Empowering Coaches Step-By-Step

Considering Zone Blocking?

                       Zone Blocking For Non-Select Youth Football Teams?

 A prevalent blocking scheme in the NFL and College is now the zone. You even see some of the more athletic High Schools going to that scheme. There are even a handful of youth teams out there trying to zone block.

When you go to zone blocking, remember you have to account for your minimum play players. In youth football over 70% of leagues have some kind of minimum play rule, for those leagues that don’t have the rule most of us set an internal minimum play standard. For most of us that rule or standard is 12-16 plays, I’ve seen them as low as 8 and as high as 24 plays. The question is where do you play those kids? Where can those players execute something consistently as well as provide team value on every single snap?

 Are you putting your weakest players on defense? In the offensive backfield? Special teams? Good luck with all that, most reasonably coached youth football teams are going to isolate and crush you if you choose any of the above, we in fact play our best 11 on special teams in most instances. Split out your weakest player 20 yards, we aren’t covering him and will play 11 vs your 10 football. Put them at safety? We have one coach, all he does is check to see where you put your non-starting weaker kids at. Put him at safety and the next play we are going to throw right at him with receivers running off both your corners.

Most of us seasoned youth coaches are going to work those weaker kids into our offensive line. Unfortunately the reason so many kids hate playing on the o-line is they are often put in no-win situations using techniques and schemes they have little or no chance succeeding with. One of the key components of zone blocking involves combo blocks, where two linemen get movement on a defensive lineman, then one of the offensive linemen come off the double team to block a linebacker. Now remember what kind of player does the other team have at linebacker? Is it their slowest, weakest, least aggressive minimum play player? Or is it their fastest, most aggressive, most athletic player? If the answer is the former, zone blocking makes a lot of sense for your team. If instead the answer is the latter, your minimum play player is going to have a tough time blocking the other teams best player IN SPACE, on the run. Of course it isn’t a problem either if each and every one of your players are studs or you coach select football where you cut all the weaker players. For most of us, that isn’t the case.

Youth football is unlike college football in many other ways. It is very doubtful you will find boxing defensive ends in the NFL, College or even High School. You also won’t see defensive ends aligned real wide in 8 techniques like you see from many youth defenses. Reach blocking a player on or even the next gap over is doable with many/not all linemen, but not several gaps away and especially defensive ends that align on air and come straight up the field hard on ball movement.

Here is a zone blocking template from a very knowledgeable youth coach:

1) If you are uncovered, zone (combo) with your teammate stepping playside.
2) If you are covered, look backside and…
2A) if your teammate backside is uncovered – zone (combo) with him.
2B) if your teammate backside is covered – block the man over you.

When I see that the offensive linemen has to not only determine who is over him, but also who is over his neighbor and which way the ball is going, I see lots of room for error and lots of thinking. Lots of thinking  often equals players playing without confidence or aggression. I also love my chances when I’m stemming and stunting against a team using this scheme. Shift your defensive players one gap over on first sound or once the QB is under center and that listen to the brains of that minimum play offensive linemans being scrambled as he now tries to figure out where 2 defenders are and how they not fit in his rules. Practice this in your defensive recognition reps on air and have it ready for when you play one of these teams, it’s money.

 On the other hand, Pin and pull, a rule that only requires your lineman to read one player,  lots of double teams and simple great angle down blocks is what I see working well with average and even weak linemen. I see getting dedicated doubleteams with those doubleteams taking the defender to the second level and bumping linebackers off of pursuit paths as significantly more efficient than having a partial double team with one of my minimum play type lineman coming off the double to whiff on the other teams best player in space or worse yet whiffing completely on a wide defensive end on an ill advised reach block. We block those great linebackers with either our athletic backs or our 1 or 2 designated pullers, who are never minimum play players.

 Give your kids blocking rules and schemes that make sense for the age and talent level you have as well as the defenses you are facing. We can always find at least 1 or maybe 2 kids that can effectively pull, but when you are coaching non-select football you aren’t going to find 5-7 linemen including minimum play players that are going to consistently be effective blocking the other teams best players in space. Zone blocking works great in the NFL with world class athletes, but like the 25 yard out pattern or the 55 yard field goal, it doesn’t translate well into the youth level.

  We are always going to pull to get numbers at the point of attack or trap, but we aren’t going to expect all of our linemen to do that, they won’t have to in our scheme. The offensive line continues to be the most misunderstood and neglected area of youth football, hence they area with the biggest opportunity for improvement.

Copyright 2009 Cisar Management, all rights reserved. Republishing allowed if links are kept intact. For 400 Free Youth Football Coaching Tips or to Subscribe to Dave’s free Youth Football Coaching Tips Newsletter go to : //winningyouthfootball.com

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  1. Donnie

    Nice post. One thing I’ve found in my first 4 weeks or so of youth coaching is omst of the coaches I talk to think in terms of what will turn their studs loose the best, while I try to keep in mind that whatever we do has to incorporate minimum play guys.

  2. Tom

    What do you recomend for an offensive line that goes against a 6 man defensive line with no one allowed over the center. Usually there is four defensive lineman between c gaps and then the defensive ends box in. I’m dealing with 8 & 9 yr. olds and the rules for the division include that the linebackers have to be 3 yds off the line of scrimmage. The better teams have fast linebackers that blitz effectively.

    1. davecisar


      That sounds like what we face on most weekends. As you saw from the post, I’m no zone blocking fan for non select youth football. I don’t like my oline kids blocking the fastest players on the other team in space on the run- it simply won’t happen for many of the o-linemen we get assigned to our teams. I’m a huge fan of rule blocking- simple rule blocking with linemen on linemen and backs or 1 skilled athletic puller on linebackers. We use exactly that in our schemes, it’s in our book and offensive line DVD.

      Best of luck

  3. Coach Larry

    I have tried Zone Blocking for two years (Pop Warner Pee Wee-(9-12 years old level).
    Two problems:
    1. The boys have never been exposed to it, therefore not easily taught.
    2. If I don’t teach it myself, most of the coaches don’t even know what the basics are.

    Finally, I just said, “if you are covered, block the man on you”, or “If you are not covered, block the linebacker. Finally don’t “chase the linebacker”.

    It is more complicated for the youth mind to grasp.

    It works better with the spread line setup, because of the larger gaps. Our line is also set back, instead of even with the center, which offers more reaction time.

    One CRITICAL thing: Which ever blocking assignments you are running, it is CRITICAL for the blocker to have his HEAD on the correct side (play side) when managing the block. Even if his feet are late, he will at least “occupy” the defender enough for the back to adjust or continue.

    On the “blocking pyramid” of “what most important” the “correct side of the helmet” for man-on blocking is the most important teaching fundamental becasue even a weak block can be affective because of the head placement.

  4. robert carbone

    I have been coaching youth football for 15 years, we run a spread offense with no tight end, I am the line coach first off if you dont do individuals at practice and especially for linemen forget about it because it is the hardest position to coach at youth mainly because most of the kids are stuck at that position and have to play there. You might have 2 good linemen if your lucky if you are doing zone blocking you need quick feet and athleticism to be able to make contact with linemen and then go down and try to block a backer, myself I put my best athletes at the backer position so now your asking your so so O linemen to go down and block him not happening. I disagree with zone blocking for youth level. If my guard or tackle or center knows he is going down on the backer that can be coached if you do individual time with your linemen.


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