Ball security is among the most important aspects of offensive football, regardless of what style of offense you run or what level of football you compete at. There is a strong correlation between turnover margin and wins in college football. That’s why ball security is a major emphasis at TCU.
Ball security is performed each day with a variety of drills that are incorporated into each position groups individual practice time. In addition to pre-practice drills, the offensive coaching staff usually decides on two or three drills each practice that emphasize ball security. All players who may touch the ball run the exact same drills during individual time. Tight ends, quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers all perform the same drills. The drills are completed early in practice which helps highlight to the players the importance of protecting the football.
These drills usually between 3 and 5 five minutes depending on the number of drills chosen for that particular day.
At TCU we are a multiple offense that utilizes both traditional offensive alignments with the quarterback under the center as well as the shotgun offense that places our quarterback at 5 yards directly behind the center. Each day our quarterbacks and centers begin pre-practice drills with center quarterback exchanges. The coach calls a play before the exchange. The center and quarterback take the correct footwork which makes the drill more “game like.” The drill is set up with five groups of quarterbacks and centers. Each pair will line up across the field on the 5 yard line. The coach calls the same play for all of the groups. The groups perform in a sequential order so the coach can properly “coach” the drill. The first group goes, then the second, followed by third and so on in a rapid-fire sequence. Then the coach calls a new play and the same scenario plays out.
Major coaching points of the drill are to ensure quality repetitions with proper footwork and efficient, clean exchanges. Also, it is important to rotate the centers on a regular basis so that one quarterback can take a snap efficiently from any center. This enables the No. 1 quarterback to work with the No. 2 center and vice versa.
After seven and a half minutes, running backs join the drill and a similar scenario plays out. The coach calls a play and the center, quarterback and running back execute the play in a rapid fire format. The quarterback receives the snap and then hands or pitches the ball to the running back. At TCU, we emphasize the zone read and option scheme in this segment. This time allows us to focus specifically on these schemes leaving more time to focus on other schemes in team periods later in practice.
Coaching points of this drill are to continue to coach proper footwork. Clean and efficient exchanges between the center, to quarterback to ball carrier are the primary focus. Ball security and ball handling are primary focuses of this drill as well as mesh phase on handoffs and pitch phases on toss and option plays.
We consider our pre-practice drills a vital component of our ball security emphasis. The following drills allow our players to get quality repetitions in a short amount of time while warming up for practice.
This drill involves one ball carrier and two other players acting as defenders. The Three Man Stiffy, as we call it at TCU, is designed to simulate the end of a run when a ball carrier is still fighting for extra yards while defenders are hanging on him. The ball carrier runs with the football for a distance of 10 yards while one defender holds onto the back of his jersey pulling and punching at the football. The other defender stands in front of the ball carrier and tries to create resistance while the ball carrier stiff arms him. The players rotate positions so each person gets an opportunity to run with the football.
Major coaching points for the ball carrier in this drill are to ensure that the ball always remains a locked position and is never vulnerable to being lost. In addition to ball security, this drill also encourages players to fight for extra yards while keeping a good forward lean and high knee action that may allow them to break tackles.
The gauntlet is a drill that highlights the importance of securing the football when surrounded by defenders. The objective is learning how to run the ball in traffic. The position group lines up in two lines about a yard away from each other. The ball carrier runs in the tunnel created by the two lines while the defenders in the lines try to strip the football from the ball carrier. The ball carrier will have the ball in his right arm going down and his left arm coming back through the gauntlet. As that player finishes the drill, he then joins the wall as a defender and the player at the front of the tunnel rotates to take his turn at the “gauntlet.”
Major coaching points of this drill are to highlight the importance of securing the ball when running in dangerous areas. This drill simulates short-yardage and goal-line type runs where many defenders are close and ball security is imperative.
Seat Rolls is a drill that forces concentration on ball security when falling to the ground. The seat roll emulates having one hand free to protect the ball because the other one may be involved in a stiff arm battle with a defender. For this drill, three to five lines are created, depending on the number of players available. The players place the ball securely on whichever arm the coach directs them to.
The drill is done twice one time with the ball in each arm . To start the drill, the coach may say place the ball in the right arm. At this point, the players get in a three-point stance with their left hand on the ground and the ball in their right arm. The players look at the coach and begin chopping their feet at the first whistle. Then, the coach will blow his whistle and point either right or left. The players then must “seat roll” on their butt and come up in the three point stance with their left arm on the ground and feet chopping.
The coach can point in either direction forcing the players to react quickly. The drill can last as long as needed but usually last anywhere from 15 seconds to 30 seconds per group. Coaches must watch for the ball becoming loosely held as the drill continues. It is difficult to hold the ball securely and “seat roll” into a three-point stance. As the players get fatigued, the ball sometimes comes loose if they do not maintain their concentration or focus within the drill.
Bag Drills serve two purposes for our running backs. First, they improve footwork and agility. Second, they provides another opportunity to coach ball security. As players maneuver through the bags, the ball may become loose. The running motion in the bags often changes their security with the football. Emphasis is placed on ball placement in the armpit and running with the ball high and tight.
Bags provide many opportunities for a coach to be creative with agility drills. We generally place five bags in a row about 1 yard apart. The players start the drill with going “one foot in the hole.” This means the runner runs through the bags placing one foot in each gap. The second time through we have the runner place “two feet in the hole.” The third time through, we have the players angle through the bags starting at one corner of the bag and making a zig-zag pattern through the bags.
The runner assumes the bags are the defender and must switch the ball with each cut. This provides the ball carrier with an opportunity to practice transitioning the ball while keeping it tight to his chest and in a secure position.
Ball security is a major emphasis in these drills. Watch for loosely held footballs as the players work through the drills while focusing on the agility bags. Body position, leg drive and cutting off the proper leg in the angle drills are all things that are emphasized by the coach in bag drills.
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