Sure, your QB may be delivering the ball on time and with accuracy in those 7 on 7 drills this month, but we all know football is not played that way once the season gets going this fall. Training your QB to respond when pressure ensues makes average quarterbacks good and good quarterbacks great. XandOLabs.com uncovers over three dozen drills you can do with your QB right now that not only can make him absorb pressure, but be comfortable in it.
By Sam Nichols
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When we first began conducting research on Quarterback development, we cast our net wide. We wanted to explore every component of the position: exchanges, drops, read progressions, throwing mechanics, etc. What we quickly found is that it be difficult to write volumes on this topic, much less a 10,000-word research report like XandOLabs.com is accustomed to doing. So we decided to subscribe to the “addition by subtraction” methodology by simply honing in our research on what a QB does at the top of his drop. How he gets there is one thing- now what does he do when chaos ensues, and whatever well organized scheme or plan flies by the waste side. Many coaches have told us that the easier part of a QB’s footwork progression is the drop, the most difficult is teaching him to move with the ball post-snap.
In many ways, the drop is the simplest part of the pass play from a fundamental standpoint. The answers are straight forward. While coaches may teach different drops, what a Quarterback does at the top of his drop is essential. The variables that exist are all determined by the play call and the situation. But that all changes the second the Quarterback plants his dominant foot and works toward the line of scrimmage to throw the football. At that moment all of the variables that defenses bring come into play. It is that moment where a QB’s ability to execute his footwork under pressure will determine his long-term success at the position. In this case, we will look at how coaches are teaching proper footwork through their route progressions from the last step of their drop to the end of a scramble.
Establishing a Base
Before we begin with the footwork mechanics, it all starts with a solid base, or what Tommy Zeigler, offensive coordinator, Scottsdale Community College, calls his power position. This is what he told us below:
The Power Position: I relate the power position to a golf stance. Feet are usually more than shoulder width apart, weight evenly distributed on the inside part of your feet, front foot/toe NEVER pointed at the target.
We coach our QBs that every throw should be the same and that starts with the "power position" or their base. The way we come to find the "power position" is by finding where their stride takes them. I don't teach a stride so where their body takes them is where we start. Once we find the base we will use for each individual QB we take a ton of time becoming comfortable in that position. We make every throw from the same position stressing the hip turn and follow through.
I teach it this way to cut out on wasted movement and erratic footwork. Also, by having no stride in our throws we’re less likely to be inconsistent with when, where and how your front foot hits the ground…because it’s already there. Lastly, by taking away the stride you are less likely to “over stride” point your toe and lock out the front knee thus negating your full hip potential.
One of the more prominent drills that Ziegler does to teach the power position is what he calls the “Manning Drill” which can is explained in his words below:
The emphasis is to keep our QBs in their power position. Knees bent, elbows relaxed, eyes down field as they work the bags. First time through is typically done without a throw. After going once or twice each way I incorporate a throw.
As the QB navigates the bags in his power position I will then randomly clap at which time the QB will make a throw to a WR 10 yards down the field working within the framework of the bags. The emphasis here is still eyes downfield, relaxed elbows and bent knees...incorporating the throw I talk to the QBs about less being more. I want them keeping their feet active but close to the ground at all times, never on their toes, never feet close together. By staying in the power position they can set their feet and make a throw will no time lost and with power and accuracy.
We asked coaches two questions on the topic of their technique for foot movement while in the pocket / working through a progression. “What do you teach your quarterbacks to do with their feet DURING the progression and after the drop?” and “What do you teach at the TOP of drops?” What we found was that the further we dug into the results, the more clear it was that there are really three separate schools of thought with regards to this part of quarterback fundamentals. The following three schools of thought were:
- A hitching / rhythm approach
- A quiet / statue approach
- A fast feet approach.
Note that each of these approaches have their own advantages and there is most certainly some blending of the concepts from team to team. The real difference between these techniques is the philosophy behind how to get the ball out as quick, accurately, and on time as possible. Here is a look at the arguments for each concepts so that you can determine what best fits your offense / quarterback.
Hitching / Timed Approach
According to our research, the majority of coaches- 44 percent- teach a hitch technique to their quarterbacks at the top of his drop. Kirk Cousins, current Quarterback for the Washington Redskins, told us that Shannahan’s (former head coach Kyle and former offensive coordinator Keith?) coach their QB’s to “read with your feet.” To them that meant that if their feet are moving through their progression and changing their target then they will be on time with their throws and they will have a better gauge of when they need to get rid of the ball. This concept, was echoed by many coaches in our study and was almost always tied to the use of a hitching or shuffle technique in the pocket.
