense and puts those force /flat players in conflict.
When we had number advantage to trips we could overload them by running it strong, when defenses brought their OLB over to the trips side and left no #2 defender to the single side we could run it weak.
A lot of the clips you will see my tackle after determining he couldn’t get a reach block turn his defender out giving a CUT UP read (as opposed to a cutback read on IZ) The best clips in my opinion are the ones where QB reads that block turns it up, and then gets back outside.
The final 2 clips are us running speed option.  I included it because we ran it with an OZ blocking scheme.  This wasn’t a big part of our offense, only ran it a couple times on the year.
Since I have now shown cut ups of our whole base run game I can now show this…As a bonus here are some clips of our QB keeps on the backside of our run game.  These are not called runs, but every RB carry involves the QB reading the BSDE, we are still not as good as I want us to be at this but we were better this year than we have ever been with it (mostly because of personnel).  Our backup QB actually did a better job reading it than our starter who was our stud runner.


Cut up of the day: Counter

To continue with the cut ups of the day theme… today I will be showing cutups of my favorite play in football… Counter GT

This has been “my play” in every offense I have coached and I think it works beautifully out of the spread.
Playside Down blocks (or doubles)
G and T pull for kick and wrap

To our RB we will read the BSDE

you will see a lot of clips running QB GT (I think the best play in a spread formation, great counter to teams keying back) using RB to fill on BSDE


Cut up of the Day: Inside Zone

Our best, most consistent run play this year was Inside Zone (IZ)

RB was a stud, he got really good at the Bang or Bend read he was taught on his path.
We were also able to run it as a frontside run play to the Rb (straight downhill dive action) and even as a QB follow type of play.  We got the most mileage out of this play.

I taught it differently than most… focusing on a more track based approach than the usual 4 eyes on LB 4 hands on DL push the vertical double team approach

Here are some cut ups of our IZ scheme in action