The wide receiver corps at North Dakota University prides itself on finishing at the top of routes by executing the proper break points and separating themselves from defenders. The Fighting Hawks also 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. Wide Receiver Coach Danny Freund details the seven drills he uses to emphasize creating separation and attacking the ball at the top of routes. Read the report.
By Danny Freund
Wide Receivers Coach
University of North Dakota (ND)
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We use the following seven drills to emphasize creating separation and attacking the ball at the top of routes. We also want to drill catching the ball, tucking it and turning upfield quickly. We believe in these techniques and want to drill them as much as possible in individual drills and winter/spring/summer season work. Much of our practice time as wide receivers is dedicated to running full routes on air, 1-on-1 or against the defense. These seven drills allow us to save legs and focus attention on the details that give us an advantage getting open and maximizing yards after catch.
Drill #1: Burst Drill
We use this drill to work changing speeds in and out of breaks. The focus is on keeping eyes up and arms tight to the beltline. It is important to emphasize sinking the hips at the top of the route and keeping our feet alive. The players should be on the balls of our feet and keep spacing in our feet to maintain balance. Exploding out of the break and changing speeds fast is important to create separation. We want to work this while maintaining the proper arm drive, eye focus and pad level.
We don’t anything to “tell” the DB when we are breaking our route off. These include looking down with our eyes, decelerating before the break point, having arms get away from our body or beltline, and changing our shoulder pad level drastically. I like to stand at the finish of the drill to determine if anything the receiver is doing is telling the defensive back that he is about to make a break. We talk about selling vertical with speed in most routes we run. They must attack the DB’s cushion and make him uncomfortable. As a change-up to train violent hips and simulate a double move, we will also work a quick one-two stutter at each cone while sinking hips and maintaining balance. At the final cone, we work the top of a curl or comeback working back to the QB.
Drill #2: 45 Degree Transition (Curl/Comeback Breaks)
This is a simple drill to work the top of comeback and curl breaks. With the hard angle breaks, it’s important to coach up running out of the break back to the QB. We get two cuts here. The first break we want to sprint out of it back to the next cone. After coming out of the second break, the coach can throw a ball as the WR sprints through the cone.
We start around 5 yards from the first break and let the guys work a skip release into the drill. This adds a little flavor to the drill. Aside from running out of the break working back to the ball, the main coaching point is to run full speed through the break point (cone). We talk about being “hard through” the top of the route with good arm drive and vertical eyes, because we want to sell the vertical route as hard and long as possible.
Going “hard through” the break will allow us to come back at a sharp angle. This is very important as we never want to get undercut by the DB. At the top, we talk about getting our hips turned quickly and our inside foot’s toes pointed back downhill. One coaching point to getting hips turned and to avoid rounding the cut is to slightly pigeon toe the plant foot.
We also talk about keeping our shoulders and hips down and not popping up or hopping out of the cut; plant your foot and accelerate out. We want our feet to be underneath our frame about shoulder width apart. Like most positions in the game of football, if our ankles are too close together we lose power and balance to explode out.
Continue to the full-length version of this report…
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- Film and coaching points of the Tight Turn Drill that Coach Freund uses to teach violent hips, cutting in tight spaces and working back down the route stem.
- Film and coaching points of the Lean and Stick Drill that Coach Freund uses to teach the out break and post corner break against man coverage.
- Film and coaching points of the Throw By Drill that Coach Freund uses to teach top of route progression against man coverage.
- Film and coaching points of the North/South Drill that Coach Freund uses to teach WRs to attack the ball on the catch then tuck and turn up field quickly.
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We talk a lot about attacking the ball and coming back to the QB. To do this, our receivers must keep their arms moving and accelerate out of breaks, while keeping hips and shoulders down. Last fall, we struggled with making the contested catch. With most of our ball skill drills this year, we are going to add a defender as a distraction. Getting better at the top of the route will help to create more separation, but we are always going to have to make contested grabs, especially in the money situations on third downs and in the red zone.
Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts on finishing routes and attacking the football. We believe these drills help our wide receivers become better players in understanding how to win 1-on-1 and having an attack mentality when the ball is in the air.
Meet Coach Freund: Danny Freund coaches the wide receivers 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. They were 9-3 and Big Sky Conference champions in 2016. Freund’s first college coaching experience was as a graduate assistant QB coach at Carthage College.