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Five-Step Protection Scheme

Olivet Nazarene University
by: Jay Bohner
Offensive Line Coach, Olivet Nazarene University
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At Olivet Nazarene University we base all of our passing philosophies on protecting the quarterback first. Our five-step passing game is based on three different protection schemes, the ability to have 7, 6, or 5 men to stay in and protect the passer. Which protection we use is not always based on formation, but rather we base our protection scheme on the needs of a particular route concept. Sometimes we will line up with two backs in the backfield. But a particular route concept may call for one of those backs to go out into the route, so even with two backs in the backfield we would use our 6 man pass protection scheme. While some of the descriptions of these schemes may sound elaborate, our players find them very easy to incorporate on the field. As with all protection schemes we can and will make adjustments based on our opponents but I will describe our basic rules and concepts in this article.

Seven Man Protection:
This is our max protection scheme and is used with our route concepts that only require three receivers to be in the route. The protection scheme incorporates a big on big, our offensive lineman on their defensive lineman, blocking scheme. Our five offensive linemen are responsible to block the four down defensive lineman, and the Mike linebacker.

Diagram 1. 7 Man vs. Even Front

Diagram 2. 7 Man vs. 5 man Front

Diagram 3. Man vs. 3 D-Line Front

Typically we identify the Mike linebacker as any true middle linebacker that aligns off the ball and directly over our center. Or, if there is no true middle linebacker we will identify the first inside linebacker to the weak side of the offensive formation (we will call a strong side with every formation we have) or the second inside linebacker to the strong side of the offensive formation as the Mike. Our running backs are responsible for any other defensive player that may blitz. Our fullback is responsible for the strong side of the formation working from the inside out (inside defenders to outside defenders), and the tailback is responsible for the weak side of the formation also working inside out.

Every time our offense comes to the line of scrimmage our center is responsible for calling out the Mike linebacker’s number and our running backs’ are responsible for echoing the call. This ensures that everyone involved in the protection scheme knows exactly who they are responsible for and by calling out the Mike linebacker’s number every play we will not give away what play we are about to run.

Besides identifying the Mike linebacker the key to this protection is also identifying who the four defensive linemen are. This is typically not a problem versus an even front 40-style defense but can become more complicated versus some of the odd front defenses and three defensive linemen schemes that are becoming more and more popular each year. When we face a defensive front with five men on the line of scrimmage we will typically identify one of these men as an outside linebacker or safety that has walked up on the line of scrimmage. Our rule for this identification process is pretty simple: if one of the defenders that has been playing as an outside linebacker or safety is up on the line of scrimmage that is the man we will identify as not being part of the four down defensive lineman. If there is not an obvious non-defensive lineman type player walked up, we will identify the last man on the line of scrimmage to the strong side of the formation as not being a four down defensive lineman, thus making that defender the responsibility of the running backs.

When facing a three man defensive line scheme we will identify the three down defensive linemen, a Mike linebacker and a Buck linebacker as the responsibilities of the offensive lineman with the outside linebackers and safeties as the responsibilities of the running backs. Essentially, we will identify the two most inside linebackers as the Mike and the Buck linebackers and all others as outside linebackers and safeties. (See Diagrams 1, 2, and 3: 7-Man Protection Schemes)

6 Man Protection:

Our six-man five step protection scheme is based on man and slide protection principles. We use our six-man protection scheme when the route concept requires four receivers to be in the route. We break the six-man protection down into two sides, the side of the offensive line that the running back is going to and the side away from the running back’s initial path. The side we send our running back to is determined by where we want his check down route to be if there is no defender for him to block.

Versus an even and most odd man fronts the offensive guard and tackle to the running back’s side will block the 1st and 2nd down defensive linemen past the center to their side of the ball. The running back will then be responsible for the inside to the outside linebacker or safety to that same side, always working inside defender to outside defender. The center, guard and tackle away from the running back will slide and protect the initial gap to their outside. For instance, if our running back is blocking to the right side of the line, the center will block the left A gap, the left guard will block the left B gap, and the left tackle will block the left C gap. If the center has no immediate threat to his A gap, he will post any defender to his inside gap (a “one” technique defender) helping the guard to the side in which the running back is going, to help protect against the defender that has been labeled one to that side. It is imperative that while posting that defender, the center’s eyes must be in his A gap ready to protect against any defender that is moving in to threaten that area.

