Top Tips For Catching Passes Out Of The Backfield

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By Tim Horton, Running Backs Coach, Auburn University

The complete running back must be a dynamic runner with the football, a solid pass protector, and an excellent faker who can pull a defense when he doesn’t have the football. He also must be a great receiver. The ability to get the football to a game breaker in open space is what every offensive coordinator wants to accomplish. A running back with the ball skills and route-running ability of a wide receiver presents great challenges for defenses. In the 2013 NFL season, 13 running backs had more than 50 receptions during the regular season. Players such as Darren Sproles, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, and Danny Woodhead are the NFL’s elite pass-receiving running backs.

Catching the Football

Catching the football is all about confidence. It is about using excellent technique and fundamentals to catch any pass thrown your way. More passes are dropped because of the loss of concentration than for any other reason. It is imperative that the receiver wait to run or make a move until he has properly caught and secured the ball.

Creating Space and Locating the Ball in the Air

When locating the football in the air, it helps to know the route concept involved in helping you get open. It’s important to understand spacing and know how the defense will react.

If you release out of the backfield to catch a pass, you need to understand spacing. Against a defense that plays a zone coverage, offenses are designed to stretch a defense vertically or horizontally. That means you get into a position that creates space between where the defenders are located and where the football is caught. That spot could be directly over the football and 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and between the two zone-dropping inside linebackers. That creates horizontal spacing (see example below).

At other times, linebackers or defensive backs may drop back. You could run a wheel route, while the outside receiver could run a hook (curl) route. This will create vertical spacing (see example below).

When the ball is in flight, your eyes should focus on the front tip of the football. Understanding the route concept and spacing and knowing where the defense should be positioned and where the quarterback should throw the football will help you know where to expect the football and where your eyes and body should be.

This article was excerpted from Complete Running Back, by Tim Horton, a book that features 81 of the most effective drills for running backs. Whether you’re a power back who muscles the ball across the goal line or an ankle-breaking open-field specialist making defenders miss, you’ll improve your game with this book. Featuring 81 of the most effective drills, Complete Running Back is the ideal resource for players and coaches, it is published by Human Kinetics and can be ordered at

Also, make sure to check out these titles from Human Kinetics:

  • Complete Wide Receiver
  • Complete Offensive Line
  • Complete Linebacking

Comments 1

  1. I truly than the AFCA of the weekly news feed. They have help me become a better teacher of the game of football. The information contained is so useful of today’s coaches and teachers of this life lesson sport.

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