Running Back Drills
By: Doug Heslip
When I look at athletes for the first time that want to play football I give them the eye test. Right or wrong, they get the eye test.
I size them up. Some are longed limbed, short limbed, have some muscle, some have chub, and some… not a clue. I view them as clay figures as they stand there looking back at me.
My job is to take these clay figures and turn them into Monster Beasts. I start with their stance and progress from there.
The ability to make plays and to make defenders miss- to be a game breaker- will get you noticed by coaches and scouts alike.
Once I am comfortable that they understand some basics, we get into drill work. I like bags. Nothing high tech about them; they are called dummies, but they serve a purpose and that is to ignite a competitive fuel that exists in each player.
Remember, you as the coach must get excited. You must set the pace. You are the leader of the pack and you set the tempo. The kids will only go as fast as you do. Have fun; feel the chill and everyone will be energized. Here are some running back drills I have found that work well with my athletes.
BAG DRILL 1
You will need just two bags. This is a good bag drill to start off with.
Have two athletes hold the bags upright right next to each other. The two holding the bags must communicate which way they are going to move the bags. They have three options.
- Move both bags to the right
- Move both bags to the left
- Move one bag to the right and the other to the left leaving a hole to hit right down the middle.
The running back will be approximately 5 yards away. The running back will attack the two bags. If both bags move to the right, the running back will spin or jump cut to the left to avoid being tackled.
If the bags split, the running back will run right through the middle of the two bags. You will notice after numerous reps, your back will not break his feet and transition to through the hole seamlessly.
As a progression, you can add another bag behind the original two that act as a linebacker. This bag will be held upright also and moved to the left or to the right. The running back must read and respond to this movement.
BAG DRILL 2
As with the first bag drill have two bags standing upright. Place two bags on the ground a few yards away from the two standing bags. The bags on the ground will be perpendicular to the standing bags and parallel to each other as the lay on the ground.
I have attached rope to the handles of the bags on the ground. I will, or a teammate will, pull the rope toward them causing the bag on the ground to move.
As your running back approaches the bag it may or may not move. If the bag moves your running back must go in the opposite direction, but if he gets caught going in the same direction as the bag they must not stop. They have to implement high knees, spin move or just use pure acceleration to get around the bag.
Football is not a cookie cutter sport. When you have 11 athletes trying to tackle you and chaos is all around, you must adjust to survive.
Have your running back at the depth you would have him in your offense. With a football secured, the running back will run toward the two bags on the ground. Once he engages the middle of the first bags he has a few options.
- He can jump cut to either side of the first bag. After the jump cut, I want him to shuffle laterally in between the two bags on the ground. Once he has cleared, I want him to attack the two standing bags and respond to the movement of the bags.
- Your running back can use high knees to get over the bags on the ground. You can add additional bags to lie on the ground if you choose to. Once he clears the bags on the ground he then attacks the two standing bags and responds to the movement of these bags.
- Do not forget the spin move as he engages the first bag. Once the spin move is made to the left or to the right he can jump cut to enter in between the bags on the ground. After the jump is made he can high knee over the remaining bag(s) and attack the two standing bags.
- You as the coach can throw a bag from the side as your back starts running toward the two bags on the ground. They really like this. The running back has to avoid this “In Action” bag, by any means necessary, to avoid being tackled.
BAG DRILL 3
BANG, BOUNCE OR BEND
If the coach scrapes along the bags and stops at bag three. The running back will bounce along the line of scrimmage and hit the open hole just after where the coach stopped.
If coach decides to scrape along the entire set of bags, your back will bend all the way along the bags and accelerate up field after the last bag. Your backs should accelerate every time after the bang, bounce or bend along the line of scrimmage.
Related: Quarterback Escape Drills
THREE BAG RACE
You will need six bags. Break the six bags into two sets of three. Lay three bags down and take the other three and lie them down adjacent to each other.
The two sets of bags should be approximately one yard away from each other. Have two running backs start at one end of the bags. Have them face each other with a football. On command, they will move laterally across the bags placing two feet in each hole. Once they reach the third bag, they retrace their steps back to where they started. When they reach the original starting place they transition from frontal plane to sagittal plane.
From here they place one foot in each hole and run toward coach who is holding his hands out to each side 10 yards away from the bags opposite their starting position. The running backs slap the hand of the coach to see who wins.
This is not a bag drill, but it is a lot of fun and your athletes will love it.
The running back must avoid being hit by the stability ball. He can use a spin, jump cut or jump over the ball. This is a great drill to end a camp on because it is fun and the kids will leave happy.
BONUS RECEIVING DRILL
All you need is one bag. Stand the bag up so it is vertical. Have your athlete get on his knees and wrap his arms around the bag. Once the arms are around the bag have him extend both arms out.
Have coach or another athlete throw a football to the kneeling athlete. The athlete will catch the football and the bag will act as a defender. This is a great concentration drill and you really have to look the ball into your fingertips.
For more receiver drills: Wide Receiver Play
I hope these running back drills serve you well. They work for me and as I’ve found, with these drills, your athletes will want to compete to get better.
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.
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