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uclaqbBy Sam Nichols, Managing Editor, X&O Labs

How are you coaching the top of the QB drop? See common methondologies and drills here...


By Sam Nichols
Managing Editor
X&O Labs

Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com research report on “Drills to Improve QB Pocket Presence,” which can be accessed in full by clicking here.



uclaqbWhen 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. 

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. 

To stufy film of this drill, click on the video below:


Progression Footwork

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, aPunch 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), millerm7@duvalschools.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) jguest777@gmail.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.




Cone Drills – Steve Day, Southwestern Oklahoma State University (OK) steve.day@swosu.edu

Kliff Drill – Taylor Mazzone, Quarterback Coach, UCLA and member Championship Coaching Systems (www.championshipsystems.com)

OBJECTIVE: To teach the QB how to move his body and feet quickly into his punch stance with proper throwing mechanics and to get the throw off toward his target as fast as possible while being compact and balanced.

DESCRIPTION: The QB needs to be 10 yards from his target and facing away from it.  With a command from his coach, the QB will jog away from his target.  As soon as he gets 2 to 4 strides into his jog, the quarterback will get a second command of either “Easy” or “Hard.”  The “Easy” command requires that the QB flip around the easier way to throw the ball back towards his target, while the “Hard” command requires him to flip around the more difficult way to throw the ball back towards his target.  Do this drill at least three times with each command.  Following this drill, the QB is asked to jog down and backpedal down the line and on a command like “Ball”, the QB will set his feet and quickly throw accurate passes to his target. 





To read more research on QB pocket presence click here.



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