Understanding Power Schemes & Drive Blocks: Denver's New Offensive Approach

With a new offensive system imminent for the Broncos, Doc Bear breaks down the tenants of the power scheme and it's cornerstone — drive blocking.

The Denver Broncos have a unique situation this upcoming season. They have two new offensive line coaches — Jeff Davidson appears to be the head of the group and will likely handle the transition to Vance Joseph’s new blocking scheme. John Benton, a 30-year veteran of the league, will be handling the zone blocking responsibilities. As they’ve often done, Denver is using its positional coaches to overcome the problems of last season.

There were several problems along the line; missed assignments, missed blocks and penalties among them. Russell Okung, ranked 38th in the league according to Pro Football Focus and was a near-average left tackle at best but there’s more to performance than rankings. Ranked 77th among tackles, Donald Stephenson showed the same lack of focus and effort that marked his time in Kansas City.

http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1681565-5-reasons-you-should-go-p... He would show at times how talented he is — then coast for entire games. Given that he is talented, it’s frustrating.

Max Garcia, ranked 41st, gave a better performance in pass protection than the running game. He’s young, strong, and needs to upgrade his technique. Michael Schofield was ranked 51st and matched Garcia’s pass pro, but was a disaster against the run. It’s hoped that Connor McGovern will improve enough this offseason to take over that position. Center Matt Paradis needed bilateral hip surgeries this offseason, but he was a rock for that line.

Denver will almost certainly add to their O-line cast this offseason. Given the youth of the interior line, another year’s development should help that as well. Schofield’s run blocking has to improve or be replaced. No matter who come or goes, Denver has to teach a new system that’s based on a different block.

Drive Blocking

As the Broncos move to a more power-oriented system, the details of which aren’t available, they’ll be moving away from the more zone-oriented approach. While inside and outside zone plays will continue to be standards, the stretch zone blocking ala Alex Gibbs that’s become ‘zone blocking’ to many fans won’t be much — if at all — used. Drive blocking will be.

The keys to the basics of power blocking are found in the execution of the drive block. When an offensive line player is run blocking in a power scheme, the drive block is going to be central to that approach.

Even a zone-blocking team uses them at times; they demonstrate a lot of keys that apply to any form of run blocking. The detail that goes into this technique is remarkable. I’ll keep to the main points.

The goal of drive blocking is to engage a defender — defensive tackle, end, or linebacker — and to control them to the point where you can move them to the side, backwards or put them on the ground. You normally drive block from a three-point stance.

Getting Ready to Block

You start with your feet just slightly more than shoulder width apart with the knees slightly bent. Sometimes you’ll have one foot forward — it’s called a ‘stagger’ — and the back foot cocked, with the ball of the foot on the turf and the heel off the ground.

You want to keep your back flat or slightly arched. The screws on your facemask should be facing straight forward, and since you want to see what you hit, your eyes will be forward as well. That also helps you keep your shoulders back.

http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1752165-broncos-offseason-all-you... You never want to hit with the top of your helmet, of course, and you never want to get caught standing up. Good knee/hip flex is essential to good technique — lunging or bending forward at the waist will get you defeated. You’re going to take three steps on this block, and each of them has a specific and essential purpose.

You want to keep your hands in front of you, palms out and thumbs fairly close together. Quickness off the line is essential — the fastest ‘get-off’ gives the best chance to win the down.

The man with his hands inside his opponent's will usually win that battle — hand-fighting is the second aspect of winning the down. Equally, you want to keep the body coiled and ready to explode into movement, because ‘low man wins’ — achieving leverage — is the third rule for success.

The First Step

Take a small step forward with your rear foot, just brushing the grass about four to six inches to the front of your lead foot in order to adjust the angle of your body relative to the defender. It's usually called a directional, set or settle step.

If you take too big a step (which is called ‘overstriding’), you’ll be off-balance, with your weight forward. Extending yourself forward is a written invitation for the defender to grab you and pull you off your base or even off your feet.

When you’re done with this step, your body should still have a slightly arched back, and all of the major muscle groups must still be coiled, ready to unleash your full power on a defender. Some approaches have the beginner cocking his hands back at his hips to get more power into the punch on the next step.

It’s a sensible teaching approach, but at the NFL level, it doesn’t happen. The head stays up and back, and you focus your eyes straight ahead, looking at the top of his numbers.

The Second Step

The second step is usually called the attack step or the power step. It's what it sounds like — you're aggressively going after the defender and you want to maximize how hard you can hit him without sacrificing form.

