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By Danny Freund, Wide Receivers Coach, University of North Dakota (ND)

North Dakota University threw more back shoulder fades last season than they’re used to, because as wide receiver coach Danny Freund puts it, “we had good size and athleticism, but lacked the speed to consistently run past defensive backs in our league.” But the Fighting Hawks found themselves running past the rest of the competition this season in the Big Sky, sharing the conference title with an undefeated in-conference record. Coach Freund details how he teaches his receivers to gain separation by reading the defenders eyes and leverage and to make a play on the ball in both red zone and big field situations. Read the report.


By Danny Freund
Wide Receivers Coach
University of North Dakota (ND)
Twitter: @dfreund7

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A well thrown back-shoulder fade is a major weapon. We believe in throwing back-shoulder because it is hard to defend when executed, and usually gives the receiver a chance to make a play on the ball or draw a pass interference call. We throw a quick game back-shoulder route against press man in the open field and red zone. We also ask the quarterback to read the defender and throw back shoulder on go routes, wheel routes and fade routes from the slot. 

This isn’t an easy throw or route. We practice it every day in some fashion because the concept depends heavily the tempo of the throw and speed/adjustment/separation of the receiver. These daily reps develop the confidence and timing it requires to execute on game day.

We threw more back shoulder balls last season because our wide receivers had good size and athleticism, but lacked the speed to consistently run past defensive backs in our league.

Types of Back-Shoulder Throws

We break this concept down into two types back-shoulder throws. The first is what I typically think of as a back-shoulder throw; a quick fade ball in the red zone or open field. The second version is where the quarterback and receiver making adjustments on certain deep routes based on the leverage and eyes of the defender.

3-Step Back-Shoulder

This is a ball that is thrown versus tight or press man coverage. There are a lot of factors that go into making this work, but the most important being the placement and tempo of the throw. A perfect ball can potentially make up for a poor release by the receiver and good defense by the defensive back. As a general aiming point for the quarterback, we tell him a foot above and a foot behind the wide receiver’s back shoulder. It is really important this type of throw has some tempo to it. We want the receiver to flip his hips and adjust late to the throw, leaving the defender with little reaction time to make a play on the ball or receiver’s hands.

It is very difficult to complete this throw if the quarterback misses inside. It no longer becomes a “back-shoulder” if the ball is thrown to the front of the receiver! The ball is more likely to be caught if it is at shoulder level or above. If the throw is lower, then it should be a little more behind the receiver to clear the defender’s body.

More often than not, this is a ball thrown into the boundary. It is a higher percentage throw because the ball travels a shorter distance. It is a precise throw and the shorter distance allows for better accuracy. It is also typical to see more press man coverage into the boundary, which is the only coverage we attack with the three step-back shoulder.

Continue to the full-length version of this report…

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  • The coaching points of the three-step back-shoulder fade including how many steps the receiver should work before looking back at ball, how he uses his upper body at the top of the route, and how Coach Freund teaches receivers to keep the ball away from the defender at the catch point.
  • The three situations that Coach Freund likes to utilize the deep back-shoulder fade route.
  • The coaching points of the deep back-shoulder fade including how he teaches his receivers to sell the vertical route, how to lean into the defender and why he teaches a longer throw with less tempo on these routes.
  • Plus, narrated and raw game cutups of North Dakota’s back shoulder fade concepts.

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Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts on the back-shoulder throw and adjustments to it. We believe strongly in these coaching points and emphasize them daily to have the ability to perform at a high level. It takes timing, accuracy, technique and athleticism at the finish to have consistent results with this concept. We have improved a little more each season as we better understand how to teach it and commit to repping it in practice.  

Meet Coach Freund: Danny Freund is the wide receivers coach at his alma mater, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. He has coached at UND for six seasons and worked with the running backs and quarterbacks prior to taking over the wide receivers the last 3 seasons under Coach Bubba Schweigert. UND was 9-3 and Big Sky Conference champions in 2016. Freund started his college coaching experience as a graduate assistant QB coach at Carthage College.  



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