Tony DeMeo

University of Charleston Running Back Skill Drills

Within the structure of a typical practice, our running backs will work through both individual and competition periods that prepare them for success in our triple gun offense. They will spend time on each aspect of our offense while focusing on specific game situations. Our practices are structured so that we can effectively practice our entire offense daily. This allows our athletes the opportunity to master the techniques and details we demand through repetition. In addition to this practice structure, the running backs work skill drills daily in pre-practice that address fundamental skills and traits that we would like to see them possess. I begin each day where each play begins, stance and start, while working on their steps. After the tailbacks and slots have completed their steps, we will transition to that days skill drill. We will use each day of the week to improve footwork, body control and balance, cuts and vision, inside and outside zone running, or ball drills. At the conclusion of practice, the running backs will work ball security drills. Just as I want my running backs to end each play with the ball secured, we will end practice with drill work with that in mind. I would like to expand upon the drills we utilize at the start of pre-practice, our step drills for the tailbacks and slots.

Step Drills:
TB’s — 1. Triple Steps – The TB’s will line up in a single line coming out from the sideline working from the top of the numbers to the hash, down a yard line on the field as a visual cue and landmark. They will line up, leaving several yards in between the next back in line in order to move as a unit. As a coach, I can stand behind at an angle and have full view of the group’s stance and steps. We begin with triple steps, running the play to the right and then to the left. We are always in the shotgun and typically our TB is in the I formation behind the QB (QB at 4 yards, TB at 5 yards). In the shotgun-I formation, the footwork must consistently put the TB in position to mesh with the QB on the dive phase of the option. When running the play to the right, the TB’s will align with the outside of their right foot on the left side of the yard line they are working down. They will begin in their stance, feet hip width with slight flexion in the hips, knees, and ankles with hands resting on the legs just above the knee with eyes focused straight ahead. The width of the feet in the stance is a very important coaching point, to allow the TB to be in the proper position to attack the play side A gap with shoulders square, able to slide and glide from B gap to B gap. If the stance is too wide, the shoulders will turn as the feet gather from becoming too wide and the vision to the backdoor cut and the ability to slide in that direction will be compromised. On cadence, the TB’s will work for width with their right foot on their first step (from hip to just outside of shoulder width). At this point, they will be straddling the yard line. They will then execute the skip step, dropping and driving off of the left foot which is now in line with the hip again with the right foot leading to the line of scrimmage. The left foot should be working vertically down the right side of the yard line. The height of the shoulders should not rise and fall drastically with the steps, leading to a slow start. Simultaneously while beginning the skip step, they will form a pocket for the mesh of the football and burst towards the line of scrimmage, tight to the play side A-gap. After two reps of the steps to the right, they will then move to the right side of the yard line and work triple steps to the left. Again, we begin every practice with this drill, stance and steps. Through repetition the steps will become precise and the path consistent. This is vital for ball security in the mesh of the triple and the TB to have the ability to slide and glide.

2. Give, Wrap, Double – Working with a partner now, they will each work again down a yard line. Standing from the sideline, I have a clear view of their stance, steps, burst, and body position. We will work the triple steps to the right and left but get into the next phase of the play. Give – The first rep will be run as a give read. The TB will burst into the line of scrimmage and be given a directional flash by his partner, who is the defender at linebacker depth. The TB will cut opposite the movement, staying tight, and getting vertical gaining ground. Wrap – The second rep of the drill will simulate a pull read, where the TB will take his steps, mesh and burst to the line of scrimmage and now wrap play side as a blocker, staying square and in the framework of the defender. We work the details of blocking in practice periods but this reinforces the TB’s path and reaction to wrap play side on a pull read. Double – The final rep of the drill will simulate a check from triple to double option. We can make a pre-snap check, or convert on the run based on the look of the defense. The TB will flash fake while taking the skip steps, and instead of attacking play side A-gap, will begin working for width and now is responsible for chasing the hip of the tackle on his path to the linebacker play side. This drill builds upon the triple steps drill, incorporating stance, steps, and game like reactions for the TB.
These two drills begin every day for the TB’s and are completed in pre-practice at the same time that the slots are working their step drills.

Slots – Arc, Seal, Counter Lead – While the TB’s are working on the lines, above the numbers, the slots are working on cones that are placed 5 yards apart, closer to the sideline. From the sideline, I have a vantage point to clearly see all and will alternate reps between the TB’s and slots.

Arc – First, the slots will work on the steps necessary to execute an arc block. The slots will align first on the left side of the cone with their toes just at the edge. On cadence, they will take just the first step. The right foot (play side foot) should open with the toe pointing horizontal and the foot parallel to the cone. Opening the toe allows the hips to open and the slot to assume the right body position to work for width on his arc path. Aligning with the toes on the cones, forces them to open the toe to be in the proper position. As they take the first step, I want their eyes targeting their assigned defender in the secondary, to sort the picture. The first rep will be first step only with an emphasis of fixing the eyes. The slots will reset to their stance and then on cadence will open on first step, crossover with the second, and begin working up field on the third step maintaining width on the arc path to the defender. They will first take only the first step, reset and arc twice to the right and then twice to the left. We will work the approach and contact phase of the block in practice, but again want to put the emphasis on taking the correct first steps. When there are breakdowns in execution, often times it can be attributed to an improper first step. I want to make sure that we address this detail daily throughout the year.

Seal – The slots will now align and use the cone position to simulate the hip of the read key. When our slots seal block on a linebacker, we ask them to take the air out of the read key, to be tight off his hip. On cadence, the slot will take the first step of the seal block only. From the stance the man side foot should step to the hip at a 45 degree angle, gaining ground. An important detail is to keep the toe pointed vertical and downfield. If the toe opens and is pointed towards the read key, the hips and shoulders will turn and put the slot on an improper path. We want to stay square and work vertical on seal blocks and the first step is the beginning of success. The slots will then reset in their stance. On the next cadence, they will again take a great first step utilizing the cone as their landmark and progress to getting the second step in the ground, maintaining their base and working vertically up field with the full surface area of their shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. We will work two reps in each direction before progressing to the final phase of the drill.

Counter Lead – We then will add a pre-snap counter lead motion to the drill and again work both arc and seal footwork and landmarks. On our counter lead motion, we want to give the illusion to the defense that the slot is going in pitch path motion pre-snap to illicit a reaction that is to our advantage on the play. The slots will go in motion in timing with the cadence so that when the third step hits, the ball is snapped and they will plant and retrace on their path for an arc or seal. The slot will step first, opening the inside foot towards the feet of the TB, crossover with the outside foot on the second step, and plant and retrace on the third step. On the third step, the shoulders must be over the toe to allow for balance throughout the change in direction. As the inside plant foot strikes the ground, the hip of the play side leg is opened by raising and rotating the knee to allow the body to retrace back towards the line of scrimmage in position to carry out the assignment. The counter motion does not change the landmark of the arc block or seal, but is another facet of footwork that the slots want to master through repetition.

Tate Gregory, University of Charleston Wide Receivers Coach, and I have a skill drill DVD available that will show some of the drills we utilize at the running back and wide receiver position in the triple gun offense. If interested in obtaining a copy, please email me at