Running Backs and Zone Read Option

Submitted by Hail-Storm on July 23rd, 2010 at 11:43 AM

A lot has been written about what type of Quarterback is needed to run a zone read option. From everything that I can see, both Tate and Denard should do fine in this.  My focus now is on the other option. Is there a certain type of running back that is needed to run the zone option and do we have them? From what I can tell, it appears that the major requirement for the running back in the zone read option, is to hit the hole in the center of the field when they get the ball. To me, this means they need to be explosive (quick 5 yard burst) and either strong enough to power through the arm tackles (a Minor type), or shifty enoughy to move through without getting a good enough hit to not get through the hole. If they have some awesome speed after they get through the hole, then we are talking some major yards.  It doesn't appear that they need to be patient runners that are good at finding the holes. Am I oversimplifying this? And with a stable of running backs who would be your choice(s) to run this play most effectively?



July 23rd, 2010 at 11:46 AM ^

we have an excellent stable of both types of running backs. I especially look forward to watching our new petrified of cupcakes Freshman RB bowl some people over if he gets playing time this year.


July 23rd, 2010 at 11:50 AM ^

For the zone read option play (although there are many variations), you're right that patience isn't a big virtue.  The guy needs to be able to plant his foot and get upfield in a hurry.  Remember that the backside end goes unblocked, so cutting back against the grain means that the running back would be going right back to the guy that's caught in No Man's Land.  So patience for that one play isn't very important, but it is for some of the other plays we run (like the zone stretch, sweep, etc.).

IMO, the best back currently on the roster is Michael Cox.  He has the power to run through tackles and he has decent speed.  His numbers in the spring game and last year (albeit against weak competition) are better than anyone else's on the team.  He might not have the patience or speed to run sweeps and stretches, but as for going HARD upfield in an instant, I think Cox is the answer.


July 23rd, 2010 at 3:32 PM ^

If Coach Rod uses his stable of backs to his advantage, I think it will be a great year.  I for one, will be pitching a tent outside the ticket booth to be first in line for single game seats.  You don't need a Chris Johnson type back to be successful in running this offense.  I can't wrap my head around a subject this girthy, but I think opposing defenses will be thinking long and hard about how to defend us.  Hopefully, they'll be rendered impotent.  If Rich Rod and his offense has performance issues though, I believe he may get the shaft at the end of the year.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:12 PM ^

...unless I say it tastes like Cox.

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July 23rd, 2010 at 12:06 PM ^

Call me crazy, but I think Toussaint is going to emerge as our #1 back this year.  Injuries, which I admittedly know nothing about, could definitely hinder him though.

Cox may have "decent speed" but against DSU last year he appeared to have sub-average speed to me.  That's a very small sample, I know.  I guess we will see this fall.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:32 PM ^

For Toussaint to ever be a decent option (IMO) he needs to hit the hole with a little authority.  He seemed very hesitant a number of times in the spring game.  I know alot of people are wowed by the "ZOMGZ JUMP CUTS!" in his high school highlight tape, but when he does them in the hole or before the line, he's getting hit before he gets going.  He needs to see the hole, hit it hard and quick, and save the cuts for the second level. 

Cox seems like our best option right now.  He might have a mental lapse now and again, but I'll take a few mistakes if he can run like he did in the spring game.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:52 PM ^

I said this once before and I'll say it again.  Magnus, I will never doubt your predictive abilities (especially when it comes to RB.)   In '08, everyone was on the McGuffie train (myself included) but you stuck by Minor as our best RB.  Despite the fumble issues (due to injury), you still held true to your prediction. 

Lo and behold, you were right.


July 23rd, 2010 at 1:00 PM ^

Thanks.  It's not a coincidence that I like #15 and I liked #4 - Cox is a near Minor clone, IMO.  On top of that, Rodriguez had quite a bit of success at WVU with solidly built backs like Onterrio Smith and Kay-Jay Harris.  Even Steve Slaton was more powerful than people give him credit for, thinking he was just a speed guy.


July 23rd, 2010 at 10:06 PM ^

In '08, everyone was on the McGuffie train (myself included) 

No, there were plenty of us who weren't sold on him.  He had one good game (ND) and otherwise was a non-factor.  I thought he was just too small (not in terms of height, but bulk) for the position.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:16 PM ^

I have yet to see any evidence that there are "system" running backs like there are "system" QBs.  The traits that make a running back great in any system make him great in any other system. 


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:17 PM ^

...if he comes back healthy, he could definitely be the man.  I agree with Magnus about Cox being a good fit for the zone read, but Smith might be the best fit all around.  He has very good burst, catches balls out of the backfield, and looked good running everything last year.  That said, I do not know the status of his recovery.

If we look to Pat White for the model RR quarterback, perhaps it is fitting to look at Steve Slaton as the model RR running back.  I honestly do not know who in our stable is the best comparison for Slaton.  If Smith were thicker...