Darin Slack and Dub Maddox at the National Football Academy have built on that line of thinking with their R4 concept. They teach that coaches can streamline their QB’s timing and decision making process by categorizing reads into 4 categories; rhythm (top of drop), read (1st hitch), rush (2nd hitch / blitz) and release (leave the pocket / run). When asked why they prefer this rhythmic method of pocket progressions as opposed to other methods, Maddox said that “Pocket footwork should sync with the rhythm of route breaks and the timeline available based on defensive pressure and coverage. Fast erratic foot fire = fast erratic decision making.
He then argued that if done correctly, a quarterback “can fit 3 routes in a progression in 2.6 seconds...Rhythm route = 1.8, Read route = 2.2, Rush route = 2.6.” The reason it doesn’t happen that quickly or regularly is because players are not taught the process well enough.”
Here are some additional coaching points on the hitch technique from Dub Maddox:
- (The hitch technique) maintain a wider base for quicker weight transfer on the throw and stay in rhythm with route breaks. (It also allows QB’s to) reset their hallway in 1 move to a different WR. Coaching points include:
- feet width being just outside shoulder frame
- hitch move is a 6inch directional move pushing off the back foot on to the front foot with the weight on the insteps of the feet.
- QB can hitch forward, back, right or left depending on where his progression or pressure is taking him.
- Basically it is not different than a boxer. Boxing is about rhythm, power, quickness, timing...
Maddox uses a boxing analogy to prove his point. “The day boxers use "hot feet" in the ring to throw quick, powerful, timing combinations of punches by putting their whole body through their arm...is the day I will start telling my QB's to use "hot feet,” said Maddox.
UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and quarterbacks coach Taylor Mazzone also use the boxer analogy with their description. They call it the punch stance. Here is their rational behind the technique:
The Punch Stance is just that, it’s a stance before releasing a punch. We like our quarterback to be slightly open to his target with his weight loaded on his back leg but keeping his shoulders level. The Punch Stance allows the quarterback to use his large muscles such as his legs, core, hips and shoulders in his throwing motion. One word we use a lot when describing this stance is feeling compact, and in position to make any throw on the field from that stance. In summary, a “Punch Stance” is a strong, balance, compact foundation, where the quarterback can make an accurate throw.
Foot Fire (Air raid) Approach
According to our research, 28.6 percent of coaches teach a foot-fire technique to their quarterbacks after the drop progression. This concept in many ways is the opposite of the rhythmic approach explained above. The philosophy behind this approach is that the rhythm of the hitching method makes it hard, if not impossible for a QB to throw the ball out of rhythm. This makes it harder for him to throw the ball when things aren’t perfect. By using the foot fire approach, the QB always has a foot in the ground and is able to plant and throw at almost any point depending on where and when he sees an opening.
Nick Coleman, the offensive coordinator at Itawamba Community College, subscribes to the Airraid offensive approach and teaches his quarterbacks to use foot fire in the pocket. He said that the key to this technique is “Keeping the base under armpits. By doing so, it allows the quarterback ready at all times. It also accounts for the fact that receivers run routes differently and that timing can be disrupted by defenses.” He also teaches his quarterbacks that they must “speed up their feet in anticipation of the window to ensure they can throw at the moment they want to.
Quiet Feet Approach
The last, and least used of the pocket movement concepts is all about reducing movement. These coaches want their quarterbacks to either barely hop or even not move their back foot at all. Their argument in some ways is similar to parts of each of the previous techniques. They want to combine the calm nature of the hitch with the ability to throw at any time like the foot fire approach. Here are a few comments about this approach:
Stay balanced and keep your back foot on the ground, watch Tom Brady in the pocket, his back foot is always on the ground, he never has to give up that split second to get his back foot back down to deliver the ball, which is why he rarely ever misses an open window. - Marcus Miller, Englewood High School (FL), firstname.lastname@example.org
Balls of the feet, bouncing lightly. I think of "hopping" as coming off the ground more than I would like. I use the term "Pushing the grass down and letting the grass come up." - James Guest, Oviedo High School (FL) email@example.com
Drill Responses on QB In-Pocket Movement
Two constants within each of the pocket movement techniques explained above are the alignment of the feet and body toward the target and the connection between the eyes and the feet. If the QB’s eyes are not working in tandem with his feet and are not able to process information downfield, his great footwork will be a waste. Training this connection within the pocket is something that can be drilled using any pocket movement technique. Below are a variety of drills that coaches submitted as part of our research. Some have video, some do not. In either case, the coach provided his email address for contact purposes. We simply wanted to provide you with some ideas:
Figure 8 Drill – Taylor Mazzone, Quarterback Coach, UCLA and member Championship Coaching Systems (www.championshipsystems.com)
OBJECTIVE: The quarterback develops the feel of knowing where his feet are without using his eyes while keeping the punch stance as he works around obstacles.
