Ask Coach Koetter

Nov. 1, 2002

What a big week for ASU Football! Coming off of a tremendous all-around game from our defense in the win over Washington, we head north to Pullman to battle for the Pac-10 lead. November is here and we are excited about being in position to compete for the Rose Bowl.

We have two major topics this week. First off, the 'Sun Devil Recruiters,' a group of 35 female students that assist our coaching staff with recruiting. These young women have unnecessarily come under fire recently because somebody at the State Press felt like they needed to stir up some controversy. The Sun Devil Recruiters play an important role in helping us showcase ASU to our potential student athletes. They help with campus tours, pre-game functions and recruiting weekends, as well as helping individual coaches keep up to date with the avalanche of recruiting paperwork, correspondence, and filing. They serve as a median between the coaching staff and the potential student athletes. They provide information to the recruits and their parents about campus life that the coaches couldn't equate. I have known these young women to be nothing but professional and courteous and they do an excellent job at representing Arizona State University and the football program. I would like our fans to read a letter I received from Brian Gomez, the Sports Editor of the State Press, in response to the recent editorial.

'October 30, 2002

'Coach Koetter,'This letter was written nearly two weeks later than it should have been issued, but I wanted to express my deepest apology for the editorial 'Trophy Wives in Training Build a Strong Football Team' that was published October 18 in The State Press. I gave the person responsible for the editorial ample time to apologize, but that individual has shown little remorse for her actions. I would like to apologize on that person's behalf and on behalf of The State Press.'

'Chris Drexel and I tried to prevent the editorial from being printed, but we were heavily outvoted by the editorial board. Despite our repeated attempts to stop its publication, it was printed and it was perceived by many as being slanderous and racist. Chris and I both agreed with that perception.'

'We wrote a letter of apology the following week that was supposed to run in the sports section, but it was quickly rejected by the editor-in-chief. I was then suspended for a week without pay for my actions. Unfortunately, no letter of apology will be printed in The State Press.'

'The last thing I want is the The State Press to be a distraction to the program. I can't imagine how much work you have to do as a Division I college football coach, and you shouldn't have to deal with something like this. Please accept my apology and please forward this letter to anyone you see fit. Good luck this weekend in Pullman.'

Brian Gomez
Sports Editor
The State Press

Next, our offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes, will attempt to explain what 'Zone Blocking' means. I think you will find this quite interesting.


The phrase 'zone blocking' has become commonplace in football lingo over the past few years. You hear television and radio commentators speak as though everyone in the listening audience knows of its obvious merit. Although it is not a simple system to execute, it is not all that difficult to understand.

It is probably fitting to first discuss the term zone. You find this word used in many ways, inside and outside the realm of athletics. In its most generic sense, a zone is an area that is limited by certain parameters. In sports it is usually spatial in designation. In other words, a particular zone is a piece of land or area. Many people would understand the concept as it deals with defense in a given sport.

The simplest way I have found to describe this concept involves the sport of basketball as a reference point. When playing defense in basketball, a team can play man-to-man coverage, in which each player on defense is responsible for one specific player on offense, or a unit might employ zone coverage. In this system, each defensive player covers a certain area on the court. Obviously, he doesn't simply cover oxygen in that space; rather, he is responsible for defending the offensive player who enters that space. Like anything, there are pros and cons with each of these, which will be discussed later.

Now to the question everyone is asking...when is he going to get to the point?!!! (We coaches have a way of making things much more difficult than they really are.) Zone blocking became popular in the 1980's when the Cincinnati Bengals had a great deal of success running the football, even making it to the Super Bowl. They lost to the San Francisco 49ers, but what a huge accomplishment for this franchise! Jim McNally was the offensive line coach and his players were some of the most productive and technically proficient guys of this era. Many experts believe that their left tackle, Anthony Munoz, was the best offensive lineman who has ever played the game. Coach McNally may not be the inventor of the zone scheme, but he has certainly been credited with its popularity in this modern age of offensive football.Prior to blocking with a zone scheme, offensive linemen had various ways to block specific people. Like defense on the basketball court, here each offensive lineman is responsible for one specific defender. This concept has a great deal of merit and is actually more desirable in certain cases. (Incidentally, most teams now use a combination of zone and man schemes.) However, like any particular methodology, it has its drawbacks. The biggest problem with man blocking involves the idea of angles. In basketball, when a team is playing man-to-man defense, how does its opponent typically attack them? They try to pick or screen them. In other words, one offensive player stands in the way of a defensive player who is covering his teammate, thus making it impossible for him to cover him with tight spacing. The defender loses his angle to cover the offensive player. In football, a similar concept is applied in order to take away an offensive lineman as a blocker. For example, let's say right guard's job is to block the linebacker directly over him. He would take a direct path toward him in an attempt to engage him and keep him from pursuing the ball carrier. In a typical scenario, the offensive lineman adjacent to him would be responsible for a defensive lineman who is aligned directly over him. Now imagine the play developing. See the right guard on his way to the linebacker in an all-out attempt to make him question his manhood. However, just as he gets his second step hits the ground, the defensive lineman across from his partner fires off the line of scrimmage to his right, heading directly in the path of the right guard. The running back with the ball sees this and cuts to his right, thinking he will avoid the defensive lineman and run for a long gain. (As an offensive line coach and former grunt myself, I usually think that the running back is now beginning to see his own highlights on Sports Center that night.) There is only one problem. Just as he crosses the line of scrimmage, the linebacker (who the right guard was supposed to block) steps into his path with a large grin on his face.

