What Does the Zone Blocking Scheme Mean for the Oakland Raiders?

New offensive line coach Frank Pollack will install the zone blocking system in Oakland

David Wilson – Mar 8, 2012

You hear the term talked about a lot, 'zone blocking', and that certain players fit the scheme and that others don't. But what does it actually mean for an offense? And what does it mean to the Oakland Raiders in 2012 and beyond?

To explain zone blocking in its simplest form, it means responsibility for blocking players in a designated space or path rather than just zeroing in on your assigned defender and blocking him. It isn't new, or even a relatively new thing, having its roots back in college football in the 50's, but it is different.

So what kind of players suit this scheme?

In order to play in a zone blocking scheme, a lineman has to have the speed and agility to move and get to an area fast, or to make one block and move quickly on to the second level. Of course linemen need strength to dominate the line, but the difference here is the required speed and short area quickness to get where they need to be quickly.

Not many really huge linemen have that (although some do), and players generally need to be on the lighter side (300 - 310lbs) to function well within the system.

Whilst there are some complications with zone blocking, it does simplify a lot of running plays by eliminating man on man blocking assignments. You know where the play is going and what area you are responsible for, so any defender that comes into that zone you engage and move him, and the offense often uses the defence's momentum against them for the runner to cut back against the flow of the play into a developing hole.

It requires a more patient and instinctive runner, to watch the play develop, then make one cut and accelerate. You might say that what is important is not speed to the hole in the line (as in many schemes), but speed through it.

Zone blocking teams are generally good running teams such as the Houston Texans with Arian Foster. Mike Shanahan's (boooo, hiss....) Broncos churned out a seemingly endless line of 1000 yard runners using this system.

So what exactly does this transition mean for Oakland?

The first thing that it means is that the current players on the team need to be evaluated to see if they do what is being asked of them.

Jared Veldheer - Some have claimed would struggle in the zone system is in theory ideally suited to it. He might be big at 6' 8" & 320lbs, but he runs the 40 in a shade over 5.0 seconds, and timed joint best of all offensive linemen at the 2010 Combine in the 3 cone drill (7.4 secs). He is a fast, smart kid who should adapt well.

Stefan Wisniewski - Young Wiz has prototypical size for a zone blocker, and many pre draft write ups on him last year had him excelling in this scheme and being drafted by a team that played in it. This change should ultimately play to his strengths

Samson Satele - Satele was brought in by then coach Tom Cable specifically to fit the zone blocking offense. Enough said there.

Cooper Carlisle - Carlisle has been a specialist zone blocker all his football life, and this change in offense might end up prolonging his career an extra year or two. His experience will be valuable during the transition.

Khalif Barnes and Josef Barksdale are untested in zone blocking, but from what I have seen of Barksdale he may struggle with the quickness required to succeed. It will be interesting to see if Bruce Campbell makes a move up the depth chart. Filling four positions on the offensive line isn't a bad start though.

What will be also be advantageous is that good zone blocking linemen are traditionally available in the mid to late rounds. Green Bay got starting guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang in the 4th round, and Pro Bowl center Scott Wells in the 7th. With the few number of draft picks the Raiders have this year (even withthe possibility of a generous compensatory draft), they will need to find such bargains.

With fewer teams playing the zone system than not, it makes drafting players who area system fit that easier to find as there are simply less teams looking for them.

The final question though is does Oakland have running backs that are a fit for this system?

The Raiders offense is built around Darren McFadden. McFadden performed better under Hue Jackson's power scheme than he did under Tom Cable's zone running game, and Oakland has to hope that he can make the adjustment. I think McFadden is a committed, intelligent kid, who has the ability to do extremely well here.

But you don't succeed or fail on paper or in theory only. You do that on the football field.

Many fans have said that the Raiders didn't need to change a running offense that ranked 7th in the NFL last year, time will tell whether they made the right choice or not.

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