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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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