Complete Inside Zone Guide For Coaches

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

In the age of the spread offense, the Inside Zone play has become a staple in every offense. Inside zone is easy to run and install for an offensive lineman.

In this article, we’re going to teach you everything you need to know about Inside Zone and why it’s one of the most effective plays in football.

Inside Zone In Football

Inside zone is installed by high school and college coaches all around the country because of how easy it is to install.

Teams will choose to run inside zone as their base run play because of the complexities that can be run off it.

Inside zone is useful because of the double teams the play demands, which can get vertical and horizontal leverage in the offense’s favor. Inside zone is a great alternative to running outside zone (which we detailed in this article).

While inside zone isn’t going to hit for a touchdown every single play, it will tire out defensive linemen and force them to fight through double teams.

Inside Zone Run Blocking Rules

This zone-blocking scheme can be run at any level, whether youth, high school, college, or the NFL. The key to running inside zone blocking scheme is the double teams that occur at the line of scrimmage from the lineman and the running back being patient.

Before introducing the offensive line blocks themselves, it’s important to create a counting system; that way, the center knows exactly who he is double-teaming

Offensive Linemen Double Team

Coaches will typically use a number identification system so the center knows who he is doubling with.

For example, if the center has a defensive player covering him, he will designate that player as the “0”. The offensive lineman will count who is the + and who is the -.

The center will signal who the “0” (Or the mike) is on every play. The 0 is the first player that is in the play side A gap. The center will always be working for a double team with the guard.

Inside zone blocking rules and number count on Under Front
4-2 Under Front

Depending on which side the play is called, the center will double team with the guard.

For example, if the defense is playing an even front, the center will double team with the guard and try to get vertical movement from the defensive player. They are trying to move him off the football to slide off to the linebacker.

This play is effective if the center and guard can successfully remove the defensive tackle from his starting position.

After the center and the guard have officially secured their double team, both players will keep their eyes up to disengage whenever the linebacker commits. It’s important both players don’t bury their heads, as one of them needs to release to block the linebacker.

Inside zone blocking
Inside zone blocking rules and number count on Over Front
4-2 Over Front
Inside zone blocking
3-3 Stack

Next, the left guard and backside tackle is working for the second double team. Similar to the rules of the center and guard, the double team will try to remove the defensive lineman from the line of scrimmage.

The guard will step toward the defensive lineman (in the example above is the 3 technique). Once the guard is engaged, the tackle will try to double team with the guard, ultimately taking over for the guard.

The key to running a successful inside zone play is displacing the defensive lineman and blocking the linebackers downfield. This opens up running lanes for the running back.

inside zone blocking double team

The play-side tackle that is not involved in the double teams will make a hinge block. This means they will block the defensive end or linebacker out toward the sideline. The defensive end mustn’t move across the face of the tackle. If he does, he could affect the play.

inside zone blocking end

Next, the quarterback will put the ball in the running back’s stomach. A successful zone play is ensuring the unblocked defensive end makes the wrong decision.

If the defensive end crashes toward the running back, the quarterback will pull the football and try to get as many yards as he can. If the defensive end stays on the quarterback and doesn’t move, the quarterback will hand the ball to the running back.

inside zone blocking defensive end

Last, the running back must read the offensive lineman blocks to move the football effectively.

If the offensive line can successfully win their double teams, the running back should run straight with no issue.

What will more than likely happen is only one of the double teams will be won.

From here, the running back’s responsibility is to read his blocks. He needs to take a step towards the line of scrimmage, and depending on what he sees in front of him, and he’ll either cut it upfield or bounce out to the play side.

The key is to make sure the running back only takes one cut. If he moves side to side for too long, the defense will rally to him and eventually tackle him.

Here is a picture from 150+ Plays In The Spread Offense that will help you block all inside zone scheme fronts:

inside zone blocking in football

Benefits Of Running Inside Zone

The benefits of running the inside zone scheme in football are the simplicity of teaching the offensive line and running back. Block the player in your play side gap. The blocking scheme is simple enough where teams with big offensive linemen can move defensive linemen with simple combo blocks.

The offensive line will look to double team and move to the linebackers, regardless of the defensive front. This makes the play very flexible against every type of defensive front.

The other benefit is the play isn’t always going to hit in the same spot. While coaches would like it to hit from the front side A gap to the backside B gap, it could hit different areas.

That’s why zone blocking is so popular among spread teams, due to the variety of outcomes in one play.

Running inside zone, coupled with other offensive plays like counter, power read, or even one back power can give an offense a complete running playbook with just five plays.

Uncover your opponent’s offensive and defensive tendencies so you can easily build a game plan.

Inside You’ll Find:

  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
  • How to identify player weaknesses
  • How to save time in your weekly breakdowns

Inside Zone RPO

Teams who run inside zone can also run an RPO off of it (if you don’t know what an RPO is, we recommend checking out this article).

RPOs are popular because teams can keep their inside look but add a tag to throw the ball if necessary.

The most common type of RPO is inside zone stick RPO.

All this means is the quarterback is going to read the linebacker instead of the defensive end. Once the linebacker commits to the run, the quarterback will pull the football from the running back and throw it to the slot receiver.

This puts the linebacker in conflict because the ball will be thrown to the receiver if he attacks the run. If he covers the receiver, then he will be late to tackle the running back.

Here is a breakdown of this RPO and how you can install them into your offense.

What Is The Difference Between Inside Zone & Outside Zone?

The difference between inside and outside zones is the aiming points of the running back and the footwork of the offensive lineman.

Inside zone is meant to be hit between the B and A gaps. In contrast, outside zone will hit in the C, D, or B gaps. The footwork between the two plays is different.

When running inside zone, the players are looking to create double teams to displace the defensive lineman off the football.

When running outside zone, the offensive lineman is simply cutting off the angles of the defensive lineman, which creates running lanes for the running back.

Keep Learning

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The center, right guard, and right tackle need to constantly work together in practice.

Similarly, the center, left guard, and left tackle need to also be in sync. The combination blocks between these players are the difference between no gain and a huge hole. It’s important everyone understand their blocking assignments to get the running back to the second level.

If you liked learning about these blocking schemes, we recommend you check out our Offensive Line University course. It has everything you need to improve your offensive line IQ.

Learn more about spread offense runs plays from the articles below.

Spread Offensive Run Plays – Complete Guide

The Basics Of The Oklahoma Trey Counter

How To Run Counter In Football – Complete Guide

Running The Power Play In Football – Complete Guide

The Gap Scheme & How It’s Run In Every Offense

Complete Outside Zone Guide & Tutorial

What Is Power Read In Football? Install Guide

This zone play is a popular play run by many teams because it keeps the defense honest. It allows the offense to use a variety of blocking schemes, which gives them more versatility.

The simplicity of the play allows for a high success rate while also keeping the defense on its heels.

Adding different styles of plays such as pin and pull can help diversify your offensive playbooks and standard plays like outside zone.

If you need coaching videos broken down by position group, we have them all in one place. Learn more here.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding techniques, schemes, and more!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.