By Ken Wilmesherr, Assistant Football Coach, Grossmont College, El Cajon, Calif.
The combination (combo) block is an easy way to get a body on one defender while picking off another to give your running game a distinct advantage.
In the combo block, there are two adjacent offensive linemen (center and guard, guard and tackle, or tackle and tight end) working together when performing the block with one being designated as the post blocker and the other as the seal blocker. The combo block is executed as two adjacent linemen block a first-level defender (defensive lineman) to a second-level defender (linebacker or possible a safety). As the initial block occurs, one of the blockers gains leverage and vertical push to come off to a second-level defender.
Play-Side & Backside Combos
Before getting into the footwork and execution of successful combo blocks, as well as the drills needed to teach this skill, it is best to know who is involved in specific blocks.
The terminology used for play-side combos are Jack, Queen and King.
DIAGRAM 1: Jack Combo Block. Jack is a combo block between the center and call-side guard working to a play-side linebacker (LB).
DIAGRAM 2: Queen Combo Block. Queen is a combo block between the play-side guard and play-side tackle working a down defender to a play-side LB.
DIAGRAM 3: King Combo Block. King is a combo block between the play-side tackle and the play-side tight end (TE) working a down defender to a play-side LB or safety.
There are also backside combination blocks and the terminology for these combos is Ace, Deuce and Trey.
DIAGRAM 4: Ace Combo Block. Ace is a combo between the center and play-side guard working a down defender to a backside LB.
DIAGRAM 5: Deuce Combo Block. Deuce is a combo between the play-side guard and the play-side tackle working to a backside LB.
DIAGRAM 6: Trey Combo Block. Trey is a combo block between the play-side tackle and the play-side TE working a down defender to a backside LB.
When teaching the combo block, it is best to work inside-out when drilling both the play-side and backside combos.
After figuring out who they are blocking, instruct your players about the footwork needed to make their combo blocks a success. Keep in mind that offensive linemen have a position step with the lead leg and a power step with the drive leg.
DIAGRAM 7: Post Blocker. The post blocker steps with either his inside foot or his outside foot, depending on the down defender’s alignment.
If the defender is head-up on the post blocker, then he takes a four-inch lateral jab step inside (position step) because the down defender could spike (stunt inside).
If the down defender is aligned where he is not a threat to spike inside, then the post blocker now steps with his outside foot (position step).
The second step (power step) is a vertical step up the field, which gets vertical movement on the down defender.
DIAGRAM 8: Seal Blocker. The seal blocker’s first step (position step) is slightly sideways and upfield with toes pointing forward and shoulders square — it is called a slide step.
The second step is a vertical (power) step, which gains depth into the defender by getting the necessary vertical push on the down defender.
Proper weight distribution is important in the stance. For both blockers, the first step is a directional acceleration step (position step) with the lead leg. The second step is a power or explosive step along with the drive leg.
When teaching any run block, talk in terms of position and power steps, as well as getting depth into the defender. It is important to maintain the proper base of support in the third steps and
When driving the defender, it is important the offensive lineman keeps his hips under his base of support as the defender is working to create separation. It is also imperative that the offensive linemen drive and react to the defender as the defender is trying to create separation.
It is imperative the post blocker and the seal blocker keep their shoulders square (do not get turned) and stay hip-to-hip. The position step by the seal blocker is important because he has to be on the proper angle to block the down defender. Make sure he is not stepping underneath himself with the position step because then his hips and shoulders turn, which means he’s losing power and balance, thus allowing the defender to possibly split the block.
It is important that the post blocker and the seal blocker maintain a hip-to-hip relationship on contact and throughout the block until one of the blockers comes off.
More than just footwork, a combo block is successful when the offensive linemen use proper power through their motions. Both linemen must punch upward on the down defender’s breastplates to try to get lift (hit on the rise).
The post blocker punches the breastplate of the down defender with his outside hand, keeping the inside hand free for the LB run through. One of the post blocker’s objectives is to gain leverage on the down defender by lifting his shoulder pads.
The seal blocker punches the breastplate of the down defender with his inside hand, keeping his outside hand free.
We use the phrase “step, punch and eyeball” the second-level defender when teaching combo blocks. Both offensive linemen get vertical push on the down defender (drive the down defender up the field) until the LB, who is usually the second-level defender, commits. When the second-level defender commits, he can do one of three things: run through, scrape over the top or hang.
If the LB runs through, the action turns into an inside-out combo block. If the LB scrapes over the top, the action turns into a post-seal combo. If the linebacker hangs, then your linemen need to get vertical push on the down defender until the LB commits.
When linemen are performing the combo block, it is imperative that they stay on the proper blocking angle until they get to the depth of the second-level defender. Also, the second-level defender’s alignment may determine whether he is going to run through or go over the top. The closer the second-level defender’s alignment is to the seal blocker, the more likely he is going over the top.
When first teaching the combo block, do not place a second-level defender into your drills. Offensive linemen (especially young ones) have a tendency to come off the down defender too soon, which disallows for the necessary vertical push needed at the point of attack.
Tell your linemen that a down defender makes tackles for losses and a second-level defender just makes tackles, so blocking the first-level defender is critical. Once the two adjacent offensive linemen properly execute the proper technique on the down defender, then place a second-l evel defender into your drills.
Be sure your players understand that the objective of the combo block is to get leverage and vertical movement on the first-level defender…then, to seal the second-level defender.
Try the following two drills to work on your combo blocks.
Combo Drill. Place the post and seal blocker into a fit position on the down defender with a shield as they eyeball the LB. The two blockers combo the down defender using the proper footwork and hand placement while working to the LB.
This drill teaches them to eyeball the LB and to take over the down defender as one is working to the second-level defender. It is critical that they both have their eyes on the second-level defender. The second-level defender’s movement indicates which offensive lineman comes off and when to come off the block. This dill can be taught from the fit to the finish or from a three-point stance to the finish.
Alignments Drill. After they understand the concept of the combo block, line up two offensive linemen and two defenders (a down defender and a second-level defender). Place the defenders in different alignments.
First, have the down defender in an outside shade and run through your alignments. In Jack, the down defender is in a 1-technique. In Queen, the down defender is in a 3-technique and in King the down defender is in a 5-technique — all positioned in outside shades to the call side.
Always give a snap count. On the snap, both offensive linemen get vertical push on the down defender, while executing the proper technique of the combo block. Look for the proper footwork, pad leverage, the proper punch, hip-to-hip relationship and eye-balling the second-level defender.
Then, have the down defender align head-up on the post blocker and repeat the drill. It is important that you work against all possible stunts by the down defender and the LB’s three paths — run through, hang and scrape over the top. You can work this drill live or against shields.