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By Sam Nichols

Contributing Editor

X&O Labs

By the mid point of a season, most coaches know what they have to work with. They know the strengths and weaknesses of their players and they have been able to see those qualities on the field in different situations. The difference between most coaches and great coaches is what they do with this information. In other words, how do they address the weaknesses of their players mid-season to help them continue to develop and grow as players.

I have found that one of the best ways to respond to the mid-season assessment is to go back to drills that specifically work on areas of weakness. I build in drills that incorporate multiple points of emphasis and concentrate the players on the fine points of the skills. If done well, I will see the players get over the mid-season plateau and continue to progress into the post-season when the details matter even more.

With that said, here are a few drills that I like to use on a weekly basis during the second half of the season to meet the goals stated above. These are not earth shattering concepts, but they are crucial to success within our offense.

Drill #1: Hitch Cut Drill

Purpose: To rep come back routes (hitches, curls, and comebacks) through practicing cuts and catches out of the break.



  1. The drill requires 6 cones set up 2 yards apart five yards down field from the starting chute (see diagram 1). Note: It is best to have two such groups if possible to increase reps and allow you to work the same cut on both sides of the center.
  2. On "hit" the first player in line will run a hitch route and comes back to the QB through the next window to the inside.
  3. As the WR cuts, the ball should come out and the WR should continue to work to the ball until it hits his hands. At that point, he will dip the shoulder to the side that the ball was thrown to and run straight up field through the nearest window (diagrams 2 and 3).
  4. Players run the drill cutting inward in both directions and cutting outward (comeback or stop cut) in both directions during the time allowed.

Coaching Points:

  1. Sink hips into each cut and flash your hands.
  2. Keep your feet under your body and cut off the inside of your foot.
  3. Hands and eyes should come round together. Give the QB a target.
  4. Catch and tuck the ball in the arm closest to the QB at the time of the catch.
  5. Explode up field and do not try to dance or juke.
  6. Make sure the ball arrives right out of the cut.

Verbal Cues:



  1. Sink your hips.
  2. Flash your hands.
  3. Get up field.
  4. Catch and Tuck.
  5. Come back to the QB.

Drill #2: Crossing Drill

Purpose: To practice making a catches at different angles and difficulties while crossing the field.



  1. Set up the drill with 8 cones set up similar to the diagram above. The players should be split and lined up behind and to the right of the two deepest cones cones.
  2. On "hit" the player at the front of each line runs past the first cone, executes a square cut toward the QB or coach and runs straight down that line to receive the ball.
  3. The coach will throw the ball in a variety of positions with that position changing each time the receivers get back to the top of the order. The first throw should be a well thrown ball in front of the WR. The 2nd rep should be thrown high, the 3rd thrown low, and the forth thrown behind the WR (see diagrams 5 and 6 below).
  4. Each catch should present the WR with different tests for the coach to emphasize. For example, we stress bending at the knees for the low throw, owning the ball in the air on the high throw, and opening their hips to get two hands on the ball for the ball that is thrown behind the receiver.
  5. After making the catch, the player should dip his shoulder and burst up field before handing the ball to the opposite coach and getting in the other line.
  6. We usually have each player do two reps of each catch before switching and then change directions after all are completed.


Coaching Points:

  1. This is meant to be a fast paced drill. If done right and with no more that 10 WR's, it will condition them and force them to make adjustments while tired.
  2. Don't worry about throwing the ball from where the QB would be. Aligning 7 yards from the catch is fine and forces the WR to make quicker adjustments to the ball.
  3. Stress a great stance and start / cut before the ball is thrown... don't let them get sloppy.
  4. Vary the timing of the pass so that the players don't start guessing and slowing down.
  5. Remind them to catch and tuck the ball every single rep.



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Verbal Cues:

  1. Catch and tuck.
  2. Don't drift on your route.
  3. Get your head and eyes to the QB.
  4. Bend at the knees.
  5. Own the ball in the air.
  6. Open your hips to catch the ball behind.
  7. Dip your shoulder and get up field.

3 Ball Drill

Purpose: To focus on catching in / out breaking passes in different areas of a zone coverage.



  1. Set up three cones as seen above (diagram 7) with spacing set up to use the sideline as part of the drill. Put a player on the sideline and at the two cones closest to the sideline to take the balls back to the QB's after they have caught the pass.
  2. The wr starts the drill by executing an in breaking route that fits your playbook and catches a pass coming right out of the break (diagram 8).
  3. After securing the catch and without slowing down, the player drops the ball and continues behind the first player into the second window catching a ball from the 2nd thrower. This is meant to simulate an out route.
  4. Again, the player secures the catch, drops it and continues to the third window where the last QB will try to hit him right on the sidelines. The WR should concentrate on making the catch and keeping his feet in bounds.
  5. Players rotate from the line to receiving, to the sideline, to the 2nd cone, to the first cone, and back into the line.


Coaching Points:

  1. Make sure to lead the player, but don’t throw perfect passes.
  2. Stress "catch and tuck" each time.
  3. Emphasis speed into the windows and hustle through the drill.
  4. Stress that the players must forget about a bad pass or dropped ball and move on to the next opportunity. They must have short memories.

Verbal Cues:

  1. Catch and Tuck.
  2. Eyes on the ball.
  3. Thumb Rule, Pinky Rule
  4. Forget about it and catch the next one.
  5. 1 foot in bounds.
  6. Be a playmaker!

10 Ways to Keep Drills Fresh

Doing the exact same drills each with without different variables will get your guys better at that exact skill, but it won't prepare them for the game when those skills will be tested an unpredictable environment. For that reason, we change up the drill from day to day / week to week to keep it fresh and to further refine the skills that we are concentrating on. Here are a few of the ways that we vary these drills:

  1. Add a player with a bag to hit the player as the ball hits his hands.
  2. Add a player or players that try to strip the ball as the player turns up field.
  3. Change the angle / release that the player uses getting into the drill.
  4. Add a defender that jams the WR as he works to get into his route.
  5. Vary the angles that the ball is thrown and increase the difficulty of the catch.
  6. Add a defender that is in the way forcing the WR to react to space.
  7. Add the "Scramble Drill" to the drill so the player must react to the QB breaking the pocket and execute the next phase of his route.
  8. Add a trail defender that the receiver needs to shake or push past to get into the route.
  9. Throw a wet ball to simulate rain situations.
  10. Find a way to incorporate your defensive players into the drill that works their fundamentals and allows your best to go against their best.

We Want To Hear From You!

How do you challenge your players mid-season? What concepts / drills do you find most helpful as you prepare for the post-season? Share your thoughts with the X&O Labs' community by commenting below.





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