Feb 16

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Advanced Running Back Drills – Part I


By Mike DiMatteo, Running Backs Coach

Aurora University

At Aurora University, running the ball is a priority for our offense. As such, we want our RBs to have pride in who they are and develop a “stable of backs” mentality in which any one of them could enter the game and we would not skip a beat. With the approval of our OC, I gave them the nickname the ‘AU Ground Crew’ complete with a creed they were all required to memorize. Our RBs took great pride in that nickname and our creed. In 2016, we were the number one rushing team in the NACC. We were able to accomplish this with an outstanding offensive line and a stable of running backs led by a freshmen who was a split back veer dive back in high school.

Our run game is not complicated, but we insist that our running backs be precise and know what their reads are, where their landmarks are, and how the blocking assignments will dictate possible openings in the defense. All of this adds up to awareness, and helps them apply their physical gifts to get the rock moving. Our run game consists of a few basic schemes – Gap (counter trey), Zone (both inside and outside), Power, and Trap. Each of these plays has a specific aiming point and defensive line reads in order to make each play go. In addition, we practice four basic cuts we expect our RBs to master as well. These are the speed cut, slalom, pressure step, and jump cut. For this article, we are going to concentrate on what we teach for our best run play, the outside zone, and the drills that we employ that make it our “go to” play.

We run our outside zone a bit different than most, and by doing so, believe that it helps not only our linemen get to their optimal blocking position, but also puts our running backs in a better position to succeed. For us, it is not a true stretch play, but rather there are two built in reads for the running back. These two reads make it more difficult for the defense to stop, and creates a situation in which our offensive line is almost always right. As we are undersized on our offensive line, this component is important. It is the job of our running backs to make them right every time with the proper reads, a point that we emphasize each day.

For our outside zone play, our landmark is the inside leg of the playside tackle. The reason for this is that we want to put the LB’s in conflict, and not allow them to

simply outrace us to the edge, but rather hesitate and be forced to play the cutback. In addition, it helps our offensive line as it will slow the LB’s down allowing for better blocking angles. Since we will usually run our outside zone to a three technique, this gives the RB a dual read play side. This dual read mandates that our footwork is precise.


We start day one with a simple stance and start drill. No weight on the hands, just resting on the thigh board. Weight is on the instep of both feet, pressure on the inside ball of the big toe opposite the play direction. Since we off-set our RBs, his toes are at the midpoint of the QBs foot, aligned with his inside leg inside of the outside leg of the backside guard. This alignment will give him enough space and time to get his eyes in the right position for his reads, and will allow enough time for the blocking to develop.

His first step is with his playside foot just in front of the QB’s toes (lead step). His second step (path step) is directly at the landmark. This second step is critical as it will get the RB on his proper path. We drill this by simply taking two steps repeatedly. Cones are set up that mock where the playside tackle will be. This drill is done in a group of three RBs across in order to be most efficient during our Indy period. Since a live offensive line is different than cones, a key coaching point is to make sure that the eyes of the RB are looking to the landmark. I will stand at the cone to make sure that I see his eyes. That will also let me check his footwork. As we do not want to tip off the defense, the RBs are instructed to “scan” the offensive line. As they do so, they will spy their landmark.

Landmark and Read Drill

Our landmark drill is more difficult as there are two reads involved for the RBs. Those reads are the playside tackle and then the three technique tackle. Our RBs have a choice based on reads. The coaching point here is the eyes. We believe that the eyes will tell the feet where to go, and that concept is drilled into our backs from day one. “Landmarks and reads, landmarks and reads” are what the players hear all spring and summer.

The landmark for our outside zone, as stated earlier, is the inside leg of the playside tackle. The RB’s eyes have to get on the tackle’s hips. If the tackle’s hips turn out, the RB bounces to the outside (bounce). This demands a speed cut to the edge.

If the tackle’s hips turn in, the RB’s eyes immediately shift to the three technique and his press is dictated by that 3 tech’s direction. If the three technique gets to the B gap of the playside guard, the RB executes a speed cut back inside (bend), underneath the three technique. The RB will then work hash, numbers, sideline. This is drilled by having two reads. One, being the playside OT, the other being the three technique DT.


Part II Will be published tomorrow Friday, Feb 17th, 2017.


About the author

Mike DiMatteo Running Backs Coach - Aurora University

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