DESCRIPTION: This drill requires 8 cones lined up as shown in the illustration below. To increase the challenge, the QB will need his coach to direct him throughout the cones while keeping his eyes on the target. The QB starts from the center of the cones, working his way around the cones to make the figure 8 before coming back to the his starting point at the center of the figure eight. While the QB is sliding around the cones in a throwing position and using his back foot to get around, he must remain alert for a command from the coach to make a throw to his target.
QB Tee Drill, - Ron Raymond, Ottawa University (OR) firstname.lastname@example.org
We use the QB tee, 3.2 seconds, we will spot 3 receivers down field using one of our passing concepts, with the "Touchdown, 1st down and check down" progression. Once the ball is snapped from the tee, we will point to a receiver and the QB must use his 3 reads and hit the open man who shows his hands.
Solve the Problem Drill – Steve Day, Southwestern Oklahoma State University (OK) email@example.com
I call it the 'Solve the Problem'. I'll pick a certain concept or two or three that we will be running that day. I will have my other QBs set up as to where those WRs will be in that particular concept. The QB will take the particular drop involved with that concept. During the QBs drop, I will give them a simple math problem (e.g. 3-1). The QBs then must throw to the corresponding read in that progression. This makes them think on their feet. It's easy for us as coaches just hold up our hand or tell them a number. That isn't making them think. Pointless. If a QB isn't thinking through his progression how is he going to think when he is on the field.
- The coach will decide on which concept he wants to work the progression on. He will then have other QBs stand where the corresponding throws would be (e.g. curl/flat concept).
- QB will execute the corresponding drop to that concept. As the QB takes his drop, the coach will give a math problem (2+1-1).
- QB will then throw to the correct number in the progression (2nd throw in the progression).
- Coaching Points:
- This drill is designed to make QB’s think while they are taking their drop and reading the defense. QB’s must be able to process information as they see their reads develop.
- Make sure the QB throws to the correct progression read.
- No turnovers!
Cone Drill Progression- - Greg Lauri, Nassau CC (NY) Greg.Lauri@ncc.edu
Drill 1 - (5 cones about 1 yard apart, on the line). The QB starts at one end and move forward and back through the cones, always facing the Coach eyes up, finish w/throw
Drill 2 - (6 Cones about 1 yard apart 2 on the line, 2 splitting the line, 2 on the line) QB starts in the middle and makes a figure 8 left, right and forward to back, all while bouncing his feet, finish with a throw.
Drill 3 - (5 cones about 1 yard apart, on the line) QB starts with both feet on the line, he will then weave through the cones flipping his hips left and right, all while bouncing his feet, finish with a throw.
Numbers Flash Drill- Jake Olsen, Loras College (IA) firstname.lastname@example.org
Any footwork drill we always have a coach flashing numbers of fingers at the guys and have them verbally tell us what they see. Any play action where they might lose sight of their read key, they'll do the same thing and locate a coach/read holding fingers up. Specifically, I flash numbers using my fingers (1-5) at various locations around my body or on the side WHILE moving around continuously so the QB performing the drill must always locate me with his eyes. I’ve found this helps keep their eyes downfield during pass rush situations.
Live Pass Rush Drills
OSU Bag Toss Drill - Derick Talty, Northern Valley Demarest (NJ) - email@example.com
We will use the OSU (Ohio State) QB drill. A QB will set up in front of 4 other QB's or coaches about 10 yards away. Each QB will have 2 or 3 tennis balls/footballs to throw at the QB in their drop. The QB will take their drop, and will look at a coach 15 yards down field. The Coach will hold up a different number with their hand, as the QB is focusing on their hand they are to avoid balls being thrown at them. The idea is to sense pressure, avoid it by shuffling away, hitching up and releasing. If the player is hit with a ball they must run a hill.