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:43 PM ^

Smith averaged 3.55 yard per carry against FBS opponents.  I don't think you can take his 2009 performance and say he has "good burst" or that he "looked good running everything."  He's still very unproven (as they all are) and the best thing anyone seems to be able to say about him is that he catches the ball well.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:24 PM ^

One aspect I think a zone read running back must have is the ability to go 90 degress very quickly. As opposed to a traditional pound it up the middle offense, a zone read starts with the running back going toward the sideline. He has to see the hole and then shoot up into it. I don't know if Anthony Thomas would have been great at making that cut, but I do think Shaw, Toussaint, and Cox can do it. I worry a little Shaw stutter steps too much, but we'll see. I am not sure Vincent Smith will play this year. I think he will be too far behind the other players coming off his injury.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:33 PM ^


Mike Cox 6-0 210 Power

 S. Hopkins 6-0 236 Power

 Vince Smith 5-6 169 Speed

 Mike Shaw 6-1 181 Speed

 F.Toussaint 5-10 199 Speed

 Austin White 6-0 196 unknown maybe a little of both?

Zone Blocking/read O= one cut and go.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:40 PM ^

Vincent Smith isn't really "speed."   He's just not a fast man.  He's shifty and slippery, and has good vision... but dude does not get from point A to point B very quickly.


July 23rd, 2010 at 12:51 PM ^

Agree.  I think that people assume that V. Smith is fast because he is an electron-sized, bedread-locked man.  But he is not all that fast.  Shifty, agile, able to stay on his tiny feet and scrap out the extra yard - yes.  But one cut and gone, not so much. 

I think that our best bets for running the zone read are cox and either Shaw (he has shown flashes of speed) or Fitz (barring injury).  I would also not rule out Hopkins for a dose of beer truck up the middle.


July 23rd, 2010 at 1:12 PM ^

I said last year that he'll be the best offensive recruit from the 2009 class, and I'm sticking by that (although Lewan could prove me wrong).  I still think Toussaint will be good, but we've seen injuries really slow down Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor.  Toussaint could beat out these other guys for the starting job in the next couple years, but right now, I think Cox is the best bet.


July 23rd, 2010 at 2:43 PM ^

I couldn't agree more. I'm rather new to posting here so I'm unfamiliar with the history of Magnus (although everyone seems to respect your opinions an awful lot), but as I've watched Shaw the last two years I get the sense that if we put him in an I-formation or single back, that would suit his skills a little more.

While they are different running backs, I think Shaw and Minor are slightly similar in their relative gangliness. By that I mean they both seem quite adept at getting up field and making the necessary small redirections necessary, but running a zone-read or stretch to the sideline and requiring them to make one 45-90 degree cut was a little out of their comfort zone.

I think a successful 2-back backfield of Shaw/Cox and Toussaint/Smith could suit everyone's abilities quite well. Have Shaw/Cox running the dive up the middle, and Toussaint/Smith as the option men to the outside. Each RB certainly isn't exclusive to these specific positions, but I think their skill sets work the best this way.


July 23rd, 2010 at 6:54 PM ^

Everyone keeps saying  Shaw can't make cuts, and I keep reminding them of the 4:39 mark of this video.  The dude was more highly rated than Mcguffie, whom everybody loved at the time, and according to his high school track NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP sprinting record, is faster than Denard.


July 23rd, 2010 at 6:59 PM ^

Don't get me wrong, I like Shaw and have since he got here. But the video seems to prove my point. Put him in an I-formation, let him run downhill and make cuts from that.

Running a stretch play to the sideline and making a quick cut into an opening is different than what Shaw showed on that video.

For my part, I wish we would run a little more from the I-formation and allow Shaw and Cox to take 6-10 carries total from that formation per game.


July 23rd, 2010 at 7:28 PM ^

I hear what you're saying, and I get it, but I see a special kind of threat at least if Denard wins the starting job here.  Both players have potential to take it to the house every play, which will cause fits for defenses trying to stop them.  The second they commit to Denard keeping it, Shaw won't have to make many people miss and his straight line speed can show up.  Also keep in mind that we have seen very limited amounts of Shaw when he is actually 100% healthy.  


July 23rd, 2010 at 8:27 PM ^

It would be nice to see Shaw healthy and in the backfield with Robinson. If Robinson wins the job, one thing I hope we see a little more of is the triple option out of a two-back set. Let Robinson read the DE on the dive, and if he chooses to pull it allow him and whatever running back to get in the open field and put the pressure on the linebackers and defensive backs.

If those type of play calls become common with Robinson at the helm - and he proves able to make the correct reads in terns of when to give, pitch and keep the ball - that has the makings for a very dangerous combination regardless of who the RB is.