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NFL Combine Series, Part 5, Position Specific Drills

By: Steve Yahns, MS, CSCS, NASM-PESAssistant Director of Performance, Lead Methodology EducatorSpectrum Sports Performance While most of the focus during the combine may be on bench reps, forty yard dash and 5-10-5 times, or vertical jump, athletes must prepare to show their skills during several position specific drills. Quarterbacks must demonstrate their ability to show their 3, 5, and 7 drops and then display their arm strength and accuracy. Running Backs must show their ability to change direction, cut and accelerate. Receivers must show speed and precise route running ability. O linemen must show lateral quickness, proper footwork during pass protection and short distance acceleration, while D linemen must show starting explosiveness and speed, and hand quickness. Linebackers and D Backs must be able to change direction quickly, turn and run with speed, and display good instincts.

Positions?

Since there are so many skills and abilities to work on from a training standpoint, where do we begin? Obviously, it starts with indentifying the position or positions the athlete may be asked to perform. For instance, nowadays in the NFL, there are many defensive linebackers or linemen that are considered “hybrid” guys. This means that they could either play as a linebacker or play on the line. They must be able to display both position specific skill sets, so we must train them to excel at both positions. This could be similar for some running backs that may also play receiver, or tight ends that may also play receiver. Regardless, first identifying which positions the athlete may play will let us program which position specific drills he must train to perform come combine time.

Training Considerations

First of all, overall athleticism is of upmost importance. Elite level athletes, such as NFL combine guys, usually have a tremendous amount of general athleticism. Honing in on that and perfecting basic athletic skills should make up a good portion of training. More importantly, there are certain movement skills that guys who play certain positions should work on during combine prep training.

Quarterbacks
Position specific drills for QBs center around throwing the ball with strength and accuracy, but also their ability to quickly and powerfully drop back to throw is scrutinized. This involves training their ability to quickly crossover, while gaining distance, and then transition to a push off during their throw. Training a QB’s crossover is much different than training a 5-10-5 or 3 Cone Drill crossover. The QB crossover is in a more upright position, and their focus is always down the field while they crossover. While they may be only crossing over and dropping back three to seven steps, they must do so explosively. Scouts want to see QBs get out from under center, get depth, and set up to throw, and they want to see them do so quickly.

Running Backs
Cutting and change of direction training should be a big part of any running backs combine prep program. Their position is all about moving in many random directions instinctively. Their training should begin with very technical cutting techniques. Not only side to side, but moving laterally and then quickly accelerating. This can simulate finding the hole in the line to run through. While we should focus on a portion of controlled cutting, most running backs will need to cut and change direction randomly. This involves training the running back in more of a random or instinctual environment. This may be done by simply adding an object to react to when making a cut, or cutting away from where a defender might end up. Combine drills for running backs involve a good amount of cutting on the fly or cutting instinctually.

Wide Receivers Receivers will mainly be judged on their ability to run precise routes during their combine position specific drills. Training should focus on making sharp cuts and change of direction cutting while running at full speed. In addition, training should include their ability to re-accelerate after making the cut. Good body control is very important for running backs and receivers alike. Scouts really look for play makers as well. Similar to how we train running backs to cut instinticively, receivers must possess some of the same instincts. Also, receivers must be able to catch the ball, every time. A popular drill for receivers during the combine is the gauntlet, where they catch ball after ball while running across the field. Hand eye coordination while running full speed should definitely be addressed for receivers. O-Line Hip mobility is big for O-linemen. Most of them are big dudes, and their ability to get low is vital. This can be hard for most guys, so training should involve corrective and mobility work for the hips. In addition, their training should focus on their ability to cover distance laterally, and to get depth while maintaining their O-line base position (kick stance). O-linemen are usually only required to cover a 5 yard radius around them, but their ability to do so quickly and remain in a low position in required. In addition, these guys should train to accelerate quickly out of their stance. It may only be 5 yards, but it’s important that they cover those 5 yards quickly, especially considering the large body mass they are usually dealing with. D-Line Many D-Linemen are as big as O-Linemen, and they must also be able to drop their hips and get lower than the man across from them. In addition, most D-Linemen are required to explode straight ahead quickly, while staying low. Scouts have these guys do a drill where they get off the line, stay low, and perform a sharp, rounded turn around a dummy and then quickly Accel to the QB. Training should once again focus on quickly covering short distances, but also to be able to slightly change direction without losing speed and power. Hand quickness and power is also another consideration for O and D-Linemen alike.

Linebackers
Linebackers and hybrid guys must be able to do a little bit of everything. They must be able to accelerate quickly, cut quickly and instinctively, and also be able to turn and open up the hips and accelerate in the opposite direction. Yes, they are asked to do a lot on the field. Hip mobility is very, very important, especially when asked to turn and run in the opposite direction. A good drill for these guys that addresses all of the above mentioned skills is what we call the box drill. Four cones are to be placed anywhere from 5 to 10 yards (or more) apart, and the athletes is to stand in the middle. Keeping his eyes on the coach, he is to run to whichever cone the coach points to. This is all done randomly, and the coach can increase the speed of each point, as the athlete progresses. I absolutely love this drill, and I really love adding acceleration, a turn and run, or some other type of movement at the end of each rep. This can simulate the player running to make a tackle, running to get to the ball, etc. Combine drills for these guys are very similar to this box drill

Defensive Backs
Overall speed is often thought of as a must-have for DBs. While this is very true, they must have the ability to accelerate, plant their foot in the ground and turn and run quickly. They must try to get back to full speed quickly, while maintaining good body control and ball instincts. The entire DB combine position specific drills address their ability to go from a backpedal to an acceleration to a backpedal and/or turn and run. Once again, hip mobility is very important, as is their “turn and run” technique. Keeping the planted foot underneath the hip, while opening up the hips and running the desired direction is essential, especially when trying to run directly behind them. This is called a 180 degree cut, and is probably the toughest cut to pull off. Training someone to do this cut, while running full speed ahead, is a great way to prepare a DB for the position drills during the NFL combine.

Overall, there are many considerations when training NFL combine guys to excel at position specific drills. Above all else, breaking down the drill into several necessary movements, training each movement and then putting the pieces together can dramatically help the athletes kill it during the position portion of the combine!

Edited by Courtney VandeStreek

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