Dip Technique and Throw Drill - Doug Socha, Head Coach, Oxbridge Academy (FL) Owner of quarterbackdrills.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
DRILL DESCRIPTION- QB’s will navigate with back foot movement through agile bags with eyes downfield. At the last bag the coach will poke at him and QB will use a “dip technique” to avoid. (FRONT ELBOW/SHOULDER DIP)
- Steady carriage during the drop. (No wasted movement)
- QB’s need to initiate all movement with back foot and take small steps.
- Eyes looking downfield with steady upper body.
- Pull down front elbow and shoulder, set feet (platform), and throw.
- Insert Dip Technique and Throw Video
Weave Drill - Tommy Zeigler, Offensive Coordinator, Scottsdale Community College (AZ) email@example.com
Our version of the weave drill. We are predominantly out of the gun but still emphasize taking a snap under center so the first part of the drill is taking a snap and 5 step drop through the bags. Emphasis here is stepping straight back at 6 o'clock and gaining as much depth with our 5 steps as we can. At the top of the drop the QB is pointed (at random) which way to move. We use the language "climb" to move up in the pocket and "create space" to work deeper in the pocket. Same thing here with keeping a good base (power position) and moving quickly but not being erratic with unneeded movement. (Not shown, we also add a throw to the end of this drill)
Pocket Escape Mechanisms
The next section of our research was centered around how to properly escape the pocket when things break down. After the quarterback has worked through his initial progression and is overwhelmed by pressure, he will have to escape to keep the play alive. Before we get into the different drills that coaches use to teach these escape mechanisms, lets take a look at how coaches are teaching players to know when to escape. Here are some approaches that were shared with us as part of our survey.
For us there are two words trouble and pressure. If you are in trouble (being touched or about to be hit) get out of trouble escape and keep the play alive. When our QB is under Pressure(people at his feet, defender being blocked by him) they need to hang in the pocket and deliver an accurate ball. Avoiding pressure and delivering an accurate ball is the most important part of playing QB for us. - Steve McNeely, QB Coach, Mt. Union College, firstname.lastname@example.org
We have a built in escape plan on every pass so it is up to our quarterback. If our QB sees blitz he must attempt to make the hot throw if it is taken away he will escape through B-gap, but making sure his eyes stay down field. – Mike Rowe, Head Coach, Rocori HS
At Anderson we on average can get the ball snapped and thrown in our pass game in roughly 2.5/3 seconds. So anytime we are doing 7on7 or Routes on Air I try to always have distractions for our QB’s. I will throw hand shields at them or take a broom out to practice and swing it at them. I want them constantly having distractions in there face. This way when we get into a game they do not have to worry about being distracted. Typically this is one of the hardest aspects of playing QB. Some QB’s can feel pressure and others cannot feel pressure. This is one aspect that I try not to over coach if we have a QB who can feel pressure. If the QB is savvy and can get out of the pocket I am going to let the QB be an athlete and make plays. – Brian Pitzer, Anderson HS, (OH)
Escape Drill – Joel Gordon, QB / WR Coach, Shepherd University, email@example.com
This drill is used to train QBs to Escape the pocket in a situation where a “free edge or inside rusher” has taken a flat angle to the QB forcing him to Escape “over the top” of the rusher.
Flush Drill – Joel Gordon, QB / WR Coach, Shepherd University, firstname.lastname@example.org
This drill is used to train QBs to Flush the pocket in a situation where the pocket has collapsed with the edge rushers maintaining effective rush lanes.
What Are You Missing?
Join X&O Lab’s exclusive membership website – Insiders – and you’ll get instant access to the full length version of this report including:
- The rest of the over 50 drill concepts that will improve your QB's pocket presence
- UCLA's Chow Drill and Setup Drill that technique reseting feet before a throw.
- Fordham's Bean Bag drill, which teaches QB's to keep their eyes downfield.
- Towson's complete bag drill footwork regiment.
- Henderson State's Move and 3 and Bounce drills that focus on micro movements and feeling when to escape the pocket.
- Itawamba CC's Scramble Drill that teaches proper footwork once the pocket is broken
- Hundreds of coaching points that will increase the impact of your drills and your QB's accuracy.
- Plus film on over 35 of the drills mentioned and more!
Pocket movement is pocket presence and pocket presence equals completions. Spending some extra time on these techniques in the lead up to the season will undoubtedly pay dividends during game time. Stay tuned for additional QB footwork and accuracy piece in the near future.