How does zone blocking correct this problem? It's as simple as the way in which two basketball players would switch coverage on two offensive players on the opposing team when they cross paths. The right guard and tackle in the above scenario would, together, be responsible for the defensive lineman and linebacker. If the defensive lineman steps out, the tackle takes him and the guard goes up to the linebacker. If the defensive lineman steps in, the guard takes him and the tackle takes over the block on the linebacker. The key to this involves two things - communication and teamwork. First, the two offensive linemen, or three or four in some cases, must identify whom they are responsible for with some sort of call before the ball is snapped. This can change on every snap as defenses often line up in different configurations each successive play. The teamwork involved here, I would argue, is more vital to our success as an offensive line than it is to any other position on the field. We both must work together with a clear understanding of who we are going to block and what sort of technique we are going to use in order to accomplish our task. In other words, it would be fruitless to declare our combination block, but then have one lineman step out in front of the other. We cannot execute our assignments in conjunction with one another if we are not working in unison. This concept works whether you are running the football or passing it. If the offensive linemen are pass blocking for the quarterback, thus staying behind the line of scrimmage, the principles are very similar to the situation described above.

Another problem with man blocking involves personnel. If a defense does not stunt or move as in the above scenario, blocking one man on another man will work as long as your man is better than the man on the other side of the football. Imagine a 15-pound Poodle attempting to fight a 200-pound Rottweiler. As hard as the poodle tries, at some point the end result will be the same...he is going to get eaten. However, what if Fifi (the poodle in question) has a friend who happens to be a very tough and street-wise Bulldog named Butkus? Suppose Butkus just happens along on his afternoon stroll just as the squabble breaks out and jumps in and helps his little buddy out. The result might be a little different in this case. Now, if you mistake any of our offensive linemen for poodles, I'm going to have to sick Butkus on you. A similar scenario might involve a team who has offensive linemen who are not big, strong, or fast enough to block their opponents one on one. However, if you allow them to work together, two men on one for at least a little while, you may have a chance. Offensive coaches began asking this question. 'If one offensive lineman has to block a linebacker who is five yards away from him, why does he have to go directly to him?' Couldn't he step to his partner and double team the defensive lineman, at least for the first second or two of the play. After he helps out his buddy, then he could still get his job done. In most zone blocking schemes, the running back is lined up approximately 7 yards deep in the backfield. Therefore, the offensive linemen have time to work together for a little while before the ball carrier even gets to the line of scrimmage. If your basketball team has Shaquille O'Neal, what team in their right mind would allow him to catch the ball in the post and be covered by one defender? That may not be the best example because I'm not sure that two players make that big of a difference in this case. However, at least you give your team a fighting chance with a zone scheme if your opponent has superior personnel.

As stated at the beginning of this piece, every method has its place and zone schemes are not exceptions to that rule. However, this concept has become so effective in the last fifteen to twenty years that nearly every team in the NFL and NCAA uses its principles to some extent. Hopefully, this article gives you a mental picture of zone blocking and a general understanding of its merit. If not, use your newfound knowledge at the next party or water cooler conversation. See if you can stump your know-it-all-buddy who was a 'blue-chip' football player in high school (being heavily recruited by all of the top teams in the country) until that dog gone knee injury. 'Hey, Biff...what do you do if you've got poodles who have to block Rottweilers?'

Jeff Grimes
Offensive Line Coach

Thanks again for all your support. Hope to see everybody next week for our final home game of the year vs. Cal.




Now on Pac-12 Network
11:00 AM PT

Airing on:

  • Pac-12 Network
Get Pac-12 Networks
Unable to get Pac-12 Network?
Contact your provider ▶
Pac-12 Networks Channel Finder