Mailbag: How will the blocking schemes change?

Mailbag: How will the blocking schemes change?

January 27, 2011

The California Golden Bears use a zone blocking system

Hey Thunder,
I’m curious as to how you think the Michigan offensive line will perform in 2011. What are the main differences in zone blocking vs. man blocking schemes, and do you think Michigan’s current group is up to the task? I’ve never coached offensive line (or defensive line) in my brief career, so I’m curious. Thanks!

To first get some terminology out of the way, no team out there runs a true “man blocking scheme”, at least not the way many people interpret those words  That phrase can be disingenuous. 

When one talks about zone blocking, it usually refers to a play in which a running play is intended to go in a general direction, not necessarily to one particular hole.  The offensive linemen do follow some rules about who to engage, but generally, a linemen tries to lock on to a defender, take him in whichever direction he wants to go, and then let the running back find a lane to follow.  A good explanation from a blog I like comes from Smart Football’s post on the matter.

When one talks about man blocking, it often refers to rule blocking.  There are some plays within man blocking schemes in which the offensive linemen choose who to block based on counting the number of defenders to their side of the ball.  For example, on a running play to the right, the center might block the #1 guy to the right of the ball (whether it’s a defensive lineman or linebacker), the guard takes #2, the tackle takes #3, and the tight end walls off #4.  In that type of situation, it doesn’t matter how the defense aligns – the linemen just count at the line of scrimmage and then try to drive defenders off the ball.  A post from provides a list of pros and cons for each type of scheme.  Man blocking schemes do have the ability to run complicated plays, such as the counter trey, on which the backside guard and backside tackle pull and lead through a hole.  Unlike zone plays, these plays typically are intended to go to one particular hole.

As for how Michigan’s linemen will fare in what we can only assume will be a more man blocking-oriented scheme, I think they’ll be just fine.  Rich Rodriguez and Mike Barwis realized last year that 290-pound linemen can’t get the job done at Michigan, so several of them bulked up to 300 pounds for the 2010 season.  I don’t expect that Michigan will return to having oodles of 320-330 lb. behemoths, but some of these guys should be able to hit 310-315.  New strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman has talked about keeping down his players’ body fat percentage, so I don’t expect Michigan to turn into a bunch of Wisconsin Badger-like fatties.

Individually . . .

LT Taylor Lewan. He was somewhat light this past season due to his youth, but I think he can be successful in any scheme.  He’s strong, nasty, and athletic.  I’ve said since he was recruited that he plays like Jake Long.  He’ll continue to add some weight and continue to be a mauler.

LG Ricky Barnum (?).  I’m operating under the assumption that Barnum will replace the departed Steve Schilling.  Barnum has flirted with playing offensive tackle in the past, but he doesn’t have the length to play tackle.  To me he’s a prototypical bowling ball of a guard.

C David Molk. Molk might be the lightest guy on the offensive line, but he’s also the strongest.  Centers are typically the smallest offensive linemen, so I’m not concerned about his lack of size.

RG Patrick Omameh.  I still think that Omameh would be a good fit at offensive tackle, although I’m not sure he’ll switch positions at this point.  He doesn’t have the prototypical body type for a guard in a man blocking scheme; he might be heavy enough, but he’s more the athletic guard type than a straight ahead mauler.  He’s excellent on the move, like former UCLA Bruin and Baltimore Raven Johnathan Ogden (although obviously not as big and probably not as good), so I expect offensive coordinator Al Borges to run counters, waggles, and traps to utilize Omameh’s athleticism.

RT Mark Huyge.  I’ve never been impressed with Huyge, but maybe he’ll take a leap as a senior.  He’s got the size, but I’ve just never thought of him as a great athlete.  If another guard steps up (Rocko Khoury, maybe), I wouldn’t mind seeing Omameh bump out to RT and having Khoury step in at right guard.  We’ll see what happens.

These guys probably won’t be the equivalent of the mean, nasty, road grading offensive linemen that populated Michigan in decades past, but they should be able to hold their ground.  If Borges and Brady Hoke hold to their promise of making changes to the offense based on personnel, then they should be able to take advantage of this line’s strengths.  I don’t want to see Borges forced into zone blocking if that’s not his specialty, but he needs to get these guys on the move.


  1. Comments: 21384
    Jan 27, 2011 at 6:08 PM

    Interesting read.

    Doesn't really matter what schemes they run because in 2013 theres a strong possibility the OL will be in worse shape than it was in 2008. Especially if Lewan goes pro after his RS JR year.

    Doom, some might say.


    P.S. Pull Fisher and Bryant and I'll stop worrying about this crap, at least till the next bit of OL attrition.

  2. Comments: 21384
    Jan 27, 2011 at 6:14 PM


    Is it safe to say if Omameh stays at guard, then Huyge will be battling Schofield for the RT spot? If so, I think that will be an interesting battle moving forward to spring.

