It seems like all offseason we've been hearing about the potential switch to a zone blocking scheme. Commensurate with a switch in the coaching staff is, frequently, a switch in the basic building blocks of an offense or defense. The manner in which a team blocks for a RB is just about as basic as it gets.
Fortunately for us, more and more information is coming out about the zone blocking scheme as the offseason picks up speed. A couple of days ago, Matt Barrows at the Sacramento Bee wrote an article that lays out some of the basics of what a zone blocking scheme looks like and why the San Francisco 49ers might be implementing it.
As Barrows notes, the 49ers might be adopting zone concepts due to the arrival of offensive line coach Chris Foerster. Foerster, who previously worked for Washington, has had success with zone concepts, most notably demonstrated by the emergence of Alfred Morris. Why might this work well for the 49ers? Well, here's Barrows:
Washington's Alfred Morris stands 5-10 and weighs 224 pounds. The 49ers' Carlos Hyde goes 6-0 and this year is expected to play in the mid 220-pound range after being heavier as a rookie last year. Hyde ran his 40-yards dash before the draft in 4.66 seconds; Morris was clocked at 4.67 seconds.
The players are remarkably similar, and that could bode well for the 49ers. But, part of what makes a successful zone rushing attack is the RBs ability to read how his blocks are lining up and subsequently create the appropriate angles of attack based upon this read. It's an odd combination of patience and decisiveness, grace and power (for more on the scheme and its concepts, see the embedded video in Barrows' article in which Morris explains some basic elements of the scheme). And, for what it's worth, I think Hyde can do it based upon the quickness and vision he demonstrated last season.
This does raise a couple of questions, though: for one, a zone scheme tends to favor a different type of o-lineman. Usually "more athletic" linemen play better in a zone blocking scheme. The 49ers have been drafting linemen for a power run game for the last few years, however. I don't think this will be much of an issue, however, since the 49ers did run some zone concepts under Harbaugh, and the linemen on the team are pretty athletic as is (I don't think, for example, that Joe Staley will have a hard time with zone concepts).
What does concern me is the constant problem facing just about every issue this offseason: roster turnover. We need to ask ourselves how the 49ers are going to adapt without some of the stalwarts on the o-line that they used to have. Anthony Davis' retirement, for example, was a bit of a shocker. This isn't an argument against implementing zone concepts per se, but it will certainly play a factor in the run game this coming season.