Running Back As A Blocker In The Spread Offense

Running Backs as Blockers In The Spread Offense
A commonly mistaken concept in today’s youth is the running back’s role as an athlete that runs or catches the football 40+ times a game.  While this may very well be the case, there are often 30+ times a game where the running back must be called upon to do something else – BLOCK!
 In order for a high school running back to attract the right types of scouts, he must be willing and able to do the little things in order to put his team ahead.  During passing situations he will be called upon to pass block or utilize one of three main run blocks.  This article will be split up between explanations of two pass blocking concepts followed by run blocking explanations using the running back(s) out of the backfield.
Pass Blocking
Man Blocking
 Below is an example of a man pass blocking scheme against a 4-4 defensive front.  It is important to note that the diagrams are made up to show the offensive linemen blocking the specific players they have in the man protection scheme.  The OL should still be taking their kick slides back to read the movement of the defensive line.  If a stunt or blitz should occur, the offensive line must communicate and react properly to ensure protection.
In this scheme, the Center has a dual responsibility.  He must first help to protect the nearest shade.  If there are two shades, the Center can work to the QBs strong or weak side, depending on the coordinator’s decision.  Either way, this must be communicated to the RB(s).
The running backs’ reads are shown below.  Depending on the decision of the coaching staff, it may be taught that the RBs are reading the bubbles in the offensive line ex: left side B-gap and right side A-gap.  It may also be taught that the RBs are reading the inside linebackers and outside linebackers.  Because the nearest threat to the QB is the ILBs coming, it is important for the RBs to understand that they must take any inside threat first.  If a blitz occurs where both the ILB and OLB to that side are coming, the QB must be responsible for the OLB and get the ball out.  If all four DL and LB are coming, you are blocking eight with seven, so the QB must be responsible for the eighth.  By taking care of the inside first, you are giving the QB the best opportunity to get rid of the ball before pressure can get to the pocket.
As previously stated, proper communication is important so that the running backs understand their responsibilities.  For instance, in the previous example, the Center is working to the shade and then also has a read responsibility on the Mike LB.  If the Mike should blitz through the A-gap, he becomes the Center’s man.  Now the right RB only has to look to block the OLB.
It is highly recommended that the coaches teach the RBs to step up away from the QB to protect the pocket.  If they stay where they are aligned, usually about 5 yards deep, the pressure hits at 5 yards instead of cut off by the RBs at 3 or 4 by stepping forward.  Stepping up should not impact the ability for the RB to block the OLB if he has no inside responsibility.  If this is the case, the coach may shorten the forward step of the RB or slide the RBs alignment outward to help put the RB in a better position to block the OLB.
Should the RBs have no inside or outside threat, it is recommended to have the RBs have an automatic release responsibility.  The type of release route can be determined by the coaching staff and may be different for every play or may be the same route on every pass release out of the backfield.  Again, this must be determined by the coaching staff.
Sprint Out
The sprint out blocking is utilized as a slide technique by the OL to help slide the wall for the QB to sit behind as he rolls out or sprints out.  The play side RB will sprint out ahead to block the first threat that may appear on the outside by a defensive player looking to attack the QB.  If not outside threat appears, the RB may either stay outside to be a “last chance” blocker against any threat, or he can look to block inside.  As the QB sprints out, it is likely that the defense will also sprint that direction.  The PSRB may be able to block any ILB or DE threat that could appear late.  This must be stressed to your players that they can only look back inside if there is absolutely no outside threat.  An outside threat could be an OLB, CB, or SS.
The BSRB should look to block off any chase-contain threat by a DE or OLB coming off the edge.  If there is definitely no threat, pass release rules could apply depending on the desires of the coaching staff.  If there is not BSRB in the formation, the BST should look to step and peel back to block off the chase-contain threat.  This is a very simple concept to teach and is usually very successful.
Run Blocking
With the evolution of running backs building into a larger, stronger, quicker version of what used to be put on the playing field, two-back personnel packages could potentially have a RB and FB, a FB and FB, or a RB and RB in the game at any time.  If a player has the capability of ISO blocking and running the football, he could be considered a hybrid type.  This can make it difficult on the defense to know where the offense could run the football.  Two hybrids are even better.
There are three main kinds of running blocks seen by RBs in the spread offense.  These are usually play side blocks by the PSB, leaving the handoff to the BSB.  These three blocks are the Power block, Outside Lead block, and the ISO block.
ISO – This block is shown by the first line in the diagram below.  The PSB is looking to take the quickest path to the nearest inside backer.  This is through the play side bubble, which may be the A-gap or B-gap depending on the alignment of the defensive tackle.  This does not have to be a kill shot, although those do make for great highlight videos.  The RB is looking to get downhill right now and attack the nearest shoulder of the LB.  He just needs to get in the way of the LB and help create a wall for a path that the BSB can run through.  Important teaching points are to attack low and keep the feet moving at all times.  The LB will blow up the block at the point of contact if the RB does not keep his feet or if he comes out high.
Power – This block is shown by the middle line in the diagram below.  The PSB takes a direct path toward the inside shoulder of the defensive end.  In some 3-4 schemes, the end man on the line of scrimmage is actually an OLB.  The type of block does not change.  This block must shield the EMOL from the running back and help create a pathway for a typical power run.  This a great way to run the power play without having a back side lineman pull to kick out.  Now the kick out block is performed by the PSB.  Again, the RB must come out low and keep his feet moving at all times.  He must not let the EMOL come inside because that is where the BSB is going to run.  He must put his body in between the EMOL and the BSB and hold that position at all times.
OSL – This block is shown by the last line in the diagram below.  This may be a sweep lead, outside zone lead, or an option lead block.  The PSB sprints outside and must attack the first threat he can find.  This may be a LB or SS.  Ideally, the PSB should aim to seal off the outside shoulder of the defensive player.  If the PSB cannot seal the outside shoulder, he should just latch on and ride the defensive player to the sideline.  It is the responsibility of the QB or BSB to read this block and adjust their paths accordingly.
The pass blocks and run blocks are another way to utilize the multiple skills and talents of the running backs in today’s spread offense.  These skills must be taught to the young position players so that they are able to perform them at the high school and college ranks.
To contact Greg Mitchell, email him at:  [email protected]

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