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The Football Practice Study
The Most Comprehensive Study of High School Football Practice Ever Conducted

By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs mikek@xandolabs.com

Copyright 2011 X&O Labs
No part of this report may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, scanning or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without prior written permission of X&O Labs.

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The Football Practice Study Introduction At X&O Labs. Like many other details of coaching. this study looks at the following categories: •Most productive offensive circuits •Most productive defensive circuits •Innovative alternatives to conditioning •Developing competition among players Please note – at the end of this report we provide detailed graphs from each of the questions from The Football Practice Study survey. If nothing more. gives you some ideas that you can integrate into your daily practice regiment.com . This is a sharp contrast to those 25 minute team sessions we became accustomed to when playing the game. we decided to conduct the largest practice study of all time.XandOLabs. Keeping with our traditional case study format. surveying over 2.000 high school coaches on how to best develop the “perfect” practice.8 percent) said the longest session they conduct in practice is never over ten minutes. we‟re hoping the information either reinforces what your staff is doing or. X&O Labs 1 www. more importantly. the following information is the result of trial and error through years of experience. Some of the results may surprise you – particularly the fact that almost half of the coaches surveyed (47.

It‟s the 15 most valuable minutes we have during practice. a coach in Webster. Jerome Voeltz. they may give us a nine and five technique on our tight end and tackle. at our level anyway. training the entire team to conduct these blocks can prove to be vital to your offensive success. Time is too valuable for some players to stand around while other players are getting quality repetitions. whole” teaching methodology through the use of circuit training. while the other center/guard pod is working the down block and pull scheme we would use for the back-side of power. defense or special teams. “Let‟s say we‟re playing a 50 team. coaches have gone to a circuit system.Case 1: Most Productive Offensive Circuits Case 1: Most Productive Offensive Circuits We‟ve found that many coaches have bought into the “whole. It provides for two of the most important aspects of developing a productive practice: efficient time management. another pod would be guards and tackles and the last pod will be tackles and tight ends. So.” Ball security stations were another common circuit that most offensive coaches were using during the course of the week. and maximum repetitions. Some of the more common offensive circuits we‟ve seen are focused on ball security and blocking. “Or we may have a four-down team that will use a 3-technique to the strong side. so that his kids are working the specific footwork they would need to execute those blocks.XandOLabs. The reasons why are simple. Matt Hagebusch. in order to combat this problem. drive block. We‟ll have the guard and tackle work that double team consistently. All of the players participate in each of the blocks. part. putting them in the two or three main looks he expects to see that week. He separates his offensive line into groups or pods. from offense to defense to special teams. We‟ve had numerous coaches weigh in with the specifics of X&O Labs 2 www. Hagebusch will work all of his run game based on those looks. We‟d work that combination with every run game we have.com . While organizing blocking circuits may not seem so innovative for positions like the offensive line. another five on the next look and the last five on the final look. stalk block and trap block. We‟ll spend five minutes on one look. Wisconsin breaks his offense up into three stations once a week to work on the following blocks: kick out block. Over 40 percent of coaches employ at least one circuit daily. We‟re only going to get a maximum of three fronts. One pod will be centers working with guards. either on offense. He‟ll have another group serve as a scout team.” he says. the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Vinita High School (OK) has found a way to incorporate all of the blocks his offensive line will execute in a three to five minute period.