  3. Comments: 21384
    Jan 27, 2011 at 10:24 PM

    @ Lankownia 1:08 p.m.

    I'm not sure about Fisher, but I think Bryant will announce for Michigan.

  4. Comments: 21384
    Jan 27, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    @ 912Jeff 1:14 p.m.

    Yes, I think Schofield and Huyge will be battling for the RT position if Omameh stays at guard. Schofield was supposedly just a hare behind Huyge last year, so we'll see how that works out.

  5. Comments: 21384
    Jan 28, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    When it comes to offensive linemen, I think that there's too much noise made about the difference between "finesse" and "power" offenses. I saw a lot of opposing defenders getting knocked on their ass by Lewan, Schilling, Omameh and friends this year. Not to mention Molk, who is a strong MF-er and knows how to use leverage to take advantage of his strength. I'm more worried about Al Borges and whether he can utilize Denard.

  6. Comments: 21384
    Jan 28, 2011 at 6:54 PM

    We HAVE offensive lineman. Some of them are currently lifetime backups, but Dorrestein and Huyge didn't get a lot of playing time until later on their careers and both have shaped up to be at least serviceable…better than 2008 quality, at least.

    I don't see why young linemen we currently have can't do the same thing.

    Let the coaches worry about crossing the doom bridge. It's not like they're oblivious.

  7. Comments: 21384
    Jan 28, 2011 at 7:02 PM

    @ David 1:54 p.m.

    I think Lankownia is being a little pessimistic, but he does have a point: Michigan is very short on offensive linemen.

    You should aim to have about 15 scholarship linemen on your roster at all times, if not more. Michigan has 10 returning linemen in 2011 (Lewan, Molk, Omameh, Huyge, Barnum, Khoury, Mealer, Pace, Schofield) if both Washington and Campbell stay on defense. There are only 2 incoming freshmen (Miller, Posada), and there are 2 other possibles (Fisher, Bryant). That's a max of 14 unless the coaches toss another offer out there in the next few days.

    Meanwhile, the majority of those guys are seniors or redshirt juniors. Lewan, Pace, and Schofield are the only guys who are younger than redshirt juniors (not including incoming freshmen).

    It's clearly a concern going forward, although obviously getting Fisher and/or Bryant would be a step in the right direction.

  8. Comments: 21384
    Jan 28, 2011 at 9:46 PM

    I agree that you'd like at least 15 OL. Thunder, I think you overestimated your returning starters by 1. Lets look at the numbers going forward with (and without) Fisher and Bryant.

    2011: 11-13
    2012: 9-11
    2013: 5-7

    The number that concerns me most is the 2013 number of 5-7. This obviously doesn't include any 2012 or 2013 recruits, but OL is a position where you generally don't want RS freshman, let alone true freshman playing. Unfortunately, Michigan almost certainly will be in that position. Especially when you consider that the 5 known returning players (Lewan, Schofield, Pace, Miller, Posada) may not pan out, may transfer, or may go pro. So you're back to playing walk-ons and freshman, like in '08. Or put in another way – it's the equivalent of the '10 secondary. One injury, a player not panning out, some attrition –> doom.

    I don't think it's pessimistic to look at the situation and wonder just how desperate the OL depth situation is long-term. Your best-case scenario right now is recruiting some NFL-quality lineman in 2012, who can contribute almost immediately (as RS freshman.) This could happen, but you certainly don't want to count on it.

    Moving Washington or Campbell won't really help things out much because the OL looks fine for 2011 and 2012.

    Again, if we land both Fisher and Bryant, I'll stop worrying. If we land one, I'll step off the ledge. If both are gone, 2013 looks like a dark cloud.


  9. Comments: 21384
    Jan 28, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    The coaches aren't oblivious but I think they should be offering every available warm body on the OL. Or at least preparing for it if Bryant goes to Pitt or elsewhere.

    Its not like a coaching staff in the rush of transition can't make roster evaluation errors.


  10. Comments: 21384
    Jan 28, 2011 at 10:25 PM


    this is one reason why I'm not ecstatic about moving Campbell back to defense and I won't be unless he somehow blows up.

  11. Comments: 21384
    Jan 29, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    @ Lankownia 4:46 p.m.

    Good catch. I can't count.

  12. Comments: 21384
    Jan 29, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    @ David 5:25 p.m.

    The one thing I will say about Campbell moving back to defense – if anybody can motivate him/coach him up, then it ought to be Hoke/Mattison. Those two have solid track records of coaching defensive linemen.

    Also, as far as numbers go, Campbell doesn't really have much of an effect. Eligibility-wise, he's in the same class as Omameh and Barnum. So if he couldn't beat out either one of those guys at guard, then he'd be on the bench for the next two years, anyway, and then he'd be gone.

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