Grinding Tape Part III – NIU RB Chad Spann

In Part I of the Grinding Tape Series, Mid American Conference MVP Chad Spann explained the concepts behind plays that require a running back to understand blocking schemes, defensive tendencies, and reading keys.

In Part II, he revealed how quickly a runner needs to be able to process information to choose a hole, ball security protocol, and the importance of minimizing surface area to become a strong, after-contact runner.

This week, Spann discusses the difference in a runner’s pre-snap location in very similar-looking shotgun sets with very different blocking schemes, and what a back is looking at to determine the path of his run.

1st and 10, 10:00 1st QTR

Waldman: You do a nice job bouncing this run outside. You take the play behind your fullback’s lead block and get the left corner for a six-yard gain. Take us through the design and execution of this running play.

Spann: This play is once again our inside zone. The fullback is lining up on the right side, but this is not the way we normally run it. Our fullback is normally going to line up either back side or he’s going to start on the front side and come back to the backside when the ball is snapped. Every time, he’s going to cut this defensive end, which is going to give me a start at a cut back if there is one.

Waldman: This time he motions from the slot to a split position over the tight right tackle and tight end.

Pre snap look of inside zone play.

Waldman: As with the running plays we’ve looked at earlier in the game,  is the A-gap/one-technique DL the primary key for the blocking scheme?

Spann: Yes. On this particular play we’re going to double team again like we always do against that A-Gap player, the one-technique. That A-gap player is going to be double-teamed by the center and guard. Whoever had leverage is going to take over the block by himself and whoever can get free is going to come up and get the MIKE linebacker (No.32). The front side tackle has the defensive end and the tight end is going to take the stand up linebacker, which is the SAM (labeled as the OLB below).

Post snap blocking on inside zone.

Waldman: On this play the one-technique gets occupied rather quickly by the center, which allows the right guard to get into the defensive backfield and get his hands on the MIKE LB (No.32). What is the strategy for the DL lined up over the left guard – the three-technique?

Spann: That  guard and tackle on the backside are going against the three-technique and they double team him to the WILL linebacker (No.42). If the three-technique tries to cross the face of the guard, the backside tackle is going to come up and get No.42 and the fullback is going to come back and cut the defensive end to give me a lane. That’s not how we plan for it to happen, but that’s a possibility.

Waldman: So what is the primary hole for you on this play?

Spann: It is a B-gap play, which means we want it to hit the front side B-gap. We want the center and guard to mash that A-gap player down and have the center take over the block and the guard get up to the MIKE linebacker. And that’s where the hole should be (over right guard). That’s not always where it goes, because one thing that can kill zone plays is penetration and that’s what Toledo is trying to do – get gap penetration – and they did.

Toledo gets good gap penetration over center and right guard, which forces cutback.

Spann:  Their penetration jams up my holes a little bit and forces me to make this cutback, which normally I’ll get in trouble for making this big of a cutback…

Waldman: But you do a nice job of it (laughter). . .

Spann: . . . Yeah, I make a play out of it. And you see me again with the ball in the “wrong” hand, but initially this was supposed to be a front side play and by the time I make my decision with where I’m going to go I already have the ball in my right hand.

Waldman: But as you mentioned (see Part II of this analysis) earlier, you don’t want to change ball hands in traffic. At this point you do a nice job of accelerating past the Will LB (No.42) to get the corner.

Spann beating Will LB (No.42) to the corner on the cutback behind FB's block of DE.

Waldman: The key to this cutback from what I see is that the WILL LB (N0.42) took his initial steps towards the B-gap (right guard), which gave you room to get the corner on your cutback. The MIKE linebacker (No.32) had to free himself from the guard and get through the mesh. By the time he does, you have the corner just past the WILL.

Spann gains six yards after taking the backside corner.

Waldman: You turn the corner and stay inside the numbers to possibly work off the wide receiver’s block. The WILL does manage to run you down with the help of the MIKE and the free safety who delivers a head-on shot that you manage to meet with good pad level to deflect much of the blow.

1st and 10, 5:36 1st QTR

Waldman: This formation is a shotgun set with four receivers and no tight end or fullback. Three receivers are split to the right and a single receiver is wide left.

Zone-read play from shotgun, pre-snap.

Spann: In contrast to the last shotgun play where I was closer to the quarterback’s feet, this one is the zone-read play where I’m going to back up a little more.

Waldman: Why the difference with your pre-snap positioning in the formation?

Spann: It’s because this play doesn’t only to hit front side. It could hit backside. It could hit right up the middle.

So I’ve got be deep enough to read where this hole is going to be because we are doing true double teams unlike the last shotgun play, which was a full zone. I need a little more space to make these reads because my track  is going to be more downhill than it is going to be east and west.

The depth between me and the quarterback and my path is the huge difference between the last play and what I was trying to get across with the last shotgun play.  You’re going to see me come closer and downhill than going straight through the mesh.

Waldman: Before the snap, the outside receiver on the right motions to the hash to create a more conventional bunch look and this brings the strong safety into the box next to the MIKE linebacker. Tell us about the blocking scheme and of course, that A-gap defensive tackle who is almost directly over the center.

Zone-read blocking from shotgun set.

Spann: On this play we have the A-gap player front side, which means once again we’re going to double team him to the play side linebacker (the WILL). The tackle is going to be one-on-one with the defensive end back side because it is a zone read. Because the A-Gap player stays right where he’s at and he doesn’t try to shoot outside the guard, the guard is able to get up to the linebacker instead of the center doing it, which means the hole is going to be where the guard was.

Spann getting the ball and bouncing to left end.

Waldman: This play doesn’t windup going off the guard. You actually bounce this outside. I’ve always been curious what specifically a running back is viewing to determine the direction he takes on a run. Are you looking at the defense, your linemen, open space?

Spann: I’m not looking at the defensive linemen and where they are going. I’m looking at the helmet placements of my offensive linemen. That is what tells you which way to go. If your offensive lineman has his helmet on the right shoulder of the defensive lineman then your cut is going to be inside and to the right of that offensive lineman. Now if it’s to the left then you’re going to go inside because wherever his helmet is the opposite direction he’s trying to push him.

Waldman: To make sure I get it,  you’re following the helmets and wherever the helmet is. If the helmet is inside, you’re going inside. If the helmet is outside then you’re going outside.

Spann: Yep. On this play because of the helmets and the fact the  guard gets off clean to the linebacker, the play is supposed to be inside the guard.

Now that defensive end beats our tackle inside and that isn’t supposed to happen.  But because I have that extra depth in my initial stance I can read that and I see that happen as I try to hit that hole where the defensive end comes out.

I see it, I react to it, and I know I can get outside of it. So that’s my reading and reacting and I get around the corner for a seven-yard gain (see below).

Next week, we’ll discuss the art of the stiff arm, the pain of hip pointers, and the craft of pass protection.

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