Combining the “midline lead” and the zone read

The evolution of the traditional zone read to include “midline-esque” concepts like reading the interior linemen is a hot topic, so I’d like to throw open the comments to what you think the next evolution or wrinkle might be. I’m game to anything; for all the talk about the pistol offense, I see this subtle shift in the zone read to be the biggest “it thing” or “fad” across college football.

While you think about what adjustments might work, let me give my suggestion: the introduction of the “midline lead” into the zone read of the defensive linemen. How this will be integrated is one of my other questions but I think this will prove very useful.

The traditional midline involves the reading of the defensive tackle, where the fullback heads up the “middle” while the quarterback steps around. The midline lead has a lead blocker for the quarterback, typically a playside fullback or slotback, though it can also come from the backside.

Although it looks a bit dry in the diagram, the video below shows how that one block — that lead block — can make the difference between a nice gain on the inside read and a touchdown (Paul Johnson uses a wrinkle here where the back goes in motion and leads):

As shown in the video below, courtesy of tog, I don’t see this as a difficult adjustment for spread teams. You would just need to fold the tight-end, H-back, slot, or other player up on the middle or playside linebacker.

So what do you think? All ideas — crazy or not — welcome.

I’ve included some additional cutups of the midline below the jump.


Oldmid
Uploaded by phatphelix. – Basketball, baseball, pro wrestling and more sports videos.

(H/t Shakinthesouthland and the Birddog.)

  • Brad

    The real beauty of that WHHS video (the second one) is if you look carefully, really they are using a dual lead on that play. If you look to the backside, that TE is also coming inside and around the tackle to set up a lead block should the DT stay on the QB. That way, on either side they have that little lead set up. That is an interesting little rinkle.

  • Coach

    Chris,
    Love the website and the idea. What I also see a few teams doing is going against traditional thinking by not only reading the 3 tech, but also reading a 2i or shade. This really plays games with the basic gap exchange that should take place in most defenses. You can essentially keep the blocking rules the same for the H-back/slot/TE by folding him, and you’re also giving the force defender and PSDE different key reads but keeping the RB’s alignment the same. However you are giving the DT much more of a running head start to blow up the mesh, so it’s imperative the QB make a great read.

  • Tom

    Chris,

    Huge fan and great work. I love the site.

    Might be a little off topic but there I see a lot of plays that use a similar technique that I have never been coached, read or really understood anything about it.

    Its an inside counter run out of an I set usually where everything appears to be your generic iso but a lineman traps and both the HB and FB come down hill like and iso to the C gap and then both shuffle and hit the backside A gap.

    Its essentially a counter step but its done after the RB has the ball and the FB does the same in front as a lead blocker. At its core it simply seems like a designed cutback but the fullback cutsback as the lead blocker as well.

    I’ve seen it at both the college and pro level a few times this year.

    I’m not sure if I’m explaining it best but I’d love to know more about it. It would cause fits for high school teams here in upstate NY as most teams inside backers key the fullback.

    Is the timing as hard as it seems? I have no knowledge of the coaching behind it but it seems it would take a lot to install a few of these plays.

    Thanks in advanvce and feel free for anyone to clean up this explination because I’m not sure if its clear enough.

  • Caster

    Chris,

    Good stuff here. Thanks.

    The beauty of the midline concept is that you’re forcing a DT — you know, typically a big dude who likes to pound on people with his head down — to be prepared to play with his head up and read a little bit, while forcing a LB to shed a straight on lead block. That’s a recipe for defensive disaster, especially for teams who have been prepared for years to a face the zone read of the edge defender.

    Essentially offenses who run the midline concept are telling defenses: “(A) You better get all of your front 4 defenders ready to read on any given play, (B) you better get your LB’s ready to shed heavy lead blocks when they least expect it, and (C) you better not spread those backers out to far b/c if you do we will pound you up inside with a variation on the old traditional lead play.”

    I would think the midline concept meshes well with bubble and other perimeter constraint concepts because of the pressure the midline puts on defenses to properly defend the middle of the field.

  • http://nnailling.tumblr.com Nathan

    This is more of a questions, but….could you add a passing wrinkle? Like if the DT takes the FB and the LB scrapes, could you add a drop-back motion with hot reads?

  • Dave

    One thing I question though is the need to bring in a TE for the spread teams to run this. If your base attack has a HB/FB/TE/additional box player, then by all means, add this to the playbook, but I don’t feel you get a bonus by bringing in another player to the box.

    I guess if you wanted to get super tricky, and were a spread jet sweep team, then you could have the jet man kick out the PST’s man, and have the PST fold inside, but again, I question whether this will help spread teams any more than just getting the guy out of the box.

    Reading the interior of the DL places a huge amount of pressure on a D, and I agree that this is the future of the zone option run game. Oregon is ahead of the curve already.

