Drilling the outside zone path and the bend, bang, bounce technique for running backs and quarterbacks is the key to success for the outside zone play.
The ball carrier must know his landmarks, know the keys to read from the defense, and be able to find green grass. The outside zone play is popular from high school to the pros and is the foundation for a lot of offenses.
Use this drill to lay a strong foundation for your zone concept.
How to Setup and Run the Drill
We utilize trash buckets to simulate our offensive line. We have a bucket for the center, guard, and tackle. We leave a space open at the ghost tight end spot as that is our aiming point for outside zone. The 4th bucket is used to designate where our running back or quarterback needs to bounce outside zone.
In the drill diagram, I have used cones to designate where your running backs and quarterback align. We only use cones with our sub-varsity players in the teaching of this drill to help them correctly line up. As your players progress in knowing their landmarks, the cones are not necessary.
We set up a player or coach with a hand shield to simulate the play side linebacker who our running backs and quarterbacks read on outside zone to know if they should bend, bang, or bounce the run.
Not pictured in the diagram, if we have the personnel and numbers to do so we will have a coach or player snap the ball to the quarterback to start the drill. If we do not have the numbers, then our quarterback spins the ball to himself in the air to start the drill.
As with any good drill that coaches utilize, we stole this drill and adapted it for our own use.
I want to give credit where it is due to Coach Malcolm Agnew of North Dakota University who calls this drill Outside Zone Square Drill. You can find a video on of Coach Agnew explaining his version of the drill here.
We are a pistol-based team that reverses out with our quarterback on outside zone so I will be discussing this drill from that perspective. Feel free to adapt the drill to fit your technique.
Our tailback’s steps on outside zone from the pistol start with a false step or drop step like Coach Agnew discusses in the video.
He then opens and bites the football from the quarterback’s reverse hand-off. It is his responsibility to get to the quarterback to get the ball on any mesh that we have. His aiming point is at the tight end or ghost tight end’s butt.
He takes that path working downhill. We coach our backs to envision they are a train on train tracks headed toward the tight end’s butt.
Our tailback should be looking for the play side linebacker designated by the person holding the bag in this drill.
When the Running Back Should Bounce
How the play side inside linebacker attacks the play is critical to how our running back responds. If the play side inside linebacker fills the C Gap (blue arrows in the drawing) then our running back is to press the C gap and then BOUNCE out around the bucket.
We teach the bounce as a jump cut out and around the outside bucket to get clear of the defenders and get outside. We teach our backs to work to the expressway (where people go fast) which for us is outside the numbers.
When the Running Back Should Bend
If the linebacker overruns the outside zone play or doesn’t fill then we want our back to BEND the play and find a vertical seam. This is illustrated by the green arrows in the drawing.
We have found that being in the pistol allows our back to bend the play back to the backside A gap if necessary. It is not as easy when you are in the sidecar alignment. Your back has to almost make a 90-degree turn hence why we have run outside zone from the pistol to be able to access that bend or cutback.
When the Running Back Should Bang
Finally, if the linebacker either stays home or fills an inside gap, then we also want our backs to recognize when they should just BANG the outside zone play and hit that open gap. This is illustrated with the red arrows on the drawing.
How to Develop the Drill
When we begin utilizing this drill, we focus on one skill at a time. We will work Bends for multiple reps before moving on to Bangs and then finally move on to Bounces.
As our skill level, technique, and perception improves then we make the drill reactionary and the running back must react to the defender.
We do run the drill at less than full speed several times to slow down the thinking process for our backs and allow them to scaffold into doing it correctly. Obviously, we also run the drill both left and right although right is the only direction illustrated in the drawing.
Teaching the Concept of Green Grass
Another key coaching point for our backs in outside zone is green grass. As much as we want them to read the linebacker, we do want them to be like a train on train tracks that run right to their aiming point at the butt of the tight end.
As the play develops, we coach them to look for green grass and a seam to burst through. That may help as a coaching point if your backs struggle with reading the linebacker. My simplest cues for years for my skill players has been “run away from the bad people” and “find green grass.”
Working the Quarterback as the Ball Carrier
Lastly, we do the same drill to work our quarterbacks in running outside zone with them as the ball carrier. If you’ve got one quarterback who is an especially good runner, then this can be a great way to attack the defense by using more than one quarterback.
Aiming points and steps are the same as our back, but obviously at a different angle. We will try to incorporate our running back as a lead blocker on our quarterback outside zone so in this drill we have him lead on that play side linebacker.
The quarterback reads the linebacker for bend, bang, or bounce and works off of his running back’s block.
Teaching your running backs when to bend, bang, or bounce is vital if you wish to have success with the outside zone concept. And having a strong running game helps your whole offense out, from play action passes to boots to zone reads.
Outside zone is a tough concept to master against a variety of defensive reactions, but the beauty of the concept is its fluidity against a variety of defenses. To truly master the concept, consider checking out this course.
This article was originally published in Headsets: Volume 1: Issue 3.