The purpose for this article is to better help serve your Quarterbacks and their development and consistency during the season utilizing some basic rules during your practice time.
Over the past 15 years, I have had a chance to observe many successful football programs ranging from youth to the division 1 level. As a result, it has given me the freedom to personally observe many practices and formulate opinions on the current practice trends and habits of successful coaches and programs across the country.
In championship programs, repeatedly there were three consistent qualities that stood out during practice.
From the first whistle in the spring to the last snap of the fall these three qualities are visible in every segment in practice. Everyone on the field knows where to be, the purpose of that segment, and moving with a sense of urgency.
One clear objective for each program was making sure the Quarterbacks were put in a position to succeed on game day through specific drills and practice habits that correlated with the spirit of the offense that was being run. There are many game day quarterback issues that can be solved quite simply in practice, and the key is sticking to basic rules. If you struggle with a Quarterback that gives you that blank look after a sack or incompletion, is out of sync with with the other skill players or just flat out underperforming then continue reading.
The following list is designed to help coaches and players better organize their time and help produce better results for quarterbacks during practice and games.
Creating a common language is – and should be – priority No. 1 with your quarterback and team. I never fully understand how coaches expect to run a successful program (multiple teams at different levels under one body) while running multiple offensive systems each year and coaching with different styles for the same positions. Mass confusion – and slow learning curves – is the end result of this practice style.
All coaches must be on the same page with offensive philosophy and language. None of the points listed below should be different at any level. I understand that personnel will dictate play calling and flex within the system, but that doesn’t mean it is OK to allow confusion and individualism between teams and staffs.
• Coverage recognition
• Defensive personal
• Offensive base formation
• Fundamental coaching terminology
We all understand the importance of getting reps in team period to work on the offense or defense in a game-like environment. The emphasis of practice always seems to favor team segments as the season goes on to better prepare players for game day. Ironically, this is where I see breakdowns. A lack of individual skill development and consistency results in a drop in discipline and fundamentals.
Let’s start with the math. If you want to get better, you need more repetitions. The first step is to examine your practice habits and determine where you can squeeze in more reps. One of the biggest ways to improve practice tempo is to streamline communication. During a team segment schematic coaching points, corrections, or adjustments should come directly from the coordinator. If there is a fundamental or technique issue the position coach should either talk to his position group between reps, as they come off the field, or during their next individual period. Doing this also mimics in-game communication, as during a game you will have very limited time to deliver a message during a timeout, between quarters or series, and half-time. I understand coaches want to have their points heard to everyone at practice. However, this is unrealistic in a game-like scenario, communicating through the coordinator is a much more effective way to deliver any message that needs to be sent. Instead of the head coach stopping the entire practice to make a point or trying to filter a message through three different position coaches, use the coordinator to communicate quick corrections and move on the next rep. This step helps reduce slowing down practice tempos. As players come off the field or quickly between reps, the position coach must take advantage of this time to also apply corrections.
To cut down on time coaches need to communicate with players between reps, the fundamental of the plays should be taught in individual and position groups. In my opinion, most teams could get their entire practice scripted in half the time they’ve actually been spending.
Example of some practice outlines:
Poor practice outline:
• Warm-up for 20-30 minutes.
• 10 minutes of individual time (slow tempo).
• 10-20 minutes of group time (stagnant; spending too much time on one concept or adding in too many new concepts).
• 1 hour of team practice; no planned script or staged scout team schemes. (1 rep every 3 minutes)
Maximized Rep 2-hour practice should break down:
• Warm-up – all positions for 5-7 minutes.
• Everyday drills – position specific for 10-15 minutes (high tempo).
• Skill groups – 7-on-7, QB/RB mesh, half-line, blitz pickups and inside runs for 20 minutes. (Install new concepts, plays and adjustment in this period)
• Special teams – 10 minutes.
• Total team practice – 30 minutes. (3-6 reps per minute)
• Water and transition time – 20 minutes.
Coaches should set examples by running from drill to drill when possible. Reps should be completed with high level of execution if it has been set up correctly in during the first half of practice. Fundamental floors should not be ignored, players need to be coached up. I also have seen many teams allow more personal changes and more players getting reps on the second team because of the increased number of total reps. This allows a great increase in player development and confidence.
I would strongly suggest coaches refrain from skipping individual time with your QBs. Drops, mechanics, pocket movement and learning should never stop from Week 1 to the state championship. I don’t think any coach would disagree that spending time on fundamentals would be wasteful. The law of specificity overrules. To get better at a skill, you must precisely practice it … a lot!
Don’t be creative, just be good
As coaches, we are often our own worst enemies. We can get so impressed with our knowledge of intricate plays and schemes to beat next week’s opponent that we get lost in our own awesomeness. At the end of the day, it’s what the players can manage that matters, not our egos. Simple is effective and being simple does not mean you have to tell your QB that he has only one read on a given play. Simple is having a clear system of processing information, identifying defenses and laying out expectations of what each play’s design is. A common language between staff and players is what’s most important.
You and your quarterback must mirror each other on the field during games and practice. Having the same vision is critical because what you see and what he sees can be two completely different things. Sometimes we have to step out of the headset and into the helmet to gain complete two-way understanding.
Expectations on passing
The pressure of passing 5 times a game is much greater than passing 20 times a game. The value per rep increases, and the pressure level to not fail goes up for each passing repetition. Too often, I see coaches get mad at their quarterback for making the incorrect read on a play, yet they’ve only practiced that play 7 times the past week. The play is then called once in the game and the expectation level is much greater because of the reduced opportunities to be successful.
If you want better QB play, you must throw more in practice and during games. You must have logic behind your passing concepts. Interceptions will happen but that is part of the process. Without failure, there is no learning or progress.
For youth, freshman and JV football, taking a developmental perspective on performance-based against results-based will always be difficult. It will be tough to adopt the mindset of doing what is best for the young men playing vs. what you think is best to get the win.
Run-right, run-left football is not an effective system for developing your quarterback for success. You must have balance in your practice scripts and with the time spent working together at the other positions.
• Quarterbacks need to spend time with receivers and backs to develop timing and consistency.
Spacing is everything, don’t just randomly line up at practice.
• Your WRs and RBs must run all of their routes the same. I suggest using landmark yards and steps as a guide for success.
• If you specialize in an option-based/run-read offense, it is difficult to be great at both passing and running in your option attack unless you have a simplified and well-coached passing attack.
• If you switch to a spread formation just to pass the football, you become predictable to the defense.
• Your staff must have a clear understanding of defensive coverages and be able to identify strengths and weaknesses.
• Quick game can never be drilled too much.
• You do not need a fast, elusive quarterback to be successful, just one that understands what you want to accomplish, understands pressure and where its coming from.
• Adapt to your personnel, but don’t make it an excuse.
• Confidence is everything for a quarterback. Work to improve confidence, not destroy it.
• Remove the headset and get into the helmet – put yourself in your QB’s shoes.