Now that we have looked at the different positions on the offensive line, it’s important to know how they work together. The most common type of run play in college football is a ‘Zone Run’ and one of the most advantageous aspects of this play is that it can be executed from any formation, versus any defense. The only time a team should audible out of a zone run is when the defense is overloaded, making them too vulnerable to the pass.

Before diving into Zone Combinations it’s important to understand the terminology that offenses use to identify defensive players. Defenders line up either on one of an offensive lineman’s shoulders or directly in front of him (also known as “Heads Up”) (fig 1).

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These different defensive placements have corresponding numbers to help coaches and players recognize the defensive fronts. Each O-Line position is assigned an even number that correlates to the heads-up position of the defender. The other spaces on the offensive line follow a similar pattern on both sides (fig 2) (many teams like to use a tight end in their formations but for the purpose of this article we will only be discussing a five-man offensive line).

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Most defenses align their ‘3 Technique’ on the same side as the running back to minimize the amount of ground linebackers have to cover (fig 3). In most instances, the linebackers will shift opposite of the defensive line to ‘balance’ the defense.

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As you know from previous Chalk Talk articles, the first step of a successfully blocked play is identifying ‘Mike’ (the pivotal linebacker). Once done, the offensive line can then call the corresponding zone combinations; the first call will always be how or who should effectively block the Mike (fig 4).

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Each team will have varying rules and will handle their calls slightly different, but all teams will first account for the Mike. The general rule that offensive linemen follow is that if you’re covered (in a zone run), that defender is yours and if you are uncovered, then you work with the lineman back-side of you (fig 5).

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Zone combinations are broken into two different kinds, ‘front-side’ and ‘back-side’. The front-side refers to the side of the offensive formation to which the ball is intended to go. If the play is called to the left side of the offense the Left Tackle, Guard, and the Center would be considered ‘Front Side’.

The backside however, is the key to the success of the run. These combinations are most important because when running the zone, the backs are taught to “Read the Three” and react based upon how they play the block. In the ‘Gun’ formation the running back will almost always line up on the backside of the play in order to allow the QB to hand him the ball easily.

Generally front-side zone combinations are identified by three letter words and back-side combinations are identified by four letter words. For example, if the center and front-side guard are working together to block a ‘1 Technique’ [see fig 2] they would make a three letter call like “Cog” or “Cig” (Center and Guard). If the back-side tackle and guard are working together to block a ‘3 Technique’ [see fig 2] they would call a four letter word like “Grit” or “Goat” (Guard and Tackle).

For younger offensive lineman the concept of blocking just half of a defensive lineman seems foreign, but fortunately, there’s a ‘little’ tool that offensive line coaches use to teach a successful zone block called the Rae Crowther Sled.

--(yes… your High School Coach used this piece of equipment wrong)--

With extensive knowledge and a great Coach, an offensive-line can block a Zone Run against a three, four, or five man front. They can run the Zone with or without a tight end and they can run it with or without the read. The Zone is successfully executed with teamwork and great communication. An offensive line that has only one of these two skills will not be a successful blocking unit. Remember, there are no poor play calls… only poor blocking.
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