  • Jim Urban

    @Dave. Let’s break it down. Say the offense is in a four-wide doubles set, and the defense is in a basic 4-4/4-2 with a 1-tech, 30-tech backer, and 5-tech to one side, and a 20-tech backer, 3-tech, and 5-tech to the other. The offense would want to run midline at the 3-tech, so the guard on that side releases inside for the 20-tech backer (leaving the 3-tech unblocked), the playside tackle fans out his 5-tech, and everyone else blocks back. Now, if that 3-tech is worth a darn, he is going to squeeze the inside release of the guard, doing two things: 1) It will not give the guard a clean release to the 20-tech backer, and 2) It should give the quarterback a “keep” read. So, the quarterback is now running to B-gap, but the guard has not gotten to the 20-tech backer who can now scrape over the top and make the tackle for no gain. Inserting a lead blocker can take care of that. Even if the backer does get blocked by the guard, the lead blocker can then go on to the safety and potentially make the block that breaks the play for a touchdown.

    It’s hard enough to create one inside running lane, much less two (as is required for midline). So in many cases, a lead blocker of some type is required, otherwise the numbers just don’t match up.

  • http://www.piratesfootball.co.uk Andy Mack

    Tom,

    I think the play you are talking about is just an inside zone play with the FB blocking the weakside DE. Normally a QB boot or in Gun the QB read holds him out, but sometimes you just want to block the DE out and create a lane.

    Jim Urban,

    I get what Dave is saying, against that defense you mention they would be forced to play with a 1 high safety or leave 1 of the slots uncovered. Either way you have the defence weak against the pass. If you bring another guy into the box you only have 3 vertical threats(unless you use the TE to fold under) so a 1 high defence is in good shape.

    If the DT is taking that much of the guard then wouldnt the Option RB just turn into a lead blocker for the QB?
    Against the 1 tech 30 lb and 5 tech you can just run the Veer on that and effectively block everyone and option off the DE.
    I think it would come down to numbers in the box, why try run against 6 in the box when you have an advantage passing. But you still can with the Veer to the 1 tech side.

  • Jim Urban

    Just playing devil’s advocate here:

    “I get what Dave is saying, against that defense you mention they would be forced to play with a 1 high safety or leave 1 of the slots uncovered.”
    OR play cover 3, or quarters, or cover 0.

    “Either way you have the defence weak against the pass.”
    SAYS WHO? This depends not only which of the various coverages they could use, but also how well they play those coverages vs. your receivers.

    “If you bring another guy into the box you only have 3 vertical threats”
    SO?

    “(unless you use the TE to fold under)”
    OR a slot back, h-back, whatever you want to call him. Or, you could motion a wide receiver in. Either way, you’re still bringing another guy into “the box” and no longer snapping the ball with four wide receivers.

    “so a 1 high defence is in good shape.”
    AGAIN, who said anything about their secondary?

    “If the DT is taking that much of the guard then wouldnt the Option RB just turn into a lead blocker for the QB?”
    That might be one way to do it.

    “Against the 1 tech 30 lb and 5 tech you can just run the Veer on that and effectively block everyone and option off the DE.”
    What’s that got to do with midline?

    “I think it would come down to numbers in the box, why try run against 6 in the box when you have an advantage passing. But you still can with the Veer to the 1 tech side.”
    -If you’re not getting it done with the passing game.
    -If you want to keep the ball in the hands of your quarterback or runningback.
    -If you want to be conservative with your playcalling.
    Just to name a few reasons.

    Just because you line up with four wide receivers, that doesn’t mean the defense is automatically going to leave itself vulnerable to being run on inside by leaving only five men in “the box”. Therefore, it will not always be so easy to get it done in the running game while using exclusively four wide receivers.

  • http://www.piratesfootball.co.uk Andy Mack

    “Against the 1 tech 30 lb and 5 tech you can just run the Veer on that and effectively block everyone and option off the DE.”
    What’s that got to do with midline?
    – Midline and Veer go hand in hand. Why would you try to run a bad play into a bad defence?

    “OR a slot back, h-back, whatever you want to call him. Or, you could motion a wide receiver in. Either way, you’re still bringing another guy into “the box” and no longer snapping the ball with four wide receivers.”
    – Thats my point though, your already got 6 in the box, motion or bring another O player into the box is going to bring another D player into the box. so numbers wise your no better off.

    “Just because you line up with four wide receivers, that doesn’t mean the defense is automatically going to leave itself vulnerable to being run on inside by leaving only five men in “the box”. Therefore, it will not always be so easy to get it done in the running game while using exclusively four wide receivers.”
    – I appreciate that, but the whole point of the spread is to take people out the box, then keep them out using constraint plays. like bubble screens and the like. But theres no point banging your head against a wall when your naturally disadvantaged. If your scenario was a 3 tech and a 10 LB then your angles are good. For the 3 tech and 20 LB you could even run the midline off a Fold type block between the G and T to the End and the 20 LB if you were really having trouble getting to that guy. Althought that would probably make it more likey to be a give as a pulling guard kicking out the DE may widen the DT.

