The Denver Broncos and the NFL lost a coaching legend on Monday. Former Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs passed away today at the age of 80.
Gibbs coached the Broncos' unit for 14 years and taught offensive lines in the NFL from 1984-2013.
It's a sad day, but some solace can be found by remembering Gibbs' legacy. He is a legend because of how he changed the NFL running game, and, most importantly, offensive line principles. His influence lives on today in many rushing attacks throughout the NFL.
Gibbs is often given credit for inventing the zone blocking scheme (ZBS) as it is often referred to, but this is not entirely correct. The ZBS has roots dating back to the late 1940s and early 1950s and Gibbs got a taste for its concepts when studying the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1980s.
He was the first to introduce the wide zone run as a staple in the offense which propelled the ZBS into a juggernaut for the Broncos in the late 1990s. Gibbs' concepts consisted of many things, but most notably, offensive linemen were not required to attack downfield with power, they moved laterally to, for lack of better words, get in the way of defenders and get them moving laterally.
Thus, the scheme required smaller more athletic linemen, which was not the norm in the NFL. Another tactic that was extremely effective was offensive linemen would cut the backside pursuing defenders to free up cut-back lanes for the ball-carrier.
This is definitely is an oversimplification because Gibbs’ scheme was based on precise timing and incredible synchronicity. The offensive line worked together as a unit and the running backs had specific requirements, for instance, he must make a decision by his third step. The offense also needed a quarterback that could run an effective bootleg to slow down the backside rusher and wide receivers who could block.
This precision and the combination of Hall-of-Famer Terrell Davis (the perfect running back for the ZBS), a mobile John Elway at quarterback, two receivers (Ed McCaffery and Rod Smith) that were solid blockers downfield, an offensive line put together specifically to run the ZBS, and Gibbs culminated in the Broncos winning back-to-back Super Bowl titles and a 2,000-yard rusher in 1998.
Gibbs was able to get many 1,000-yard running backs in the years that followed, but none of those teams had the perfect combination of those ’97 and ’98 teams.
Bringing the ZBS to prominence in the late 90s still has lasting effects on today’s offenses. Many are still using the concepts today even though rules have been changed to decrease its effectiveness.
Gibbs career as an assistant coach had a profound effect on NFL teams, most notably Denver, and he will have a special place in the hearts of Broncos Country. Rest in Peace, Coach Gibbs.
Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.
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