Football Drills for the Running Back
- Running back drills should emphasize getting a quick start, securing the handoff, evading tacklers, catching passes, and blocking, according to football drills expert Tom Bass
- Taking the proper stance puts the running back in position to get a good start
- Proper footwork and hand position are the keys to securing the handoff
- Learning to make good cuts and crossovers can help the running back elude the defensive lineman in his path.
- Running good routes are the basis of a running back’s success in catching passes
- A running back can increase his value by becoming a good blocker
Getting a Clean Start
Taking the proper stance helps the running back get started quickly. The player should stand with his feet even and apart the width of the shoulders. He bends his knees and can either put one or two hands on the ground or stand with his hands on his thigh pads. His first step should be a short step using the foot on the side that is in the direction he will be moving, unless he is moving laterally. In that case, he begins with a crossover step, using the foot that is on the other side of the direction in which he wants to move. He steps across his other foot so that he is facing sideways. A running back drill that covers all of these points has the coach first make a hand signal that lets the running back know that he should get into his stance. Then the coach calls out the direction that the running back will be moving. The running back takes only the first step and then stops so that the coach can check his technique.
Securing the Handoff
Both the running back and quarterback must execute the proper footwork for a handoff to be timed properly. The running back must learn all of the coach’s running plays and know which path to take. He also must position his arms correctly to form a pocket where the quarterback can place the ball. The arm that is on the side closest to the quarterback is the upper arm in this pocket. The elbow should be just below the shoulder, with the forearm straight across the chest. The other arm is held straight across the lower belly. When the quarterback puts the ball into the pocket, the running back grasps the ball with both hands. He should grab the ends of the ball so that his forearms form a shield over it. The quarterback and running back should drill the handoff exchange repeatedly for different plays.
To get decent yardage, a running back needs to break tackles or evade them completely. Then he must do the same to linebackers and defensive backs. Two good ways to evade tacklers are the cut and the crossover. To make a cut to the left, the running back starts with a short step with his right foot to the outside of the tackler. He moves this head and shoulders quickly to the right, as a fake, while planting his right foot and taking a quick step to the left with his left foot. He continues with a long step in the same direction with his right foot. For the crossover, the running back starts his move when he is still about 4 yards away from the tackler. To crossover to the left, the running back takes a short step with his right foot toward the outside of the defensive lineman. He takes a second step with his left foot straight at the tackler while faking to the right with his head. He then steps across the left foot with his right so that he can move sharply to the left. A running back drill to practice these moves has the coach standing 10 yards in front of the running back. The coach calls out “cut” or “crossover” and the direction, and the back runs toward the coach and performs the maneuver. The drill should start out at half speed and then speed up as it is repeated.
To be an effective pass receiver, a running back must learn all of the pass routes. There are short, medium, and deep routes. For the running back, the short routes are the flat, the wide, and the angle. The medium routes are the out, the in, and the stop. The deep routes are the flat and up, the fan, the seam, and the post. The coach should drill the running back on these routes by having them run in random order.
A running back needs to be able to block for both running plays and passing plays. For running plays, the running back should try to block only one side of a defender. The back should run straight at the defender and launch his shoulder and forearm at the defender’s hip. He hits the hip that is on the same side that his teammate will be running the ball. He slides his helmet past the defender to help seal him off. For passing plays, the running back must set up and wait for a rushing defender to approach. It is often easiest for him to alter the rush so that the defender runs too far wide of the quarterback and misses him. He positions himself between the rusher and the quarterback and spreads his feet slightly more than shoulder width. He bends his knees slightly while keep his back straight. He positions his elbows belt-high and bends them so that his forearms are in front of his numbers. He uses his legs to explode toward the defender and initiate contact.
Tom Bass has also developed drills for defensive backs, defensive linemen, linebackers, and wide receivers, as well as other positions. His book Football: Skills & Drills (Human Kinetics Publishers, 2004) provides more details on the drills described above as well as other running back drills.
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