Seattle Seahawks fans are ecstatic with the news that the team has added three-time Pro Bowl LT Duane Brown from the Houston Texans, and Brown is certainly a welcome addition to fill what has been the weakest spot along the line thus far in 2017. However, one concern that was quickly raised by some fans regarding whether or not Brown has any experience in the zone blocking scheme (“ZBS”) and how quickly he could come in and play at a high level since the ZBS can be complicated and take significant time to learn.
If you could have seen me sitting at my desk as I read those comments you would have seen me chuckling. Not in a belittling or demeaning manner in any way, just that asking that question is kind of like asking if Earl Thomas knows how to play free safety in a cover-3 defense.
History of the ZBS
In order to fully understand this, one must first understand the background of the ZBS. The ZBS was originally developed decades ago, was used by a couple of teams in the 1980s, but gained widespread popularity when it was implemented by the Denver Broncos with lethality in the mid to late 1990s. It was there that Alex Gibbs made a name for himself coaching zone blocking and showing the football world how potent a system it could be. Now, I’m not going to ramble on about Gibbs and the history of zone blocking because some guy named Danny Kelly authored an excellent piece on the history of zone blocking for SB Nation a couple of years ago, and I really can’t improve upon that piece.
Alex Gibbs and Gary Kubiak in the 1990s
During the time in the late 1990s that the Broncos running game was tearing up the league under Gibbs direction, the offensive coordinator for those Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos teams was Gary Kubiak. Kubiak, as most will recognize, was the Head Coach for the Broncos when they won Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers, but he got his start in coaching in Denver where he and Gibbs teamed up to lead a rushing attack that was a thing of beauty.
Alex Gibbs and Gary Kubiak in the 2000s
After having teamed up for two Super Bowl titles with the Broncos, Gibbs and Kubiak reunited in 2008 with the Houston Texans when Gibbs was hired to be the offensive line coach for the Texans. Kubiak had been hired by the Texans in 2006, and with Kubiak and Gibbs back together in Houston for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, the duo laid the foundation for a running game that would be among the league's best. Within the system these two created Arian Foster lead the league in rushing yards in 2010 and recorded three consecutive thousand yard seasons. While Gibbs was gone by the time the 2010 season started, the majority of the starters on the Texans offensive line for 2010 and 2011 had been coached by Gibbs in 2008 and 2009.
Alex Gibbs and Tom Cable
In between his stints in Denver and Houston, Alex Gibbs made a stop in Atlanta, where he spent the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons as either the offensive line coach, or as an outside consultant on the offensive line. It was during the 2006 season that the Atlanta Falcons posted the most prolific rushing attack in the last 30 years with Cable as the offensive line coach and Gibbs as a special consultant.
Fitting Duane Brown in all of this
Putting all of these relationships together, Duane Brown spent his first two seasons in the league with Alex Gibbs as his offensive line coach. He spent his first six seasons playing in Gary Kubiak’s ZBS offense. He went to two Pro Bowls and was a first team All Pro in 2012 while playing in the ZBS. He should have the basics of the system down at a level even beyond that of Justin Britt.
Now, Tom Cable has added some wrinkles to his variation of the ZBS, so there will invariably be some things that Brown will need to add to his knowledge base, but he will effectively become another coach for the young linemen on the roster. This could prove especially important when the offseason arrives, as Brown’s intimate familiarity with the ZBS will allow him to be a de facto coach of the system for the younger guys at times of the year when the league prohibits communication between players and coaches.
This could prove huge for the team, as the roster is stocked full of young linemen with significant athleticism and upside who need a teacher to instruct them on the intricacies of the ZBS. In short, because of this factor, I like the addition of Brown better than adding any of the other LTs whose names had been bandied about because Brown comes with the knowledge necessary to mentor the younger guys not just on technique and how to take care of their bodies, but also mentor them on the system in which they play each week.
But I’m getting ahead of myself talking about the offseason here because this team has some postseason hardware to bring home before we start worrying about the offseason.