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The Basics of the Zone-Read Play

Since Michigan's offense will call the zone-read option its bread-and-butter play for the next few years, fans are probably interested in how the play works. Slightly more interesting than "run left," I assure you.

Most important to the smooth operation of the zone-read is not a quarterback who is blazing fast, but a signal caller who can make the right decision with the ball, and can at least do a little damage with his feet.

The play operates out of the shotgun, with either one back to the QB's side or one split to either side of him. The running back for whom the play is called will start lined up on what will eventually be the backside of the play, since he crosses in front of the quarterback (this is not always the case in RR's offense, but for the sake of the basic play, we will start with that). The offensive line will block down to the playside, leaving the backside defensive end unblocked. This is the player that the QB will read (hence the name "zone-read").

The quarterback takes the snap, and the running back crosses in front of him. The QB puts the ball in his stomach, but does not hand it off. This is called the "mesh point" where either the QB or the running back can end up with the ball. It is at this point that the quarterback must be able to make a good decision with the ball, and read the defensive end. If the defensive end stays at home and holds contain, the quarterback simply hands off the ball to the RB. The offensive line is expected to outnumber the defenders, and block everyone for a good gain (or excellent depending on execution and the running back's vision).

If the defensive end gets greedy, and decides to try to chase down the running back from behind, the quarterback pulls the ball out from the mesh point, and runs back past the end, and gets a decent gain (if the offensive line blocks well, the QB should be able to get to the second level without facing a defender). The quarterback makes this read if the defensive end turns his shoulders toward the running back, rather than keeping them parallel with the line of scrimmage, as he would if keeping contain.

For those who are visually oriented:


This is obviously the very basic play, so there are lots of other variations on it. For example, backs can be motioned into or out of the backfield, slot receivers can be used as pitchmen, the play can be designed to go towards the direction that the RB is lined up, rather than the opposite direction, etc. The option-pass can also be effective, with the play run the exact same way, but if the DE crashes, the quarterback, instead of trying to gain yards, rolls out for a pass, using the zone-read as a play-action.

If my explanation was confusing (and I hope it wasn't), have Rodriguez explain it to you himself:

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“The Basics of the Zone-Read Play”

  1. Anonymous formerlyanonymous Says:

    so RR will never run a diamond screen based on his never having players within 5-6 yrds of each other. that doesn't make me overly happy or sad. the asinine predictability of those in the past was disappointing as hell.

    so how viable are WR screens in this new offense?

  2. Anonymous formerlyanonymous Says:

    and can we get an explanation of the zone trap as well (or did you post that previously when discussing the offense?)

    strange new words frighten me

  3. Blogger Tim Says:

    WR screens are actually a really big part of the offense. Ask any WVU fan about the Pitt game, and they'll grumble incoherently about WR screens for 10 minutes before they realize that you are wearing a Michigan shirt and try to set you on fire.

    Slip screens and bubble screens were used by WVU a lot last year, and they try to capitalize on defensive looks where the slot receiver isn't covered in a close look. The quick passing game is necessary to keep defenses honest, or they'll start cheating back into the box.

    With a stronger armed (and generally better) passer, the screens won't be as prevalent, but they are certainly an important part of the game.

  4. Blogger RJHOVE Says:

    So is threet fast enough to be a threat with this...it really doesnt sound like that.

  5. Blogger Tim Says:

    You really don't need to be that fast to be a threat in this system, just make the right decisions. If Threet is able to properly read when to run and when to hand off, he should be put in a position where he would be able to gain yards if he was as fast as a grandmother. Sure, he won't rip off 20-yard gains, but if Threet is able to get 3, 4, or 5 yards consistently, the offense won't be dysfunctional.

    The optimal player in this system can make you pay with his feet and his arm, and Threet can hurt you with his arm well enough to make his feet an issue. When Feagin arrives, he will probably vault to the #2 spot because of his wheels.

  6. Blogger RJHOVE Says:

    so the perfect guy for this offense passes as well as he runs like Kevin Newsome. Pat White actually isn't the exact fit because of his throwing ability?

  7. Blogger Tim Says:

    Exactly. West Virginia had to run a lot over the past four years mostly because of White's limited abilities as a passer. Despite this, they were still able to be among the top offenses in the nation (and the system gave White a ton of easy throws that resulted in his surprisingly good passer rating/ability ratio).

    Having a good passer allows for more downfield play (so less of the passes thrown will be screens). This allows for the big play to happen, and also opens up running lanes even more because safeties can't cheat in on the run.

    Pryor would have been a nearly-perfect fit for this offense (Vince Young ran a lot of it at Texas, and Pryor is like a raw Young clone). Kevin Newsome is a very good fit as well, because of the combination of his skills. He is a better passer than Pryor, and perhaps faster, though maybe not as quick or elusive.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    So what happens if the end on that side is someone beastly who shuts down any amazingly fast (ha) run by threet, even if they crash down to the RB? Would they just not run the read, or run it to the other side?

  9. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    OH, nevermind, rich kinda answered that in the end of his video

  10. Blogger RJHOVE Says:

    Who is the next best suited for our offense from this class, forcier, beaver or smith?

  11. Blogger Tim Says:

    As a complement to Newsome, a more polished passer with less athleticism could work well (i.e. Forcier).

    If you were going strictly by who can run the system the best of those three, Beaver would probably be most preferred.

    The staff would be ecstatic to have any of those three come to Ann Arbor with Newsome already in the fold.