Coaching Running Backs 
Techniques, Drills, and Motivation

Joel Cockley, Running Backs Coach, Mount Union College
2009 Cleveland Glazier Clinic Presentation

Set the Tone:  All Running Backs Must...

  1. Hit - if ytou make contact with the top of your head, "we'll cut you from the team."  Don't stick your face in it.
  2. Hustle - Every session has a tempo, and the coach must establish that tempo for them.  
    1. Thud - No contact, but full-speed.  The running back always clears defenders.  In blocking, just put hands on your guy.
    2. Active Thud - Nobody goes on the ground.  The RB still always clears defenders.
    3. Full Speed - Everything is live.  This rarely happens in practice.
  3. Know their Assignment - you can't play if you don't know the playbook.  Older players help younger players.
  4. Care about your Teammate - On the field, you have to care about them.  
If young coaches forget to set the tempo, you do it for them.  There is no reason to get your players hurt in practice.  The drop off from 1st string to 2nd string is huge.  
"You only have so many train wrecks in you" -- Tom Osborne

Everyone has a weightlifting program today.  There is more of a chance for injury, so you can't bang on them every day.  

5 Points of Pressure

  1. Fingers grip the cone of the ball
  2. Palm of the hand resting against the ball
  3. Forearm pressing against the ball
  4. Tight to the bicep
  5. Tight to the chest - doesn't matter if it is high or "in the carriage."  The ball never gets away from the body.

Running Back Drills

Running Back Drill #1:  Hand-Off Drill

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Usually done during pre-practice time.  Get two lines of players, wide apart.  One side has a ball.  Other side runs and take hand-off.  As the player gets the ball, get a tight rack, and two good burst steps.  Then shift it to your hand and hand-off to the next player.  If you only have 5 Running Backs in the drill, use one ball.  If there are 6 or more, get two balls going.  (see Diagram 1)

Hand Off Drill

Raymond Berry wanted his Wide Receivers to touch the ball 175 times in practice, from start to finish.  This hand-off drill is a good start, they will get lots of hand-offs in a short period of time.

Mount Union doesn't fumble the ball very often.  The Running Backs Coach should never allow a fumble.  Demote the guy if he does it twice.  But you have to emphasize tucking the ball!  If you don't do that, the fumbles are your fault.  It is almost impossible to correct fumbling once the season has started.

Running Back Drill #2:  Raking the Ball

Changing the ball from one hand to the other, or Raking, needs to be drilled to make it a natural move.  Take the ball across the body wtih an underhand grip and 'rake' the chest.  The ball is in constant contact with the chest.  If a player is more comfortable with using an overhand rake, that is also fine.  (see Diagram 2)

Rake the Ball Drill

Players are only allowed one rake per play.  Down the field rakes are where fumbles occur.

Running Back Drill #3:  Strip Drill

One guy grabs his belt from behind.  He whacks the ball all the way from the sideline to the hash mark, and then they switch and come back.  Get used to holding on to the football.  

Running Back Drill #4:  Running Ropes

Don't just run through the ropes.  Carry a football (more touches!)  Body lean, and getting knees up, are both important.  Increase your player's speed by running with the knees up.  It helps a Running Back to make cuts.  Come off the ropes, burst to a score.  Put a bagout, and cut off it to score.  

Running Back Drill #5:  Cut Drill vs. Bags

Get two feet down between first two bags, hop to the left, two feet down between the next two bags.  Then hop to the right, two feet down between the last two bags.  Finish with a cut off of a bag and a burst. (see Diagram 3)  Then change the bags up.  

Cut Drill

Running Back Drill #6:  Pitches

Done during pre-practice.  If you never use a toss or pitch, don't bother with this drill, but if you do it practice it.  Don't just have a Quarterback do it, or the coach do it.  They won't get enough reps.  Let them pitch to each other.  Don't expect them to just catch a pitch in a game, instead prepare them to do it.  It is run almost the exact same was as the Hand-Off drill, except that the players have to run wide to pitch to eachother.

Running Back Drill #7:  Pass Catching

The same as the pitch drill, now they are throwing flare routes to eachother.  Get a little wider apart.  They are athletes, so let your backs throw the ball to eachother.  Teach them to catch the ball in the triangle.  

Hand-offs, pitches and passes are all done in pre-practice, along with sometimes getting Rake Drill done.  Then go to Cut Drills, ropes, and you'll be ready for play specific practice with Quarterbacks.  

You might not get all of these things done every day.  Be sure to get the Hand-off drill done, to get plenty of touches.  Mount Union has about two 12 minute periods - including pre-practice.  It always depends on what the Head Coach has scheduled.

Running Back Drill #8:  Pass Pro (Blitz Pick-Up Game)

Technique:  Toes out, butt down, hit palms on chest.  No face contact.  

Attack the blitzer, don't wait on him.  If the read is 1 to 2 inside out, and 1 comes - go meet him!  If not, slide to 2, and attack him if he comes.  

Start out working up close, from the fit position.  Then move to 1 step, and to 2 steps.  Work this drill on the sled and on a man.  During 2-a-Days, they want to hit the sled every day using Pass Pro, Seat Rolls, and Shoulder Block drills.  

Running Back Drill #9:  Seat Roll

Great agility drill.  Hit the pad with your shoulder, and seat roll, working down the 5 or 7-man sled.  It also toughens up the body.  Backs need to get used to being hit, and we don't have much contact during team sessions.  They get used to being knocked back.

Running Back Drill #10:  Shoulder Block

Mount Union is a shoulder block team, on Smack or the Power Play.  One good hit and a step - you're not going to drive anyone out.  You're not going to run Power vs. a Defensive End who wrong-arms, because you won't be able to dig him out.  Only use the Power when the Defensive End is a box player.

Attack with the inside shoulder on the draw, and use the other hand for leverage.  If Mount Union ran Iso, they would use a shoulder block on that too.  It's not smart to tell anyone to hit with their nose, there's too much risk of injury.  That's why they have big shoulder pads, use them!


When running plays in group work, the Quarterback should hand the ball off and then carry out his playaction fake.  Have a coach flip the ball to him and then carry out the Play Action pass to a receiver.  This way you are working both plays at once.

After that, Mount Union is in to working the passing game.  They have an Inside Run period, 7 on 7, and team.  

Team Period is going to be mostly perimeter runs and passing - no inside running plays.  Do those during the Inside Run period.  Team is all about getting the Quarterback to make decisions.  

You need to figure out how many times you need to run a play in practice to run it successfully in a game, and then do it.  
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