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Jon Gruden insists Tom Cable hire does not signify Raiders will be a zone blocking team

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Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers

Tom Cable is known for running the zone blocking scheme. He ran it in Oakland when he was their Offensive Line coach from 2007-10 and he has run it in Seattle the past seven years since. But according to Jon Gruden, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Raiders will be a zone blocking team this season.

When asked in an interview with the Mercury News when Cable’s addition means the Raiders will be running zone, Gruden said flatly “No.”

“I think Cable’s background is one of the outside zone, then inside zone, but he’s also a very versatile coach,” Gruden continued. “He’s proven that. He can run gap schemes. He’s going to run what we’re good at running. If we have a good back, and some good linemen and a tight end and a fullback, we’ll have a good running game with Tom Cable. But we’ve got to get the components in place so he can be all he can be. That’s something we’re working on right now. He’s a versatile coach, certainly he’s an expert in the zone scheme and I’m excited about that, but there’s a lot of ways he’s run the ball in his background.”

To get some answers to what this means, I consulted someone who is familiar with Cable’s blocking schemes over the past seven years in Seattle. I spoke with John Gilbert who covers the Seahawks for SB Nation blog Field Gulls.

What Gilbert had to say lined up pretty well with what Gruden said. That being, yes, Cable is a zone guy, but there are some wrinkles to that. I’ll let him tell it.

“Cable is an Alex Gibbs disciple when it comes to the zone blocking scheme, and seems to believe in strict adherence to the blocking assignments for offensive linemen. In terms of those assignments for the offensive linemen, he didn’t change anything over the course of his tenure. However, the offense changed during in his seven years with the club and that change in the offense may have contributed to many of the issues Seattle faced in the running game in 2016 and 2017.

“When Cable arrived in 2011, the Hawks were a run-first team that sent both Marshawn Lynch and FB Michael Robinson to the Pro Bowl behind an offensive line that was made up primarily of youngsters and a couple of castoffs from other teams. LT Russell Okung was in his second season, RG/RT James Carpenter was a rookie, LG Robert Gallery had been signed from the Raiders, C Max Unger was in his third season and first as a starter and RT Breno Giacomini was in his first year as a starter after having spent a couple of seasons on the practice squads of the Hawks and Packers.

“Over time the Seahawks went from being a run first team to a team that threw the ball more. As Russell Wilson’s pass attempts by season went up steadily over the course of his career . . . the Seahawks went from using a fullback on nearly a third of offensive plays (Robinson played 32.38% of offensive snaps in 2012) to using a fullback on less than 10% of plays in 2017.

“So, in short, as the team evolved around Russell Wilson and went from running on 55% of offensive plays in 2012 to running on only 40.6% of offensive plays in 2017, they tried to run from different formations, and that obviously didn’t work.

“In summary, the Hawks didn’t change the blocking scheme up front, but they did try to maintain the same up front blocking with different personnel groupings, which didn’t go very well, as the stats show.

“Cable uses the Gibbs inside zone and wide zone concepts, but while Gibbs famously stated he could turn a garbageman into a guard, Cable likes his linemen big, strong and highly athletic. That allowed him to sprinkle some man blocking/power concepts in at times with great effectiveness.”

Big, strong, and highly athletic? Well, that is just what the Raiders have in their interior offensive line with the trio of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson. And they block for a guy with whom Cable is quite familiar — Marshawn Lynch. Likewise they have a good fullback in Jamize Olawale.

They started last season slowly in a new blocking scheme, but by season’s end, Marshawn and the running game was clicking. It will be Cable’s job to keep doing what they do best.