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5-Step Passing Game Protection: Sliding to Protect

by: Chuck Hepola
Running Backs Coach, Nicholls State University
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We run a multiple pro-style offense. Our offense is designed to be balanced while taking what the defense gives us. In order to execute our offensive system, every position has a specific job and the running back position is heavily involved in every area. One area that is not often discussed but is an enormous part of our balanced offense is pass protection. Whether a team throws a lot or very little, pass protection is a vital part of any offense. Every time the QB drops back to throw, he must have complete faith and confidence in those who are protecting him.

We try to instill into our running backs the mindset that absolutely no one will get to the QB. The combination of our mindset, protection scheme and the pass protection techniques used by each position group leads us to believe that we can consistently protect the QB.

6-Man Slide Protection – A Total Team Effort

The 6-man slide protection is utilized in our 5-step passing game. We can protect 6 with the 7th rusher being controlled by the QB and our built in ‘hot’ or sight adjusted routes. We utilize a half-man and a half-slide protection principle. Half of our line is responsible for sliding to their protection responsibility and half of our line and running back utilizes a man principle to execute their side of the protection responsibility. Our 5-step passing game is a total team effort. Our protection schemes, routes, QB drops, and hot principles are all tied together to make our passing game efficient and difficult to defend.

Our 6-man slide has specific protection rules for our offensive line and running backs that will match up to any front. If the offensive line and running backs maintain their rules, have the right mindset and trust their technique, then our protection will be successful. Below are our basic rules for our offensive line and running backs.


1. Offensive Line Protection Responsibility: 4 bigs (defensive line) to the Will LB.

2. Slide Rule: Slide begins toward the “A” gap defensive lineman. The slide can be a 3-man slide or a 4-man slide depending upon where the “A” gap defensive lineman is aligned (See Diagrams 1, 2 and 3). We try to keep three hands on the “A” gap player while keeping two eyes on the Will linebacker.

Diagram 1.

Diagram 2.

Diagram 3.

3. Man Rule: The offensive linemen that are not involved in the slide have a man principle. A man block means that the offensive linemen will have a single block with no help.

Running Back Rules

1. Running Backs Protection Responsibility: Double read, Mike LB to Sam LB.

2. Double Read Rule: The running backs’ rule is to protect first, then release. “If in doubt, check it out.” Always read inside/out. Our read rule is to read inside to our secondary threat outside.

As stated earlier, the running backs have an important responsibility in protections and they must first be taught their protection rules before they worry about technique. To help our running backs successfully execute their assignments, we break down their techniques into I.D., body position, feet, hat and hand placement and hips. Here are the fundamental techniques for each:


The number one priority in any type of protection is to line up correctly and identify your protection responsibility. We utilize a pre-snap read to identify their protection. It is also important for the running back to understand the protection well enough to know where the QB will set up.

Coaching Point Summary: Pre-Snap rule - Line up correctly and identify your protection responsibility.


On the snap of the ball we want our RBs to be aggressive. We want them to be the hammer and not the nail. We maintain a separation from the QB without getting into the L.O.S. which could bump off an offensive lineman. We always want to maintain our body position so that we protect the inside first while keeping our butt aimed at the QB. Always protect your inside – this is the quickest and most dangerous path to the QB. Keep your pad level lower than the defenders and bend your knees, not your waist.
Coaching Point Summary: Keep your pad level down and protect inside out.


    In pass protection, or in any style of blocking, your feet are the most important part of your body. Keeping your feet moving and maintaining a good base allows you to execute your assignment. As the defender tries to move, keep your feet moving and mirror the defender.

Coaching Point Summary: “You block with your feet, but you make contact with your hands.”


Contact should be made with the palms of the hands. Punch at the sternum. Keep your elbows in tight with your thumbs up and your fingers out. After contact, lock your arms out in a full extended position so that you can steer the defender.

Coaching Point Summary: Elbows should be in, thumbs up, fingers out and make contact with palm of the hands.


Snap your head back on the punch and keep your shoulders rolled back. This will allow for separation. Keep your eyes on the defenders sternum.

Coaching Point Summary: Snap your head back on contact.


On contact, uncoil from the hips and explode upward and outward at the defenders sternum. Avoid bending at the waist because this will tip your pads and give the defender a lever to grab.
Coaching Point Summary: uncoil hips and explode upward and outward while lowering your hips.

The running backs at Nicholls State are expected to do their part to help execute our multiple pro offense. These rules and techniques are important to our players and hopefully, this information can help your offense “slide to protect.”

About the Author: Chuck Hepola enters his third season this fall as Associate Head Coach, Recruiting Coordinator and Running Backs Coach at Nicholls State. He previously coached at Louisiana-Monroe, East Central University, and Tulsa. Hepola has a Bachelor’s Degree from Evangel University and a Master’s Degree from Drury University.

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