Building an offensive line: Principles of gap responsibility

By Keith Grabowski | Posted 3/16/2016

Understanding gap responsibility is of utmost importance in both the running game and pass protection. These types of blocking schemes are successful only when linemen are able to clearly see the defenders who become their responsibility as the play moves and develops.

I have two simple rules when teaching gap responsibility from the offensive side: Get creative with what’s happening in the backfield, but keep it simple for the guys up front.

SEE ALSO: Fit your offensive linemen to the blocking scheme

SEE ALSO: Read more of Keith Grabowski’s Building an Offensive Line series

Gap responsibility in zone runs begins with linemen understanding that they are responsible for their gap to the call side. Whether it is a tight zone, mid-zone, wide zone or any other variation, all offensive linemen start with the premise that they are responsible for their play side gap.

The rules for how they are allowed to get to that gap responsibility vary depending on where the zone scheme originates. For example, NFL offensive line guru Alex Gibbs teaches a first step that comes toward the blocker while other coaches may teach a bucket step. Then there’s the punch, which has several variations, but the underlying principle remains the same.

The gap is defined as being from head up on to head up on the adjacent playside lineman. Gap responsibility of zone schemes us explained in the video below.

Gap schemes also can utilize gap responsibility, which allows the teaching of zone schemes to carry over.

The gap responsibility works opposite in a gap scheme, which means the offensive linemen now have the gap away from the play call.

Again, coaches vary the technique and responsibility based on their principles, but, in general, the lineman’s gap responsibility is from head up on him to head up on the adjacent backside lineman. The responsibility typically works all the way back to a puller who is inserting at the point of attack.

Some gap schemes utilize a second puller leaving a gap for either a quarterback read of for a back to fill. Gap responsibility for gap schemes are illustrated in the video below.

Typically, pass protection schemes utilize either gap responsibility, man rules or a combination of the two. The full zone scheme in pass protection has the entire line sliding to a gap in on direction. Typically, a back is responsible for the edge off of the backside tackle.

The variations that include man and zone have one or two linemen assigned to a man and the remaining linemen sliding to a gap responsibility away. A back is assigned to block the gap between the man defender and the lineman zoning away.

While this may seem like a simple concept, it isn’t as easy when everything is moving at full speed. Spending plenty of time drilling both technique as well as seeing patterns of movement is a necessity.

Gibbs has always been adamant that if a coach wants to be a zone team, then that’s all he has time for. Whether a coach sticks with gap, zone, or decides to marry the two with teaching gap responsibility, the best practice to be sure is to keep it simple for the guys up front.

Keith Grabowski has been a football coach for 26 years, currently serving as an offensive assistant and technology coordinator at Oberlin College in Ohio. He previously was a head coach at the high school level for eight years and the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Baldwin Wallace University. Grabowski serves as an advisor for several sports technology companies. He is a columnist for American Football Monthly and writes his own blog at He’s the author of “101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays” and five other books available on and operates Coaches Edge Technologies. Follow him on Twitter @CoachKGrabowski.