Zone Blocking A Departure From Past

August 12th, 2009 analyst Steve Campbell believes Sean Mahan will thrive in the Bucs new zone blocking scheme. analyst Steve Campbell believes Sean Mahan will thrive in the Bucs new zone blocking scheme.

You know football season is upon us when analyst Steve Campbell returns to talk offensive line. Joe still can’t get Campbell to let Joe brag about where he played his college ball much less what conference he played in. But Campbell was a Division-I offensive lineman.

This week, to get us all ready for some football with the Bucs preseason opener just hours away, Campbell explains why the Bucs changing to a zone blocking scheme is a very smart move that could pay off greatly. Campbell also explains how the running backs can use this blocking philosophy to their advantage.


I hear a lot of Bucs fans say they welcome the new offense that offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski is implementing because of the simplicity of it. It’s a departure from Jon Gruden’s style, which was perceived to be a “finesse” style of offense. But here is the crux of that argument: Gruden relied on a man-blocking scheme in his running game, and in 2009 the Bucs are using a zone blocking scheme which is less “smash-mouth” than man-blocking. This is a good thing, and I will attempt to explain why.

First of all, I like the zone blocking scheme for the Bucs based on their personnel. According to Alex Gibbs, the supposed author of the zone blocking scheme, the Bucs have the lineman necessary for the job (remember, Jags learned this scheme from Gibbs in Atlanta). At center, you need a “football brilliant” player. The Bucs have what may be considered the smarted center in the league in Jeff Faine. The Bucs center is also very good at getting to the second level peeling off defensive lineman and blocking linebacker. That is really important in this scheme.

At guard, height and length aren’t really important. Leverage is important. The Bucs will roll with Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah at guard. Joseph is just about a top-line player in this league if he could work on his consistency. He looks great for three plays and then lousy for one. He is what they are looking for, however, in this spot. Joseph plays with great leverage in the run game.

Zuttah takes over at left guard for Arron Sears and I don’t expect a drop off there. Sears was awful in some games last year after a promising rookie season in 2007. Zuttah was rather impressive in the first month of the season filling in for Joseph when he was injured. I didn’t notice a drop off at all in those games in the line’s play.

It may hurt the Bucs’ depth, but consider where Sean Mahan was a liability in Gruden’s system he should be pretty serviceable in this one. His biggest weakness is strength, or lack of it, and in the zone blocking scheme strength isn’t as important as mobility and agility, which Mahan has plenty of.

At tackle, the zone blocking scheme likes tackles that can run. I’m not thrilled with the potential of Donald Penn in this system, especially if he’s carrying the extra weight that he gained last season. Trueblood needs to improve as well, but I think the Bucs will be OK there.

At running back I like both Earnest Graham and Derrick Ward in this system, much more than Warrick Dunn. You want a “one cut” runner, which is one who has patience and vision and doesn’t “juke” a lot or try to make people miss all the time. That is a recipe for disaster in this system. Speed is not real important at the running back position but leg drive and mobility is. You want a back that doesn’t lose yardage and puts your offense in bad down-and-distance situations.

Think of the difference between Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders. I always liked Smith much more than Sanders. Sanders gave you the better overall average, but his runs often went like this….1, 0, 5, -3, 2, 45, 0, -2, 3, 0, 67. Believe it or not, I don’t want that in my offense. Zero yard gains on 1st–and-10 and three-yard losses on 2nd-and-7 will kill you. Give me Emmitt’s four-yards a carry with no losses, and I’m happy. Remember, it’s not what you average; it’s what you consistently gain.

There are millions of websites that will tell you how the zone blocking scheme works, so I’m not going to go into detail, but here’s how it breaks down: Basically, zone blocking is exactly what it says it is, offensive lineman are blocking a zone instead of an individual player. It has to be done as a team and one player deviating from this plan can screw everything up.

Each lineman will head to his area or “zone” and block whatever player is there. If there is no player there, you will continue through your zone, maybe helping out another lineman or looking for a linebacker on the next level. The scheme is supposed to make everything chaotic at the line of scrimmage, so that the running lanes are hard for the defense to predict each play. It challenges the mental discipline of the defense and ultimately, the defense becomes frustrated and will take unnecessary risks and then the big plays in the running game will come.

One Response to “Zone Blocking A Departure From Past”

  1. TpaBayFlyFisher Says:

    Very nice piece even if it was written by a………..well, I will let Joe tell you where Steve played…………………