You step toward the inside (playside) foot of the defender, which aligns your body for the block. The best way to perform this step is to pretend that you’re grabbing the grass with your toes as you step forward. That engages the muscles in the feet, legs and hips.

As you take that step, your hands come up and out into the defender, at the level of the numbers. You have to keep your head up and your eyes focused on your target.

If the hole the runner behind you will be driving through is to your right, you want to get your head on that side of the defender, so you aim your eye focus at the top of the number of that side (the same is true in reverse for a run to the left).

http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1747062-a-modern-update-on-concus... Getting your hands up and into the defender lets you feel where his balance is and to control him, instead of the other way around. The hips should drop slightly as you contact the defender with your hands. The elbows are down close together in preparation for the third step, which will lift the defender and drive him back.

Each of the three is a short step. Timing is essential on this block: remember that one of the keys to success as an offensive lineman is to keep your feet moving, no matter how short the steps.

They might just be churning up and down in some situations but the moment that they stop moving, your play is over. Any NFL defender, from a cornerback to the biggest defensive tackle in the league, can beat you once your feet go dormant. The smaller guys will run past or around you; the big guys will just blow you off your feet.

If you perform the drive block correctly, you’ll continue to move your feet as you drive your attacker backwards or into the turf. You may need to plant him and move on to the second or even the third level, and you might pancake him and cover him while he’s down to make sure he doesn’t get back into the play. Regardless, until the whistle blows or you’re providing the defender a tegument, you’re not done moving your feet.

The Leverage Step

The third and final step is called the leverage step. The player — offensive or defensive — who can make the third step the fastest will win the encounter — that’s been proven over and again. That’s why fast feet in an offensive lineman will grab the coaches’ attention quicker than anything else. It’s also why you talk at length about an explosive first step with an offensive lineman: a fast first step makes it easier to get to the third step before your opponent does.

On this step, you want to drive in and up so that your hands are at his numbers and you can lock your pads right up under the defenders’. It makes sense if you think about it. The basic idea of leverage is to fit your lever under the object to be moved.

In this case, the object to be moved is the defender’s pads. As you step in, you’re driving in, up and under his pad level. If you've done it right, you’ve got your hands inside of his, your pads are locked to and below his, and he's toast — the low man wins. Once your pads are locked beneath his, you continue your momentum in and upward with all the muscles in your body.

Contact between the two of you will be made between two-and-a-half and three steps — the defender might be moving in as you attack. Either is fine, just as long as you get your pads lower than his. Your hands — in fists, with the palm heels or with the edges of them, depending on the coach — should be locked inside. You want to emboss your hands and pads into his body as you explode in and upward.

At this point, there’s something called the three-inch rule involved; if you can reach a point where you can drive him upwards three inches as you’re locked into him, you’ll win the encounter every time. Three vertical inches is the point beyond which the defender cannot recover — you can put him wherever you want him at that point, whether that’s to one side and out of the running back’s way or flat on the turf.

Remember, the defender has to see behind you to find the ballcarrier. When he lifts his head, he’s vulnerable. There’s room for you to drive in and take him over. I’d like to emphasize that as you get your pads into him, you also want to drive from the hips, snapping them forward as you drive in, up and back. Why?


Power comes from using the entire body in unison. To accomplish that, you have to learn to move from the core musculature.

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From a western viewpoint, consider the fact that the core muscles — the hips, abdomen, upper leg, and low back muscles — are the central ‘hinge’ for the human body. If you explode from there, you’re really exploding with everything from the toes to the upper torso — and that’s a lot of muscles working in unison.

If you add a simultaneous tightening of the hips, chest, neck and shoulders, you have even more force blasting outward. Like adding pulleys on a machine, each of these muscles takes some of the load off the others and helps to creates the ability to move with power. Using a sharp exhale at the moment of maximum exertion also creates more power.

We naturally do this when we ‘grunt’ during an exercise. That grunting is the body automatically tensing the abdomen and using that expulsion of breath to activate the core muscles. If you just expel air sharply, even when sitting in a chair, you should be able to feel the muscles in the hips and abdomen tighten firmly as you do. That’s a smaller version of the same effect.

Regardless of the specific system Vance Joseph goes with, the power blocking systems tend to go with the drive step as one aspect of their basic techniques. Reach blocks, down blocks, fold blocks, doodad blocks and a dozen others might be needed. But in many power systems, the drive block is where it all begins.

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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @DocBearOMD.

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