Steelers Hiring Of Jack Bicknell Jr. As The Offensive Line Coach Likely Means Zone Blocking Scheme

The hiring of Jack Bicknell Jr. by the Pittsburgh Steelers Tuesday as their new offensive line coach means that we can probably expect to see a scheme slanted more towards zone blocking in 2013.

The Steelers primarily used a man/power scheme the last several years under the tutelage of Sean Kugler, who left to become the head coach of UTEP following the season, and that included a lot of straight ahead man on man and double teams with the occasional pull on the trap and counter.

While Bicknell is versed a little in the man scheme, he is better known for his affection for the zone scheme, which he ran a lot dating back to his time spent time at Boston College when he was their offensive line coach.

The zone scheme requires athletic lineman that can get off the ball quickly and out into space, and it creates running lanes with defensive players being forced to react on the move. The zone scheme is also less rules based than the power scheme and instead it focuses a lot more on technique. It is designed to open up lanes for a running back to choose from as opposed to being one that is focused on a specific hole or cutback.

The Steelers have drafted four offensive linemen early in their last three drafts in the form of center Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Mike Adams, so the zone scheme should favor their skill sets.

Last season with the Chiefs the Kansas City running game was effective against all four of the AFC North teams last season as they rushed for 214 yards against the Baltimore Ravens , 142 against the Steelers, 113 against the Cincinnati Bengals and 180 against the Cleveland Browns. This certainly did not go unnoticed by head coach Mike Tomlin and he said as much on Tuesday.

“They played the AFC North, and they ran the ball very well against all the teams in the AFC North,” said Tomlin, via “They ran the ball effectively against us when Jamaal Charles had a 100-yard game. That was attractive to me. The plan they were able to put together, the success they were able to have vs. some people we are going to see quite a bit was a selling feature.”

Following the Chiefs game against the Steelers I broke down the stretch zone used by Kansas City in that game and you can see that write up with animated gifs here.

About the Author

Dave Bryan
I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • SteelersDepot

    Although Hal Hunter Jr. wasn’t the hire, here he is explaining the zone stretch that the Chiefs ran last year with Bicknell:—Hal-Hunter/3c57d2f3-7504-40f3-bdc3-5a6a3ea6df72

  • Shea Fahr

    I do like this hire. It is Tomlins 3rd Oline coach in what 6 years or so? This Fan is hoping the 3rd time is a charm.

  • Chris92021

    If you thought Pouncey was great now, wait until what he can do in a zone blocking scheme which will take further advantage of his athletic ability. Same goes for David DeCastro. I also think this pretty much means we are cutting Willie Colon after June 1. What a shame too since he was starting to look good at LG.

  • zyzak

    Love zone schemes Steelers have group to do it

  • JT

    Very informative write up. Good thing this scheme opens up multiple holes, because nobody could find the lane for their life last season. Looking forward to change. This, with Ben and the WRs entering season 2 under Haley makes a dark situation a little promising.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Who are the best zone runners in this years draft?

  • JT

    I just watched the direct snap gif that got posted to twitter, and wow. Teared up a little bit. This could be good. Now the question is who will be hitting the holes…..

  • Robert Bullock

    Dave do you think this means they don’t try and resign Ramon Foster now? He doesn’t seem like a zone blocking type of lineman.

  • Kysteeler

    Andre Ellington of Clemson I think would be the best fit

  • Kysteeler

    Wonder if you could move Pouncey to LG and draft a guy like Barrett Jones?

  • Kevin Gobleck

    That’s who I was thinking

  • LucasY59

    Pouncey wasnt overly impressive IMO when he played LG this season (could be better in a zone scheme) If they draft Jones he could play G (or T) he has played all three positions at Bama, other than Warmack he could be the best OG in this years draft (would have extra value with his position flexability)

  • Mike Carroll

    Anybody know if Kugler ever had any zone blocking experience/history? I just wonder if he was going to be out at the end of the season, regardless of whether or not he got the UTEP job. It sure seems like the zone scheme may have been in the Steeler’s plans ever since the Haley hire, given the athletic linemen they drafted last year.

    Either way, I am getting excited to see how this unit responds next year. The thing I like about the zone stretch play is that it really allows the O-line to attack and dictate play and tempo which is great in itself because it puts a defense on their heels. And under those circumstances I think offensive players are much less likely to be injured.

  • LucasY59

    Kenjon Barner? has the speed and agility to pick the open hole and make a big run

  • LucasY59

    I agree Foster and Colon might be gone if they switch blocking schemes, neither are very good on the move

  • HarryBackside

    Excited about the possible change to a zone blocking scheme. This should make it much easier to find a RB in the draft, without using a high draft pick. All they need is a back who is a good decision maker, and doesn’t necessarily need to be a burner.

  • Jason White

    I watched a lot of film on him. I like him. Shifty running back who doesn’t give up on the play. Seems very fluid when hitting the hole and cutting back. If we truly do go to more of a zone blocking scheme I think he’d be a great fit.

