It’s tricky to say when a play or scheme was “invented,” partly because all football ideas stem from prior concepts, and partly because of how quickly information can be disseminated in the sport. Between coaching changes, clinics, and gamefilm study, new ideas don’t stay secret for long. With that said, I feel very comfortable stating that today’s inside/outside zone run tandem was first codified by Sam Wyche’s Cincinnati Bengals teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s, and almost as comfortable saying they invented the modern concept. Famed OL coach Alex Gibbs gets lots of deserved credit for adding new elements and elevating its use to an art with his Super Bowl-winning Broncos teams, but most of what he preaches goes back to the Bengals of almost a quarter of a century ago. The Bengals had so many unusual attributes—including heavy use of the no-huddle—that their zone runs didn’t get as much attention in the media.
I was actually taught the inside zone play by watching Bengals game film of Ickey Woods. It was a thing of beauty seeing how zone schemes not only gave offenses a way to limit the effectiveness of blitzes, stunts, and slants, but actually turn these tactics against a defense. Linemen were almost always put into positions to make great blocks in a much more effective manner than man-scheme combo blocks. At the same time, the runningback’s movement and reads gave him the benefits of designed counters and option plays without the risks of cutting into a blitz or fumbling a pitch or mesh.
The key to modern zone runs is the use of controlled double-team blocks on defensive linemen that turn into single-man blocks depending on what the defense does. The movement and intent of a playside tackle or end not only determines who picks up second-level linebackers and safeties, but also keys where running lanes are likely to develop. Getting back to the idea of there being little new under the sun when it comes to football, we can trace this flexible double-team concept all the way back to Vince Lombardi’s coordinator and head coach positions with the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, and we can probably assume he used it some at West Point or even earlier. (Of course, he may have gotten the technique from someone else.)
Depending on which of Lombardi’s playbooks you look at, this specialized double-team was called either a “doo-dad” or “do-dad” block..
SLF has moved! Check out the full post at http://www.secondlevelfootball.com/2012/04/22/lombardis-doo-dad-and-the-history-of-the-zone-run-game/