In 2001, your Arizona Cardinals selected Leonard Davis with the second pick in the NFL Draft. He was supposed to be all that and a bag of chips and was considered the best player available in the entire draft. He was supposed to anchor the O-line for the next decade. This was in the days of Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden that were franchise left tackles for their teams for 15 years; everyone was looking for that player that would lock down one of the more difficult positions to draft for in the NFL.
In theory, this was the case in the 90's with Dallas having a huge O-line to maul people, but we are going to talk about another team -- one of the best running teams in the NFL. This team, from 2001 to 2008 was never less than 12th in the NFL in rushing in the whole league in yards per carry according to NFL.com . They were the Denver Broncos, coached by Mike Shanahan, and they were able to rush the ball in a time when every single person in the world knew that they were going to run down your throat.
I am going to let you try and guess the running backs for those teams. Terrell Davis? Nope -- he was the running back in 97, 98 and 99. Most of the time these teams had no-name running backs that were picked in the later rounds, as were most of the O-Line that was blocking for these no-name running backs.
So how did he do it? How do you throw running backs in to a system and linemen no body wants and be always one of the top rushing team for a decade?
Zone blocking was developed by Mike Shanahan to allow for smaller, quicker linemen to be able to use their quickness, the linemen nobody wanted because they weren't Leonard Davis 6'6" 380lbs.
Oh yes, and if you are wondering, does anyone want to guess what the top rushing team last year was? The Washington Redskins, coached by none other than Mike Shanahan... In Part two I will be going into the basics of zone blocking and how it works.