Ask the Scout

Author Chris Landry is a veteran NFL scout, having served with the Cleveland Browns, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and formerly ran the Indianapolis Scouting Combine.

Landry now runs his own Scouting Consulting business where he scouts NFL and College personnel for NFL teams and help Universities and NFL teams in their Coaching evaluations and Searches. He can be heard nationally on FOX Sports Radio as their college football and NFL analyst.
What do you think of the Charlie Weis hire at Notre Dame?
I think he is an absolutely brilliant football mind and will give Notre Dame a game week preparation and game day coaching edge that it has not had in a very long time. If there is 6 win talent, he will win 7 or 8. He needs to upgrade the talent level so he can compete at a national championship level. He understands and embraces the program and what it's expectations and has already begun to assemble a nice staff.
How is the fit for Tyrone Willingham at Washington?
Considering the off field problems that this program has suffered in the recent past, Tyrone is a good fit in that he will clean up a program that badly needs it. He is a solid coach who must hire a good recruiting staff. I'm not sure he is the guy that will bring them to a national championship level or even a Pac 10 title but it is a step in the right direction.
Why did Walt Harris take the job at Stanford?
He has had a problem with the Pittsburgh administration for some time now and they were unwilling to extend his contract. The athletic director who hired him at U. Pacific several years ago (Ted Leland) is now the AD at Stanford. Harris pursued the job as he had an interest in getting back to his roots as he grew up in the South San Francisco area.
Can you rank the Heisman finalists as pro prospects?
Leinart will be a top 3 pick overall if not #1 overall if he comes out which is likely. Jason White has a chance to be a late first day pick while Alex Smith would be a early second day pick should he chose to come out. Adrian Peterson and Reggie Bush are different type backs but both will be high picks and exceptional NFL players in time.
Why did Dennis Erickson turn down the Ole Miss job?
There was never any real interest in Ole Miss by Erickson. He was using that situation and their interest in him to try and create a better situation for himself with the 49ers. He could be gone at the end of the year and knowing the 49ers are not thrilled with buying out his contract, he was using the Ole Miss situation as leverage to try and get more of a commitment from owner John York. It really has not worked proving the adage that in order to make a leverage situation work, you must be prepared to take the job that you are leveraging with.
How will Ed Orgeron do at Ole Miss?
It will be very difficult as it's a tough job in a tough conference. He is a high energy recruiter but recruiting at Ole Miss is far different than recruiting at USC or Miami where he was an assistant coach previously. As a head coaching candidate, I usually prefer guys who have been coordinators as that is like being a mini-head coach. Ed does not have that experience and quite frankly has benefited more himself from his coaching experiences that the football programs have benefited from having him.
Can you explain the evolution and the different types of zone blitzes?
The zone blitz was started in the early '90s as a way to give the defenses a method to pressure offenses without the high risk of playing man-to-man coverages. Zone blitzes also are easy to disguise because they look like base zone coverage to the offense at the line of scrimmage. Another confusing aspect of the zone blitz to the offense is the fact that the defense exchanges responsibilities. The defense blitzes players that the offense anticipates will drop into pass coverage. The defense then replaces those blitzers with defensive players that the offense has accounted for as rushers.

To understand the zone blitz scheme, you must first look at how a standard defense divides the field and determines who will drop into pass coverage and who will rush the passer.

The standard 2-deep zone divides the deep passing zones into two halves of the field with a safety in coverage for each. When playing a 2-deep zone, the remaining droppers (the two corners and three linebackers) divide the underneath, or shallow, areas of the field into equal fifths. The offense anticipates that the linebackers and corners will drop into pass coverage and that the two ends and the two tackles will be the pass rushers.

The 3-deep zone defends the deep area of the field by dividing it into thirds with each zone covered by a defender. When playing a 3-deep zone, the four remaining pass droppers and divide the underneath passing zones into fourths. A standard 4-man rush with the two ends and two tackles remains.

The WLB/DE exchange zone blitz involves the switching of responsibilities in the basic 2-deep zone coverage. The weakside linebacker blitzes through the A gap and the defensive end -- from a three-point stance -- drops into pass coverage. This confuses the offense because the defensive end in the three-point stance has been identified as a rusher. The offense expects the defensive end to rush and allocates the offensive tackle to block him. Not only is the offensive line handicapped by the offensive tackle's wasted assignment on the DE, but by bringing the weakside linebacker the running back is forced to stay in and not release into a pass route, even though it is a simple 4-man rush.

The next 2-deep zone blitz involves bringing the mike or strongside linebacker from the tight end side. In the animated play below, the mike linebacker plugs his A gap strong and the nose tackle twists around. The defense simply replaces the mike linebacker's pass drop with the weakside linebacker and the defensive end takes the weakside linkebacker's pass drop if it is pass.

The most common zone blitz is the strongside linebacker zone blitz which becomes even more complicated to the offense because the defense shows a 2-deep zone prior to the snap of the football. The offense anticipates that the linebackers will drop into their fifths in pass coverage. However, the defense drops down into a 3-deep zone on the snap choosing to divide the field into four underneath passing zones and three deep ones. The strong safety plays the outside fourth. The weakside linebacker takes the mike's drop in his fourth. The nose tackle, if it is a pass play, drops from a three-point stance and takes the will linebacker's fourth. The defensive end moves from a three-point stance to take the outside fourth. This scheme allows the strongside outside linebacker and mike to blitz when the offense doesn't expect it.

The MLB and WLB cross zone blitz involves blitzing both inside linebackers from a formation that appears to be a 2-deep zone (called a 2-deep hide). The mike linebacker blitzes his A gap and the weakside linebacker loops around behind the mike linebacker in the B gap. The free safety actually drops down on the snap as a linebacker and plays the shallow one-third drop. The defense usually chooses to play a 3-deep zone and only deploy three underneath coverage men, giving up one area of underneath coverage.

A defense can also blitz one of its safeties from a 2-deep look to confuse the offense. In the strong safety and MLB zone blitz, it is the strong safety who comes up and blitzes the B gap along with the mike linebacker who blitzes the A gap. The defense once again plays a 3-deep and 3-underneath coverage giving up an underneath zone.

As you can see, there are unlimited combinations of zone blitzes. The idea is to confuse the offense's identification of who the rushers and pass defenders are. It plays havoc with the offense's count system in determining blocking assignments. The offense counters the zone blitz with ways to identify if it is coming and where it is coming from. They may utilize different formations and change the snap count so that the defense tips of its plan prior to the snap.

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