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Vols Film Study: Alvin Kamara and the Outside Zone

Vols Film Study: Alvin Kamara and the Outside Zone

It’s been a long time since Tennessee fans have seen a completely dominant performance in the running game versus an SEC team. In a historical performance, the Vols rushed for 376 rushing yards, with an average of 9.2 yards per carry, versus the Kentucky Wildcats. The yards per carry was the Vols best in a conference game since 2004 and the total yards was the most since 1994.

It was a complete team effort. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Alvin Kamara both topped 100 yards, while running back John Kelly finished with 94. The offensive line played one of their best games of the year, and receivers were active blocking downfield.

While everyone played well, no runner did more than Kamara. In his first game back from injury, the star running back hit 128 yards on only 10 carries and put the ball into the end zone twice. His 12.8 yards per carry led the team, while his two scores tied Dobbs for the team high.

The blocking scheme Kamara had the most success with was the Outside Zone.

The Outside Zone is, as its name indicates, a zone blocking scheme. The design of the play is to stretch the defense laterally in order to open up cutback lanes. At the snap, the offensive linemen will all step laterally, in the same direction. Their first step must be very wide, as their goal is to get around their defender and seal him inside.  This is called a reach block.

If all of the linemen can “reach” the defenders and seal them inside, this would allow the runner to get around the edge. However, this does not often happen. Defensive players are very aware of the scheme, and do not want the ball to get outside. With this in mind, offensive linemen are taught to “take the defender where he wants to go.” If the defensive lineman fights to get outside, then the offensive lineman should just drive him towards the sideline and open up a cutback lane.

Because of this, the Outside Zone very often does not end up going all the way outside. Instead, the running back is taught to stretch the ball laterally and read his blocks in order to find the cutback lane. This play can take a while to develop, but when it is blocked correctly, there is often a huge cutback lane for the ball carrier to run through.

Kamara fits the Outside Zone running scheme perfectly. His speed makes him a very good option on outside runs designed to get around the edge. He also has outstanding vision, a requirement for a zone runner. His great quickness allows him to plant his foot in the ground when he sees the running lane and accelerate through the hole.

So now, back to the game against Kentucky. Kamara’s first big run of the game came late in the second quarter. The Vols lined up in the pistol, with Kamara directly behind Dobbs. Tennessee had two tight ends in the game, both aligned as wings to the right.

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At the snap, the offensive line, as well as both tight ends, all stepped laterally to the right. Immediately, the Vols established two double teams up front. Right tackle Brett Kendrick and right guard Jack Jones doubled the defensive end and worked to the middle linebacker (#51), while center Coleman Thomas and left guard Jashon Robertson blocked the nose tackle and worked to the weakside linebacker (#32).

On the backside, left tackle Drew Richmond did a good job of cutting off the backside pursuit of the defensive end. On the front side, tight ends Ethan Wolf and Jason Croom both stepped wide and to combo the outside linebacker (#41) and work to the strong safety (#27).

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The playside defensive end fought outside, so Jones was able to drive him towards the sideline. This is a fantastic block by Jones. Once Jones took control of the block, Kendrick came off to block the middle linebacker (#51), who was moving outside with the flow of the play.

Robertson did an excellent job and was able to get around the nose tackle and seal him inside, allowing Thomas to work to the weakside linebacker (#32).

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This opened up a beautiful lane for Kamara to run through, right in-between the blocks off Jones and Thomas. Kamara burst through the hole, made the free safety miss in the open field, and ended up gaining 39.

Later, Kamara scored on the same scheme. This time, the Vols came out with only one tight end in the game. Jason Croom aligned as a wing to the left, while the Vols split two receivers left and one right.

This time the Vols ran a variation of the play called Split Zone. Rather than lead to the playside, Croom crossed the formation to block the backside defensive end, sealing the backside.

The offensive linemen’s blocks were the same. Richmond and Robertson had a combo on the defensive end to the playside linebacker, while Thomas and Jones had a combo on the nose tackle to the weakside linebacker.

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The playside linebacker was blitzing, and came through the B gap immediately, so Thomas moved to quickly pick him up, leaving Jones by himself on the nose tackle.

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While his block wasn’t dominating by any means, Jones did a great job to get around the nose tackle and turn him inside.

Richmond also did an outstanding job, blocking the defensive end by himself, and riding him towards the sideline. Since Richmond was able to block the end on his own, Robertson was able to get downfield and block the weakside linebacker.

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The result? A huge lane for Kamara to run through inside of Richmond’s block. Once again, Kamara was left one-on-one in the open field with the free safety. This is a win for the Vols any day of the week. Once again, Kamara made the safety miss, and walked into the end zone.

One more note on this play. Check out Tyler Byrd’s blocking downfield. He drove the outside linebacker nearly ten yards off the ball. The offensive line and running backs can create big runs, but when receivers are blocking downfield, big runs turn into touchdown runs. Great job by the freshman.

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Kamara’s second touchdown of the day also came on the Outside Zone play. This was the exact same formation as the first play we looked at, with Kamara behind Dobbs in the pistol and two tight ends lined up to the right.

However, the scheme is slightly different. Rather than both tight ends lead to the playside, the Vols use the Split Zone adjustment again. Wolf, the tight end lined up to the inside, would cross the formation to block the backside end, while Croom would lead on the playside.

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The key block on this play came from Croom. He worked with Kendrick to combo the outside linebacker, and executed the reach block perfectly, sealing him inside. This opened up the edge for Kamara. Because Croom was able to seal the linebacker inside, this opened up the edge, allowing Kamara to get to the perimeter rather than cut it back inside.

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Once Croom knew that the outside linebacker was under control, he came off the block and kept moving downfield. He ended up making another key block, this time on the safety. He drove him all the way to the sideline and shoved him out-of-bounds. Kamara broke one tackle and then was home free.

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Both of Kamara’s touchdowns came on this play, and most of his yards did as well. Kamara totaled 112 yards on the Outside Zone play alone, on only 6 attempts. The line did a great job with their blocking, and Kamara was outstanding at reading his blocks and finding open space. And once Kamara is in the open field, not many defenders are going to be able to take him down. He is a very special player and has a bright future ahead of him.

Editor’s Note:  Seth Price writes Vols Film Study weekly for FOX Sports Knoxville. You can see more of his work at Football Concepts. He is also the author of Fast and Furious:  Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteer’s Offense, which is available on Amazon.com.

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@sethpricevfl

Seth Price loves studying and writing about football strategy. He is a contributing writer for FOX Sports Knoxville and the editor of the website Football Concepts. He is the author of Fast and Furious: Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers' Offense, which is available on Amazon.com.

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