  • Bob Loblaw

    This is good news. Been hoping for them to implement some of this scheme.

  • JT

    I like him. He’s a playmaker like somebody like CJ Spiller. But I don’t see him as an every down back, which is scary.

  • Cody Younkin

    Always wanted a zone blocking scheme, our linemen are built for it. I still want foster to start tho. This really makes me look at Kenjon Barner or Johnathan Franklin, and a shiftier back with good speed AND WONT COAST A HIGH ROUND PICK

  • Clint Martin

    Bout time. Now we need a running back to run it!

  • Pete

    There were very few lanes to speak of last season. That’s asking a lot from your backs with a mish mash O line that couldn’t run block. In the few games Adams played, he was great on the right side during run blocking. Dwyer had back to back 100 yd games and Redman a 147 yd game during that period. Make holes for these guys and they can run. Hopefully, with better health and a new scheme, the O line and the backs can get in sync. Looking forward to see the effects of this hire.

  • Thomas Rancy

    now all we need is a jammal charles and we’l be set, I do love the zone though, I was really getting sick of the power scheme, running backs never have enough options.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    When Sean Kugler was hired there were written articles of optimism about Kugler too.

    I’d settle for just aim to have a “Not-Suck” scheme. Great we’ll get to see Colon continue to jump offsides but in a zone scheme, get to see Colon still driven back into QB, get to see if Adams is still a turnstyle on pass plays. Offense all needs to practice more than last year regardless of scheme. I do agree tho since last several years of our o-line sucked, must try anything new.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Why does that mean Colon wii be cut?

  • Garrett Hunt

    With this hire, I hope we re-sign Mendenhall for relatively cheap. I think his running style is a good fit for a zone blocking scheme… at least better than for a man/power scheme. Plus he should have some extra motivation spending last season as a back up primarily.

  • steeltown

    I’m jumping the gun.. always do when its the offseason and Im getting antsy, but I’m excited about this. I think the talent has been there we needed better technique along the OL and the ability to switch from ‘man’ to ‘zone’ scheme

    Also, staying healthy couldnt hurt either

  • steeltown

    I think the reasoning is he’s a power blocker, not a technique guy

  • steeltown

    Look for Beachum to make a strong push for LG (if Colon and Foster are gone) Beachum really does move his feet well and has good lateral agility and short area quickness. He’s not overly big so that helps overall athletic ability. The Beachum signing now looks even more brilliant, plus he played on the Left side in college

  • steeltown

    I dont think Kugler had any experience in zone, not sure he’d be shown the door this year though.

    I agree about the OL rookies, DeCastro, Adams and Beachum are all athletic guys who could very well be perfect for the zone scheme… and of course you can always throw in Pouncey when speaking of athletic ability

  • Clint Martin

    The running back for zone scheme doesn’t have to be a guy with a blazing 40 time just a guy that can recognize a lane and be quick to get into that lane.
    Montee Ball is also this type of back he is quick. I don’t think any running backs are worthy of a 1st round this year. the talent is mostly 3rd and 4th rounds.

    Unless a team is in love with a guy and has a pressing need for that position.
    Barner,Franklin, and Ball should be around still in 3rd and 4th.
    And in closing it does look like Barner or Franklin would now fit the Steelers system well.

  • Clint Martin

    Maybe Ben can run the inside zone read! LMAO

  • Clint Martin

    I think it might be the writing on the walls for the running backs, I don’t know if it fits their style. Maybe Dwyer.

  • Chris92021

    I won’t say Beachum gets THE shot at LG just yet. I won’t make any commitments until the draft ends. If we somehow end up with Chance Warmack at 17 (and remember, we got David DeCastro at 24 last year), then Beachum can serve as a swing man. I still think Beachum’s best strength is his versatility. I would actually like to see him get some reps at C . The real question I have is: who will Bicknell favor more: Max Starks or Marcus Gilbert at LT?

  • steeltown

    I see Beachum as the backup Center for the future, while serving as a swing guy. Coming out of college he was projected as an interior lineman that ‘could’ play Center due to his intelligence. Legs is a FA and he really only plays Center well, he is a below average Guard

  • Garrett Hunt

    I go to Clemson so I have seen every play he has made, and agree that it would be a good fit. However JT, he is nothing close to CJ Spiller when it comes to playmaking, and seems to me like he could be an every down back at some point.

  • Mike Carroll

    From the few highlights I’ve watched, Ellington is a home run threat type of back and reminded me of Chris Johnson to some extent, though I am sure he is not quite as fast. It doesn’t seem like he can be a feature back, but he could a great complement to guys like Dwyer and/or Redman.

  • steeltown

    One thing is almost certain.. if the Steelers move to zone scheme, which it appears they will.. Colon is gone… he’s a power blocker man scheme type guy, not a technique guy with lateral agility.

    I now see Colon being released, probably not till after June 1st though

  • HarryC15

    Le’Veon Bell ran behind a zone blocking scheme his whole career at Michigan State. Strong back that can hit the hole, and isn’t afraid of contact. Also, seems to have nose for the end zone.