Zone Read Option: The Centerpiece of Your Spread Offense

How to Run the Zone Read OptionFor any great Spread Offense, particularly those who make their living by running the football, the Zone Read Option is one of the key plays in the offense. In fact, it should be the first play you install and the play you spend the most time working on.

The beauty of using the Zone Read Option as the base play is that you can do so much with it. For starters, this is 3 plays in one, like any traditional Option Offense play. You have the Inside Zone run, the Quarterback keep and the Pitch. On any given snap, even the Offensive Coordinator cannot be entirely sure which player is going to have the football!

An additional benefit is that you are using Inside Zone Blocking, and you can built on this for many other plays. With only slight changes, you can run a Lead play, Dart or Outside Zone. Getting your players to understand the concept of zone blocking (not to mention teaching your Quarterback to read), can go a long way to creating a complex and complete Spread Offense running game.

The Read Element

The read element of your Zone Read Option will work off of the back side Defensive End. If we are running the play to the right, we might call “Zone Read Option Right” (or something shorter), telling the Running Back and Offensive Line to run the Inside Zone play to the right.

The Quarterback then reads the back side Defensive End, the first player head-up to outside of the Left Tackle. While there are many ways to teach the QB to read, reading the outside jersey number is a good starting point. If the outside jersey number turns inside or collapses to attack the running back, the QB should keep. If the outside number does not attack the back, the QB should give the football.

When in doubt, we teach the Quarterback to always give the football. After all, the Offensive Line is blocking for him, and he should be our top ball handler here!

If the Quarterback decides to keep the football, he attacks to replace where the Defensive End left. He should be replacing the outside hip of the Defensive End. Now we move on to the final element of our Option.

The Pitch Element

The pitch key for the Quarterback after he keeps the ball off of the read on the Defensive End is the next man outside. This is normally some sort of overhang player or Outside Linebacker. In some cases, such as the diagram here, there is no overhang – and therefore no read. If the pitch key does not exist, the Quarterback should keep the football. He should only pitch if he is forced to.

The Quarterback attacks through where the DE left, with eyes on the pitch key. If the pitch key widens to respect the pitch, the Quarterback keeps the ball and gets upfield immediately. He should not continue to bow his path out, but gain positive yards immediately.

If the pitch key does not respect the pitch, and instead attacks the Quarterback, the QB pitches the football to his back in pitch relationship for a big gain.

You can get any player into pitch relationship using motion, including backside and play side Slot Receivers, running backs from split back, and anywhere else you can dream up.

The Zone Read Option is a major part of our Spread Running Game. You can learn more about the offense with our latest eBook, Spread Offense: The Running Game. It is available for immediate download.

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Side note: the diagram for this play was drawn on my iPad in an app called CoachMe, you can see it at I’m not selling it by any means, and I’m not thrilled that the URL is in the middle of a diagram on an app I paid for. BUT, this is the best app for drawing plays on the iPad that I’ve found!