Pittman, Part IV: Schemes

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Judging the effectiveness, or the ineffectiveness, of an offensive line is without question the most difficult task for an outside observer. You may be able to see what the offensive lineman does, but you do not necessarily know what he was supposed to be doing.

What looks like a missed assignment by a lineman may in fact not have been his assignment at all. There are few meaningful statistics by which to judge line excellence, and what statistics are available are kept by each team's coaching staff. A small percentage of fans sitting in the stands are able to determine what type of blocking scheme a team employs.

For example, what type of blocking scheme would you say UNC employs? A gap-blocking scheme, a zone-blocking scheme? A man-blocking scheme? Do you know the difference? There are undoubtedly fans who enthusiastically express their displeasure at the performance of an offensive line that do not understand the differences in those schemes. Even those who make the effort to understand blocking schemes often understand them imperfectly – like this writer.

As it turns out, UNC was more of a zone-blocking team in 2009 than a gap-blocking team, and rarely employed man-blocking schemes. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman explains.

"Zone blocking teams want to cover their linemen," Pittman said. "I mean, that's the bottom line and that's why you saw us go towards a huge zone scheme towards the latter part of the year, because we wanted to cover our linemen for movement. So a lot of zone teams do that for movement.

"Your gap teams are your smashmouth teams, but most teams that are zone teams are also a gap team at times. When you start talking about man schemes, you better be really good. A man scheme is when you put your linemen in a one-on-one block regardless of movement. Those are your ‘Iso' plays, those are your draw plays, and we were a little hesitant in the past to run man schemes because we get so much movement, so many twist schemes, and zones and gaps are much better for that."

By movement, Pittman means defenders doing something other than rushing straight ahead, charging into the lineman in front of them. Twists, stunts, blitzes - all constitute movement designed to defeat blockers.

"Last year we played Boston College, they had averaged 13 blitzes a game, and they blitzed us 37 times," Pittman said. "A man scheme against that wouldn't be very good. Obviously we didn't move the ball well so whatever we were using wasn't working very well either, but a man scheme would be not great against teams that are moving because they've got a two-way on you, and what ends up happening is you don't come off the ball because you don't know where the defender is going."

Factor in that each opponent presents different risks and rewards, as the offensive line coach tries to cover up his weaknesses and exploit the other sides' sore spots.

"You go into games with different runs based on the configuration of the defense, or based on who they have over there," Pittman said. "You don't want to run to their best player every snap, you don't see teams running at Robert Quinn all the time, or Marvin (Austin) or whoever, so a lot of your game-planning goes into their personnel."

With the personnel that Pittman will have available, he wants to put more man-blocking schemes into the playbook. Those schemes are effective when your guy is just better than the guy he is assigned to block. You are betting you can physically whip your opponent.

"Ever since we've been here we've been trying to teach ‘Just come off the football and know that if there is movement somebody to my left or my right is going to take the down lineman and I'll go to the linebacker,'" Pittman said. "So we've been predominantly zone and gaps schemes, and we'll probably study and get some more man schemes because we need them."

"If you were to describe us, you would say we are a zone team and a gap team - that's what we are - but we need to get back into the man schemes, and we will be a little bit better, so we will be able to do that."

Check back tomorrow for Part V from Inside Carolina's one-on-one interview with Sam Pittman …

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