Mail: Will the Broncos return to a pure zone blocking scheme?

One of our readers recently emailed us with several questions relating to the likely offensive line and system under new head coach Gary Kubiak. We'll address them one by one over the coming days and weeks:

Do you believe we will be going back to a pure ZB scheme? - Kevin

It’s a great question, Kevin, and one that's on the mind of most Broncos fans. The short answer is yes, in degree. But, I think that we’ll see more than that.

The catch comes in the word ‘pure’. If you’re talking about a pure stretch zone, no, that’s not what I see. Discussing a pure stretch zone calls for a longer article. The simple version is that you have an inside zone, an outside zone, and a full stretch zone. Each has substantial differences. Here are the keys:

  1. Back in 2009, David Hooper of Tennessee Vols blog Rocky Top Talk wrote a nice article on zone blocking. He noted that the term ‘zone blocking’ is one of the most common, yet least understood approaches in football. I agree. Over the next few months, I’ll try to unravel the knotted skein and cover the specifics of what I do and don’t expect.

  2. The inside zone is probably the most common play in the game. Nearly every team runs some version of it. In an inside zone, the blockers are displacing the defenders vertically.

  3. The the outside zone is also very common. Most teams run it as well. When you run the outside zone, the blockers displace the defenders horizontally.

  4. You can find eight hours of in-depth information on the full stretch zone here. As Denver fans know, Alex Gibbs is the accomplished master of it. It’s what fans usually are referring to as a ‘pure’ zone, but that’s not really true. All three types are zone plays.

When I’m asked if the team will go to a ‘pure’ zone scheme, it’s important to note that there is no such thing right now, although Gary Kubiak came closest in Houston with the Texans. I doubt that he’s going to get away from something that works. But he also knows what’s important when you use a lot of zone. It’s the issue of whether a guard is covered or uncovered.

That’s simple - if there’s a defender helmet-to-helmet over a guard, he’s considered ‘covered’. If he’s covered, there’s no ‘zone’ - he just blocks the guy in front of him. If he’s ‘uncovered’, he helps out on a tandem block. Although usually called a combo block, Gibbs prefers the term ‘tandem’. The tandem should move the defender in the direction that the play is going to go in. That distinctive movement is what most fans think of as a zone play.

Next time, we'll discuss whether the Broncos will try to go to lighter, more mobile linemen. Thanks again for the questions, Kevin.

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