Escape Routes for Quarterbacks
By: Doug Heslip
The ability or the inability to handle pressure will cull the quarterback herd quickly. When he tells you he can make the correct decision, defensive pressure will ultimately tell you if he is correct.
Playing quarterback at any level takes some moxie, some savvy and he has to be the linchpin of your team. The cookie cutter 3, 5 and 7 step don’t always happen. Your quarterback has to have the ability to slide around in the pocket.
The ability to escape pressure and throw the football accurately is a vital skill necessary to excel at playing quarterback. I know speed wins, but a quarterback that can finesse his way through chaos with his feet keeps plays alive. As long as he can move effectively in the pocket, he does not have to be fast. If you don’t want to be hit, you better be able to move your feet.
Video Resource: Coach Lee Taft’s #1 drill to teach lateral speed/ cutting
Defensive linemen are incredible athletes. They are as quick as a hiccup. They come out of their stance like a rocket and have one thing on their mind, disruption. They get paid to seek and destroy. These huge human beings are athletic and are like a lightning strike when they come off of the line of scrimmage. They take great pleasure in blowing up offensive schemes. This is why an elite talent at quarterback is necessary to win.
One must possess the ability to drop back, look down field, and go through your progression while elite speed freaks are trying to knock you into week 8 from game 7. The skill to deliver a precision timed pass accurately during an intense three seconds is what separates the guys who make it in the league from the ones who fail.
Either you can or you cannot handle the pass rush. Top tier talent coming out of college, with all the physical tools necessary, bust in the NFL because they can’t handle pressure.
Below are some basic, but vital, escape routes your quarterback needs to master. These quarterback escape drills may seem basic but if you don’t practice them you will pay the price on game day. The price will be an L.
FRONT DOOR ESCAPE
The front door escape is used when the quarterback is feeling pressure from up the middle. The quarterback runs parallel to the line of scrimmage with a slight arc. An arc is not always necessary sometimes a straight line will work. This split second decision will have to be made by the quarterback.
I tell my quarterbacks to keep their depth on the front door as minimal as possible. I don’t want them getting too far from the line of scrimmage.
As they are escaping pressure tell them to keep their head down field looking for a wide receiver adjusting his route to help. Tell them to stay compact as they are running. I don’t want their arms swinging out. That’s causing a big lever and takes too much time to get into the throw motion. I don’t mind if he rocks the football slightly in between the pectoral muscles as he runs.
He has to be compact and ready to throw with minimal motion. I want the ball near his chest with two hands on the football. I don’t want him tense but I want his muscles tight, at the ready, to spin the football with accuracy.
Soon you will run out of field to work with. It is critical that you rep this. Have them throw the ball out of bounds. Yes, practice throwing the ball out of bounds and start fresh with a new play. I’m telling you this has to be practiced.
You also have to practice throwing the ball on the run and being accurate. Gaining wisdom on whether to throw or not to throw comes with repetition and some mistakes. Repetition also builds mental toughness and superior confidence.
I have seen other quarterbacks throw and pray under pressure. In this scenario the probability of disaster is high. How a quarterback plays during game time is a direct reflection of what he does at practice. Set up scenarios at practice that are uncomfortable so that when it counts, your quarterback will be comfortable and confident.
For all the quarterback escape drills listed, I recommend practicing throwing off of the front leg as well as the back leg. In my opinion this is absolutely necessary as throwing on the run requires this. Your quarterback must be confident to throw off of either leg. You must have drills where the quarterback throws off balance. You can’t expect your quarterback to be able to set his feet every time he throws. This simply is not going to happen.
When its 4th and 10 and the option to throw the ball out of bounds does not exist, you must prepare for the worst case scenario. This means throwing under pressure, throwing off the non-dominant leg, throwing on the run or off balance.
BACK DOOR ESCAPE
The back door escape is used when the quarterback feels pressure from the front side, back side or up the middle.
As you spin to get away from a defender, ideally you want to have both hands on the ball as you spin approximately 270 degrees. You will lose sight of your wide receivers downfield.
If he uses a back door escape the defensive player will be chasing him. Your quarterback will have his back to the defender as he runs from pressure.
As he runs from pressure, he has to look downfield for a friendly colored jersey. If a wide receiver is located the trick is for the quarterback to get his non-throwing shoulder pointed at the wide receiver he wants to hit with the pass. This will help with shoulder rotation and accuracy as he throws on the run. Once the non-throwing shoulder is radar locked on the wide receiver he wants to throw to, let the football rip. I tell my quarterbacks if they see a lot of green grass in front of them to attack the line of scrimmage and decide if they are going to be a runner or a passer.
UP AND OUT
When pressure is coming from the sides, your quarterback will have to step up in the pocket for a few steps after his drop back. After a few shuffle steps have been made your quarterback will escape to the front side running toward the sideline and parallel to the line of scrimmage.
As he is running toward the sideline, he must look downfield and remain compact. The odds are great that he may have to throw off balance. Throwing off balance requires that you be accurate with the pass. All possible game time scenarios must be replicated in practice.
In summary, a quarterback has to have the ability to move and think on the run. Defensive players are studs. They are mobile, agile and hostile. If you want to play quarterback you will have to contend with these athletic freaks to survive your 3 second drop. That’s right. These guys can get to your quarterback that fast. This is why so many physically gifted quarterbacks fail. They can’t handle the pressure, which leads to inaccuracy, bad decisions and interceptions/fumbles.
If your quarterback throws the ball 15 times he has to win the 3 second pass rush. These 3 second segment contests will be very telling as to the outcome of the game. Even if your team is run oriented there will be a time when you will have to rely on the passing game. When this happens can you win the 3 second segment that will decide your fate?
If you can win the majority of the 3 second rounds, you have a chance to win the game.
The above listed quarterback escape drills have served me well. Hopefully there is a nugget or two you can use for your current season.
In my next article, I will write about pocket presence drills you can use to get your quarterback game time ready!
About the Author:
Coach Doug Heslip is a sports performance and football coach in Negaunee, Michigan and trainer at Heslip Elite Sports Performance Training. He has been coaching football and training athletes for 20 years. Coach Heslip is an instructor at the USA Football/Green Bay Packer coaching clinics at Lambeau Field and has been for nearly 10 years, rated the number 1 station as polled by coaches after instruction. He is also a Team USA football coach. Coach Heslip has written several articles published through American Football Monthly and has a Running Back DVD through American Football Monthly, peer reviewed and labeled outstanding. He also received the Governor’s Service Award for the State of Michigan for coaching football.