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Additional Scheme, Extra Plays Have Offensive Line In The Zone

By ZAC BOYER | @ZacBoyer

ASHBURN – Kory Lichtensteiger had to think back a few years to his time at Bowling Green when the Washington Redskins’ coaches first decided to add option plays into their offense.

The decision was based on the talent of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, whose speed and familiarity running such a scheme at Baylor brought the team great success.


But for Lichtensteiger and the rest of the Redskins’ offensive linemen, it was more than adding a few extra pages to the playbook – it would be an offensive evolution. The zone-blocking running scheme the Redskins utilize favors quicker, more athletic linemen, while the zone-read option incorporates far more principles of a power running game typically unbefitting smaller players.

More often seen in college, the use of such plays hasn’t caught on in the professional game. Still, the offensive line passed the first test, helping Griffin and the running backs pick up yards in a season-opening victory at New Orleans.

Now the next test will come Sunday when the Redskins head to St. Louis, with the Rams now aware of what to expect in Washington’s backfield.

“We worked on it a lot in camp,” left tackle Trent Williams said. “Of course, we didn’t pull it out in the preseason, but we still worked on it in practice. We never really got rusty on it. They always kept us fresh on it, kept adding new wrinkles to it, so it was second nature once we got out there.”

It may look different, Williams said, but for an offensive lineman, little changes. Zone blocking requires much more lateral movement than many of the zone-read option plays, but otherwise, techniques are similar. Find a defender, engage, and don’t let go.

“If you’re running the ball, and you know it’s going to be run, you’re coming off hard no matter what,” Lichtensteiger said. “We’re always trying to attack the guy in front of us. It’s just a matter of where we’re going with it.”

Responsibilities occasionally change. The zone-read option play is, in simple terms, a reaction to one decision – whether the backside defensive end wants to play the running back inside or stay home and defend against a quarterback outside.

The Saints struggled against Griffin early because both the defensive end and linebacker kept an eye on running back Alfred Morris. The first time the Redskins ran the play was on their second play from scrimmage, and Griffin took the ball for 12 yards when left end Will Smith ran inside.

“You’ve got to see how people adjust to it, because teams do have to adjust to it as something different when they’ve got to account for one more player,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “It changes everybody’s gaps, and you’ve just got to be able to see what they’re doing.”

New Orleans adapted quickly, with the linebacker scraping for the quarterback and the defensive end choosing to always take the running back. But as Griffin soon demonstrated, that often left the underneath open, allowing him to throw to receivers for modest gains over the middle.

“Linebackers play a little bit different because they’re watching the running back and the quarterback as well,” right guard Chris Chester said. “Sometimes they go right to the quarterback and sometimes they go right to the running back, and you just have to get used to that.”

Williams, who never used any principle of a zone-read scheme in any level of football, said he’s gotten plenty comfortable with the transition just through running it repeatedly in practice.

How defenses respond throughout the year will be a challenge for Griffin, the running backs and the coaches, especially as opponents become more familiar with the principles of the option.

“Defenses learn from us when they watch it on tape, but we’ve also got to learn how defenses play it,” Shanahan said. “It’s just constantly evolving each quarter, each week.”