Diagram 4. RB "right" 6 man vs. even front

Diagram 5. RB "left" 6 man vs. even front

Diagram 6. RB "right" 6 man vs. odd 5 man front

Diagram 7. RB "left" call vs. 3-man line front

Diagram 8. RB "left" call vs. 3-man line front with the nose going away from the running-back's protection side

Diagram 9. RB "right" 6 man vs. even front with 3 defenders on the line of scrimmage away from the RB's protection side

The protection scheme changes a little bit when facing a three man line scheme with a “zero” technique (head-up on the center) nose guard or an odd front with a “zero” technique nose guard and only one other defensive lineman to the side in which the running back will be helping to protect. In this case, the guard to the side in which the running back is helping to protect will still label the nose guard as the number 1 down defender to his side; however, if that nose guard slants away from the guard he will then join in the slide scheme protecting his inside A gap. If the nose guard rushes straight ahead or slants to the guard to the side that the running back is helping to protect then the guard will block him just like he would any other defender he had labeled as number one to his side.

Another instance in which the protection scheme will change is if there are three defenders on the line of scrimmage to the slide side (away from the running back’s protection responsibilities) of the protection scheme. In this case a “three” call will be made alerting the center, guard, and tackle on the slide side that they now must account and block the three defenders on the line of scrimmage to their side. (See Diagrams: 4-9: 5-Man Protection Schemes)

5-Man Protection:

Our five man drop back protection scheme is based on three principles: first, that the most defenders they can rush is six, so we want to make sure that if they bring a sixth rusher he is the most outside rusher, and second, all route concepts are from a shot gun formation and are designed to have the ball thrown immediately upon the quarterback reaching his fifth step. So, if they do bring six, the ball should be gone before the sixth defender can reach the quarterback. Third, because this is a formation we will only use once or twice a game, we try not to be too elaborate with the protection schemes.

Diagram 10. 5-man vs. event front

Diagram 11. 5-man vs. odd 5-man front

Diagram 12. 5-man vs. odd 3-man front.

Using these basic principles as our guide we designed our five-man protection scheme based on man protection concepts. Once again we will label all down defensive linemen and will account for them using primarily the offensive linemen that they are covering to block them. All uncovered offensive linemen will then protect inside out on potential linebacker or safety blitzes to their side. Remember, our main emphasis is to protect the inside first and if we can bump an outside blitz defender off of his initial rush path late then we should have the pass thrown long before he is able to get there. (See Diagrams 10-12: 5-Man Protection)

Drilling the 5-step
Protection Schemes:

At Olivet Nazarene University we spend about 20-25 minutes a week drilling individual pass blocking techniques for the offensive line. We then incorporate a 15 minute period during Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday practices that involves picking up our opponent’s blitzes that week. The offensive linemen will come together with the running backs and on Tuesday and Wednesday practice days we will run a full speed blitz pick-up drill using all of our backfield sets and protection schemes versus all of our opponent’s blitzes that we have seen on film for that week. On Thursday we will incorporate the same drill but will run it using a “thud” (full speed but stop on contact) pace. This gives our running backs and offensive linemen a feel for working with each other as well as a good recognition of what they can expect to see on game day.

We also will break down the different groups working together during the pre-season and spring practice days. When we are inserting our six-man drop back protection scheme we will work a three man slide drill where we use a three on four (two down defensive linemen and an inside and outside linebacker) look and incorporate the gap principles versus all the stunts we can possibly come up with in that particular set. We also will do a four on three drill incorporating our running backs with the offensive line and our man blocking principles. We will use the same three on four drills for drilling our entire five-step drop back pass blocking schemes during the season if our opponent is using a unique or difficult blitz combination that week. (See Diagrams 13-21: 4 on 3 Blitz Pick-Up Drills)

Diagram 13. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "slide" side center, guard and tackle

Diagram 14. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "slide" side center, guard and tackle

Diagram 15. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "slide" side center, guard and tackle

Diagram 16. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "slide" side center, guard and tackle

Diagram 17. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "slide" side center, guard and tackle

Diagram 18. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "man" side RB, guard and tackle

Diagram 19. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "man" side RB, guard and tackle

Diagram 20. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "slide" side center, guard and tackle

Diagram 21. 4 on 3 blitz combos vs. "slide" side center, guard and tackle


Like I had stated earlier in the article we base all of our passing game off of our protection schemes first. If we do not see a sound way in which we can incorporate a certain route scheme and still have a sound protection scheme, we will not use that route scheme thatweek. These are the general guidelines that we use to teach the schemes to our offensive linemen. As with anything that you do in football, these schemes are adjusted and tweaked each week to fit the defense that we are facing.

About the author

Jay Bohner

Completing his fifth year as a full-time assistant at Olivet Nazarene, Jay Bohner serves as both offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. A three-year lettermen for Olivet Nazarene, he can be reached at

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