It seems like almost everyone at every level of football is running some kind of inside zone blocking scheme.
BUT Ferris State does things just a little bit differently.
Because this offense moves so fast, they can't follow the same blocking rules as everyone else.
Ferris State has one of the most unique and exciting offenses in college football today, and it's one of the biggest reasons they won the National Championship in Division 2 this season.
Coach Sam Parker, Ferris State offensive line coach and run game coordinator, has put together an incredible 6-part presentation on how they teach and install their unique spread offensive scheme.
See more on the Ferris State Offense here.
Inside Zone Blocking - The Ferris State Method
The difference between the way Ferris State coaches their inside zone scheme and the way others do it, is that they use what is called a "spot blocking" style.
This offense moves SO FAST that the offensive linemen don't have the time to watch the defense get lined up and then communicate who is climbing to the backer, etc.
Instead they condense everything into 3 words: "Look-Lean-Climb "
1. Look at your gap - This includes pre-snap so you get an idea of whether or not you're going to get a defender in your face right away.
2. Lean back if nothing is there - If there's nothing that shows immediately, lean back and get eyes on what's coming into your gap. Don't allow extra penetration because you got too far downfield and opened up a big hole for the defense to shoot through.
3. Climb to the second level - Continue to look for work and climb to the second level.
Coach Parker goes into greater detail with some film clips in this video below, or you can just read through the rest of this article to get a summary:
Ferris State Offense Inside Zone - Example #1
Here the offense is in 12 personnel and running a read from the inside zone (one of the most common forms of the zone read play).
Here they are reading the defensive end to the open side (away from the attached tight end).
The great thing about zone, and one reason Ferris State loves it so much is that you can dress it up so many different ways while still keeping things simple for the offensive line.
In this instance the quarterback actually reads the play wrong and hands the ball off as the defensive end squeezes down into the gap and is actually putting his hands on the back, but because they get so much movement on the A-gap defender and creating so much space inside of that defensive end, he can’t close that gap and the ball carrier squirts free.
The center stays square and holds his ground against the A gap defender across from him, and to the “run side” (opposite of the “read side) they have good numbers, three blockers for three defenders.
The running back’s ‘get off’ is so good that he’s able to get vertical right away and shoot through the hole created by his offensive line, and they score in a critical situation down inside the red zone against a tough Grand Valley State defense.
Ferris State Offense Inside Zone - Example #2
One of the things they like to do off the ball is create depth with their steps, this way they can be a little bit further back and have room to adjust to defenders making moves across from them.
On this play, the environment in the middle of the game is so loud that the offense has to go on a silent count – even though they’ve never practiced it!
The left guard is the one who has to tap the center to let him know the quarterback is ready for the snap, and he ends up with a stalemate at the line against that A-gap defender. However, since he’s able to stay square and in good position with his feet and hands, they’re actually OK here.
The thing that makes this play go is the left tackle, who follows his “Look-Lean-Climb” coaching points. Before the snap he sees that there is no one in his gap, but the defensive end is head up in a four technique, so he knows he’s probably going to try to stunt into the B-gap at the snap.
Then he slows down just enough to allow that defensive end to cross his face, and leans back so that he can get leverage on him and fully engage (“Lean” Coaching Point). Finally as he starts to climb to the next level, and move that defensive end out of the way, he ends up getting in the way of the inside linebacker. That linebacker should be playing over the top of this, but the left tackle manages to push that defensive end into the next level and obstruct the linebacker’s path.
This is what offensive line coaches call a 2-for-1 scenario, because the left tackle actually takes care of two defenders with just one block on this play, and springs the back for another touchdown.
To the right side of the play, away from the read side, the double team on the five technique defensive end is “inconsequential” most of the time according to Coach Parker. The ball is almost never going to cutback in that direction when the offense calls this zone read play, but one thing Coach Parker really likes is that you get extra movement on that defensive end, and get him into another collision and get him worn out a little more. Now the next time it’s 3rd and long, that guy may not rush as hard as he would’ve. Those sorts of hits add up over the course of a play and season.
Ferris State Inside Zone - Example #3
This year a lot of their handoffs on zone came when they were down in the scoring zone because it was such an easy play for their running back to get the ball.
On this play, the motion threatens the defense with the possibility of some kind of jet sweep, or another wrinkle in the run game that we'll discuss further.
On this play, the slot receiver comes in motion and he’s supposed to trap the end man on the line, but because there are so many unblocked defenders to that side, he’s not exactly sure who he’s responsible for. He doesn’t end up blocking anyone very well, but he’s able to turn his shoulders and get a piece of the defensive end long enough so that he can’t get to the running back after the handoff.
Once again the “Look-Lean-Climb” mantra is what really gets this play going to the read side. The defense is trying to stunt someone into the open A gap, and the right guard slows down, “leans” back and collects the defender crossing his face and trying to stunt into the gap.
The Center does a good job of following those same instructions well. Pre-snap he can see the man head up on the left guard (“Look”), after the snap that same guy crosses his face, so he “leans” back and then starts to work vertical (“Climb”).
This play is an excellent example of the guys up front shrinking the gaps, using the shield, and creating movement.
Watch more clips from this presentation from Ferris State Offensive Line Coach and Run Game Coordinator Sam Parker HERE.