Coach Gruden on Zone Blocking and the New Penn State Offense

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May, 2012

Tampa, FL - Inside the dark halls of Fired Football Coaches of America Headquarters

"BScaff! Welcome to Tampa, my man!"

"Thanks for having me down here, Coach Gruden. I'm looking forward to learning from the master."

"Ha! The master...but I still got myself fired, didn't I?"

"I'd point the blame at a below par roster; unrealistic ownership and fan expectations; and of course, the ready-for-Medicare QB combo of Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia. You had a worse QB situation than Bill O'Brien."

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"That's my man. But that's it. I won't throw roses at you all day long bscaff, because I watched your high school film. And let me tell you, it wasn't pretty."

"How did you even find my high school film, Coach?"

"I've got film on everything, though I think we should burn yours. You were awful, son. But there's one play you sucked at just a little more than the others.

In my favorite - your worst - you were an on-line TE, and you had a SAM 'backer on your outside shoulder, and your coach wanted to run outside of you. YOU'RE THE POINT OF ATTACK! You have to reach that SAM 'backer's far shoulder, and give that coach the edge before he ends up in the FFCA with me. And what happened, bscaff?"

"...uh, I don't know which game or year you're even talking about. But probably not much."

"Yeah, not much was right. He set the edge on you! What in the heck was that?! You've gotta be kidding me! You've got to move your feet and flip your hips, bscaff! Aim to his outside shoulder, power step and turn him back inside! You've got to make that block, son!"

"I had slow feet, and..."

"And what happended when you didn't make that block, bscaff?"

"...we lost yards?"

"You got zero yards if you were lucky. HA! Yeah, you're not going to hear your named called in the draft looking like that."

"Well, that ship was never even designed, Coach. But really, what I wanted to talk about was Penn State's new offense, and how it compares to what I've seen since I was born."

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"You think I'm stupid, bscaff?"

"No, Coach, I.. - "

"GREEN RIGHT SQUEEGEE, X ZIP SPIDER 2 Y BANANA MOJO CROWN 648 Z SLUGO SHAM WOW!"

".....uh..."

"CHECK, 436 BELLY!"

".......I mea-"

"ON 2!"

"................sorry, Coach."

"That's better. I mentioned your pitiful high school play, young bscaff, to help you understand the differences you can look for in the new Bill O'Brien-led Penn State offense. He is one heck of a coach. But first, tell me about that block you missed."

"You successfully chose the block I hated the most."

"Tell me why, Nancy. Give me details, besides the fact that you sucked at it."

"Uh..first, it's one-on-one, and the LB starts out with alignment advantage. I couldn't get to the guy's far shoulder - dude was already half a yard outside of me. And with my zero-talent level, I had little chance to get decent leverage."

"It wasn't just bad feet, though, was it. You're slow and weak - though judging by looks, you've (cough) bulked up since that film I watched."

"Yes, thanks a lot, Coach."

"Well, let's watch some real football players, bscaff. Here's your beloved Dear Old State against the heathens from Iowa. You hate those Iowa guys, don't you?"

"Not really."

"They remind you of Penn State just a little bit, right?"

"If you take away PSU's championships and winning tradition, then yes. Yes they do, coach."

"Let's go to the film. You know the play call?'

"I didn't play for Penn Sta-"

"It's '43 ISO'. That's a little short on verbiage for my tastes, but watch what happens. This is a man blocking scheme, bscaff. The C is going to chip with the RG. The RT and TE use inside technique on the playside DE and SAM. And the FullBack - you love fullbacks, don't you bscaff? - the FB has an ISO-lation block against the MIKE linebacker. Back-On-Backer, bscaff. Everyone has a man. Everyone is firing off the ball, drive blocking, big boy style."

"YOU GOTTA HAVE YOUR BIG BOY PANTS ON, BSCAFF! RIGHT? RIGHT?! I MEAN, THIS GUY RIGHT HERE..."

"Right, Coach."

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"So you've seen mostly man blocking from your Nittany Lions in the last few years. But not exclusively. No one is exclusively man, or exclusively zone. You know why?"

"No, Coach."

"Because coaches like me take pride in having playbooks longer than "War and Peace"; playbooks that are drier reads than Milton.

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It shows everyone how smart I am, when I have a huge playbook. If I came back to the college game, well...I just don't know how I'd adjust. Where am I gonna find a 38 year old Jeff Garcia? Or a 34 year old Brian Griese? Or a 36 year old Brad Johnson? Or a 37 year old Rich Gannon? Or a -"

"Coach, pleas-

"PEYTON MANNING! THE SHERIFF. I CALL HIM THE SHERIFF. PEY-TON. MAN-NING. LET ME TELL YOU, IT FEELS GOOD JUST SAYING HIS NAME. NOW THAT GUY, -"

"COACH! Coach. I think you were about to show me a zone blocking play."

"One more time? 'The Sheriff'. Mmmm. Alright, how about one from Coach Paterno, first. BScaff, let me hear you call a Penn State offense, zone blocking run."

"Again, Coach Gru, I didn't play at - "

"42 TAKE. Get up there on the board and draw that out for me."

"I came here to ask you-"

[Coach Gru jumps up, scribbles on a clean board for 3 seconds, and sits back down].

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"THERE YOU GO BSCAFF! LET'S GET EXCITED, HUH?! YEAH! 42 TAKE. You're gonna like this one. I picked it out special for you."

"Why is that coach?"

"Because the zone scheme helps out a turd like you trying to block that SAM sitting on your outside shoulder."

"How's that?"

"He's not your 'man', in this scheme, and you don't have a preset responsibility to turn the outside guy back inside - something you did not do well.

Your basic zone scheme is trying to accomplish two things, bscaff. Number one: prevent penetration. Penetration blows up plays before they get started. Ever watch Nebraska under Tom Osborne in the 1980's? They'd go 10 - 0 scoring 80 points a game, head to the Orange Bowl, and score 17 against a Miami team with Cortez Kennedy blowing up their I-Bone. Why do you think the AP voters wouldn't share the 1994 title with PSU when Dr. Tom finally won an Orange Bowl? They figured the win over my man Sapp was a miracle, and Tommy'd never do it again. Took pity on him."

"That makes a lot of sense. What's the second objective?"

"Right. Second - make movement on the line of scrimmage. Left, right, reach or drive - whatever. We want movement, because movement creates gaps in the defense. Your backs are responsible for slow-reading the blocks, finding the gap, and then turning on the jets. You can't turn that SAM or DE back inside, bscaff? So what - push him into the bench. The back will cut off of your block.

That generally means you don't have to be road-grading Johnnie Troutman in a zone scheme. In most play designs, it's trying to give the blockers better angles - blocking half-a-man, aiming for an armpit instead of a chest.

Now, your new Coach O'Brien runs both zone and man schemes, just like Coach Paterno. But unlike the last couple of years, you can probably expect to see more zone and than man. I queued up three plays from your Blue-White game. The first two are zone, and the third is man. Let's go to the video tape."


"You're one cool dude, Gru. So...who else runs predominantly zone?"

"I've got tape on all of them. Let me flash a few shots at you."

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"Ok. That's Wisconsin, Iowa, Screaming Shanahans, and...who was that last one?"

"Best running team in the NFL, son. They took an undrafted free agent RB who was a backup his last year at Tennessee - where I helped recruit PEYTON MANNING - and made him the League's leading rusher. A zone scheme works when you execute it well up front.

Now let's hit the practice field. I wanna see if you can get vertical. Or how about a stick route? A shake?"

"Thanks for the interview, Coach. You're the best. Hope I can visit again."

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