Many people think running backs cannot be coached. I strongly disagree. Every position can be coached up significantly. An average running back can develop into a good back. Great backs can develop into amazing backs. The important factor is ensuring you identify traits of good backs that can build drills to simulate. Developing some strong running back drills that emphasize proper technique can help you in your effort to develop your backs.
Running Back Drills: Block Setup
When I coached running backs for the first time, I quickly identified the need to setup blocks. While our starter was great at it, our younger backs struggled. I watched some film of what other great backs at had done in these situations. Patience and shoulder shifts.
Coaching patience in backs is critical for block setup. I’ll start with the patience factor. It doesn’t matter if you’re running inside zone, power, or even if the back is the dive back on Inside Veer. Patience is critical for a backs success when he’s got a blocker infront of him. I made running backs drills that forced players to jog through them the first time, followed by 75%, then full speed.
For this first running back drill on block setup, the running back jogs 50% to the first blocker, who is blocking the bag holder. The blocker has outside leverage on the blocker, and should accelerate around the block.
The second part to this running back drill has the blocker stuck right in the middle of the defender. I like to have a second defender coming from the same direction as the runningback, but coming from 5 yards behind the bag holding defender. This defender is unblocked. It’s the job of the runningback to analyze the pursuit angle of the defender, while setting up this initial block. If the pursuing defenders shoulders are turned towards the sideline, it will be hard for him to square up and make a sound tackle. If that’s the case, the runningback should setup the block to let him cut inside.
In order to setup the block, and to ensure the pursuit angle of the defender keeps going outside, the back should dip his shoulders to the outside and open his hips slightly for one step. As soon as that step hits the ground he should plant and push off to accelerate just inside the block. This will force both defenders to commit to the outside and, if they make the tackle, we should still be able to fall forward for a yard or two.
If that defender that is pursuing (so not the bag holder) is shuffling and his shoulders are square to the running back while he pursues, the runningback should take one step inside, like he plans on cutting up into the tackle. This will likely get the shuffling defender to commit to the running back, causing him to step up. The defender with the bag will commit to the inside as well. Again, as soon as the runningback plants that foot inside and dips his shoulder, he should explode to the outside and accelerate the feet. The blocker on the bag holder should have the advantage to now hook the defender, and the pursuing defender will be in the hole and have a terrible angle to make the tackle.
The last step of this running back drill occurs when the blocker has inside position on the defender with the bag. He should clearly cut up the field and get his eyes on the next defender.
You can add a pursuing defender to the first and third parts of that drill. You can also use two bag holders instead in this running back drill, and have the running back each defender being blocked.
Running Back Drills: Hand off Exchange
I like the handoff exchange drill because it can get multiple people involved. The idea here is focus on this most critical aspect of the play, the exchange. I start with two lines, one on the right and one on the left. The first running back on the left will have the football. They will start first and run towards the running backs on the right. The first one on the right hesitates for a moment, and then jogs and takes the hand off from the running back. He should try to elbow the guy handing him the football in the chin and get his other arm with his thumb right around the belly button. He should clamp down, put it away, and then by that point he should be over half way to the next running back, who will take the hand off going left.
This drill should be slowly sped up. Your running backs need to focus on the little things, even when the clock is ticking. There might be points in a play where the defender comes in unblocked, and if that is still the case they need to take the hand off and put the ball away. If they get over anxious, the exchange could be comprimised.
Running Back Drills: Foot Movement
All running back drills that involve contact need to emphasize not stopping the feet. Over and over again, we see running backs that excel keep working their legs. There is equipment for this (the gauntlet), but not every team has on. So one thing I like is to have the running back work into a bag holder. I will make a path (either with cones or pads) to ensure the running back stays on course. The defender will be half way through, and the running back’s goal is to make contact with his shoulders and explode the hips up and through the defender on contact, while keeping the legs pumping.
A coaching point here is that a lot of players close their eyes on contact, and when they do that they stop their feet. They also tend stand up. Players need to stay low throughout the play and have their hips work up and through the defender only on contact. You should use a cheap camera or even an iPad or your phone to record the drill to show the kids when they stop their feet. Also, it sometimes helps to simply WALK the kids through it the first time. So that way they keep moving their feet. You then speed it up to about 50%, having them jog through it. Again, still moving the feet. Then do the running back drill 75%. The 100%. Some kids really don’t understand that they stop their feet until they feel, even at slow speeds, what it means to keep moving their feet through contact.
Running Back Drills : Conclusions
I hope you enjoyed this post on some of my favorite running back drills. It’s critical, in my opinion, that you jog through most running back drills first so the kids understand that they don’t always have to run full speed to make a play special. Make sure to download my running backs manual (above) and hopefully you’ll get some good ideas on technique out of that as well.
Make sure you check out everyday football blocking drills for your offensive line as well.