Understanding the Down, Gap, and Cover Blocks

Understanding the Down, Gap, and Cover Blocks

The most fundamental block in the Wing-T is the down block. It is used to block the first man down on the line, usually lined up on or shading near an adjacent offensive lineman. The down block is a same shoulder block unlike most others in the Wing-T, meaning if I’m blocking the man down to my left that I will step with my left foot then block with a left shoulder technique. For more details on how I teach the down block technique, check out my Wing-T offensive line drills.

It isn’t enough to just teach the down block, however. The down block technique will often fail against a fast penetrating defensive lineman or a blitzing linebacker. By attacking with the same shoulder (“get your helmet in the hole”), the blocker is providing an easier path for the defender to shed the block and make the tackle.

That’s why we also teach the gap block technique, which achieves the same end result but uses an opposite shoulder approach. So for a gap block to the left, the blocker steps first with the left foot but will block with a right shoulder technique. You can visualize the blocker going more flat down the line to intercept the fast penetrating defender. His goal is still to take him laterally down the line of scrimmage. Centers are often forced to use this technique because of their proximity to the line of scrimmage.

So how do you teach the proper rule to an offensive lineman?

This is where I think many coaches get mixed up: they confuse a blocking technique with the blocking rule.

Let’s take a play most of us run in the Wing-T: the Buck Sweep. The rule for the playside tackle is the block down. Different coaches will use different terminology for this rule. Examples that I’ve seen include:

  • Gap, Down, Backer (GDB) – This helps the blocker find the right man to block. First look next to you in the adjacent gap to the inside. Man there? Block him. If not, look down to see if someone is heads up to shaded outside of your adjacent lineman (the playside guard in this case). Man there? Block him. Finally, go to the next level and block the next wrong colored jersey you see beyond the line of scrimmage, working to the inside.
  • Gap, On, Down (GOD) – Similar to Gap, Down, Backer but the blocker will block a man on him before checking down to his adjacent lineman.
  • Gap, On, Linebacker (GOL) – First, block their inside gap (“Gap”). If there is no one there, they will look for a defender lined up directly over them (“On”). If no defensive lineman over them, they have a linebacker.

All three of these have “Gap” as the first rule. Does this mean the blocker uses a gap technique? Of course not, and unfortunately this is a problem with how we’ve settled on certain terminology with the Wing-T over the years.

Only the blocker can know, at the snap or right after snap, what technique he should use to execute this block.

One teaching approach is to simply drill your offensive line with all of the different scenarios they will see so that they get used to using the proper technique and making adjustments on the fly. Let me rephrase that: you should absolutely drill your OL this way. They must see real life situations and be prepared for everything.

I’ve change my approach over the years and now teach the cover block technique described in Willenbrock’s book. The cover block technique is simple: The blocker sets his aim point on his rule-based defender’s V of the jersey - middle of the torso. If that aim point remains stable as he approaches and he can successfully down block, he will do so. If the defender shows a fast penetration path, the helmet and shoulders should slide to the inside as the blocker prepares for a gap block technique.

I should mention that this technique is most appropriate when the blocker has uncertainty about the technique to use. If a tackle has been blocking down on an aggressive 3 technique all game and knows he must use a gap technique to cut him off, then there’s no need to use a cover technique. He probably needs to step flat and fast and get his helmet across the defender to wash him down.