  • Jim Urban

    The original question regarded running midline from a four wide receiver set. You and I both agree that it is not a very good play, or at least there is not an easy way to do it, against a defense that is worried at all about the offense running the ball inside, yes? The rest, we could point and counterpoint and go off on tangent after tangent all day, but I think that at the end of the day, we would still be the same place we started. So let’s just agree to disagree.

  • http://www.piratesfootball.co.uk Andy Mack

    The last person with the Pen always wins :-)

  • http://coachhuey.com tog

    We have run midline from the gun from various sets. The clip here was a year where we had more TE type bodies instead of slots. Also, this being the first game with a youngster qb that couldn’t throw the bubble real well and you get more of a two tight look from us. It is all about fitting what you do to what you have.

  • Reinhard

    New wrinkle… when I see Tebow and Percy in the backfield at Florida, I think, man, either one of these guys would be great at running that zone read, shotgun spread running attack in college.
    so the offense could really be designed with either player getting the snap and making the read.
    hey you said crazy ideas

    or who knows maybe someone makes it work with an offense that has an abundance of TE type players. it’s very hard to play against a player when you never know if they are blocking or receiving. then you have normally a single running QB in the backfield. at the snap it looks basically like a goal line formation except there is no QB under center. furthermore I would intersperse elligible and inelligible men on the line (ie on and off the line) in different formations.

    In theory you would have the advantage that you should always be able to run for some yards, plus your players are bigger and more physical than their roster. they aren’t used to playing your scheme or your personnel

  • Jim Urban

    In response to Chris’ request regarding any ideas: We installed a midline-esque play this year out of pistol that has been very successful. It does not involve reading anybody for give/keep, but it is similar to midline in that the runningback runs full speed straight for the centers butt. The goal is to “part the red sea” in the middle between the two defensive tackles of an even fron, like iso blocking, and then insert double fold blocks from each side of the line. When done properly, it results in the running back squirting full speed into the secondary like puss out of a pimple!

    Against an odd front, the center base blocks the nose while the guards block out and the tackles fold inside. The runningback reads the helmet of the noseman and cuts off of that.

    The biggest problem has been when the runningback cuts before getting through the first level, running straight into the pack of wild dogs outside who we are not blocking. Really grinds my gears when the line opens up a perfect hole right where they are supposed to and the back goes off and does his own thing.

  • Ted

    Jim,

    Against an odd front, do you still block the PST or do you read him?

    Just to clarify my own thinking, the FB needs to cut before the first level to avoid the NT doesn’t he? Does the problem occur when the FB cuts to the outside of the guard’s block?

  • Jim Urban

    @Ted: Against an odd front (5-2/3-4) the guards block out on defensive tackles, the tackles fold behind that up to the inside backers, and the center has the noseman one on one. If the noseman is slanting, then he is probably gonna take himself out of the runningback’s way. Ideally, the center just needs to get his butt in the way, and the back can just keep running straight ahead. If the noseman is a two-gapper, then it makes things a bit tougher, and the back is going to have to cut one way or the other, but still inside of the fanblocks of the guards on the DT’s. The problem I was referring to is when the back cuts it all the way outside of our fan blocks.

    Against a 4-4, like the one I described earlier, the center blocks out on the 1, the guard blocks out on the 3, then the other guard and the tackle to the 3 side fold to the backers. The other tackle blocks out on the 5, and the 5 to the side that our tackle folds from is unblocked. So far, he has not been a problem, because the play hits so fast (assuming the back doesn’t cut right into him!) If he does become a problem, there are multiple ways to answer that or to take advantage of it.

    Hope this helps.

  • Ted

    Jim,

    Yes, thanks. I do find Chris’s question interesting. I served as a High School DC for several years, then when my son began playing moved over to the youth level to help there. Along with the focus on fundamentals, I wonder how much introduction to the “next evolution” concepts will help young ball players. We’ve had good success reading DE’s for Load option at the 3rd and 4th grade level. I’ve been wondering if within the next year or so if it’s in the best interest of kids to begin working on reading down linemen as well. I suppose it depends on the kid, but I will working on these concepts early overwhelm or develop younger kids?

  • Will

    I think Reinhard gets the prize for most creative idea so far. For a team with 2 dual threats but no true passer or true stud runner, put them both in the backfield 4 yards deep behind the guards. Direct snap it to either one to run zone read, inverted veer, or gun midline either direction. All the advantages of a balanced formation plus direct snap, and with nobody behind the center you have maximum backs outflanking backers. Not much plunging power, though.

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  • Coach P

    Gentlemen, I have been running the veer and midline out of spread gun for six years now. I have had some success with it. I am by no means any kind of guru, but I have run the midline agaisnt a 1t and nose. The times it did not work was the QB not reading it right. By running the midline to the 1 and 5 side, it keeps teams honest. Some colleges are calling it the Shade option.

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