X&O Labs 3 www. Conversely. The drill is done a couple times. They will try to pry the ball or knock the ball carrier over while the ball carrier runs a ten yard period. etc. The purpose of the drill is to get the players used to falling while keeping the ball in contact with the body.com . It teaches them to protect the ball when they fall. we’ve found that the majority of coaches would rather perform this drill with live players than a machine. only try to get the ball.Case 1: Most Productive Offensive Circuits their ball security drills. players cannot try to knock the ball carrier over. Although. The player he is “seat rolling” towards. he then prepares to roll back the other way and so forth (diagram 1). The drill starts with each ball carrier facing a tunnel of players who will try to do anything to get the ball from them. Three players – each with a football in hand – will line up side by side with two yards between them. Once the original player (who started the drill) gets up. There will usually be a punishment in the form of push-ups.XandOLabs. Four of the most popular drills are detailed below: Seat Rolls: Coaches like to use this drill to prevent players from using their ball side hand to break their fall when going down. then jumps or “seat rolls” over him working in the direction of the final player. Important Coaching Point: The players cannot use the ball side hand to break their fall. Gauntlet Drill: This drill can be done with the gauntlet machine or with shields. if the ball carrier coughs up the ball (diagram 2). thus exposing the ball. It‟s tough to simulate the reach and grab of opponents with a machine. The player in the middle will start the drill in a standing position by rolling on his butt to his right. up downs. The ball carrier cannot run away or deliberately go to the ground to stop the drill.

he will work the following progressions (diagram 4): Progression 1 – Hit and Spin: The first player will run five yards. Although. Progression 2 – Heisman: Here the player will execute a stiff arm (rotating left arm then right arm) emphasizing leverage and getting the stiff arm side leg higher. with the first player in each line facing the rest of the group with five yards of spacing in between them. aside from setting up stations. but also teaches the back to keep his momentum forward at all times. The ball carrier must cross the ten yards with full possession of the ball to win the drill (diagram 3). the second defender‟s job is to “rip” the ball out in any means necessary. the defenders will let the ball carrier split them. right after stretching. thus the Heisman tag. Here. Each player will move up in line. Each player will move up in line. While the ball carrier is taught to accelerate his movement.com . the ball carrier will start to run 10 yards. Kaman will fit up the ball carrier with the first player in line to simulate a wrap tackle. Kaman will line his players up in 6-8 lines. Because Kaman has only twenty skill players on his squad. He will have his kids spin left and then right and finish through an imaginary end zone to visualize scoring. than the opponents.Case 1: Most Productive Offensive Circuits Rip to Protect: We found this drill to be pretty interesting. X&O Labs 4 www. working to the next player in line. is to get the entire offensive skill players involved. Another method of ball security work. they will try to poke and prod to get the ball out. Each player will move up in line. Once kids are lined up correctly. spin off (keeping the ball secure) and continue to the next player five yards from there. It‟s a physical drill that not only teaches ball security. make contact with the next player in line. The drill is set up in a 10 yard box with the ball carrier in front of two defenders. the offensive coordinator at Comstock Park High School (MI) does with his kids at the start of each practice. Progression 4 – Splitting Defenders: The last progression is to have the ball carrier split two defenders. while keeping the ball high and tight. The ball carrier now approaches two defenders who are about a foot apart. with one defender holding onto his jersey to slow him down. The ball carrier will try to spin out of the tackle. he will equip each with a football. It‟s a method that Ed Kaman.XandOLabs. thus dragging the defender. Progression 3 – All Tied Up: Here.

etc. It‟s monotonous as hell for the kids. but it‟s effective. Truth is.” says Caputo. three so they get the proper fit. It‟s done on Monday. a Wing T coach in nature. Tuesday and Wednesdays during game week. who says a circuit can only be physically taxing on a player? Frank Caputo. two.Case 1: Most Productive Offensive Circuits Finally. conducts what he calls a 15 minute mental toughness circuit where his players will walk through his plays in a step by step fashion. Fit Drill. “We line up our guys in whatever formations we will run that week. the former head coach and now offensive coordinator at Salem High School (GA) mentally taxes his players by “walking” them through all of their assignments in his Talk. We talk about where the gap is. Walk. which shoulder we‟re blocking the backer with. and run all our plays against the fronts we expect our opponents to play for the week. “I‟ll call the cadence and walk them though each step: one. which player is down. Caputo.5 percent of coaches incorporate at least one form of a walk-through period during practice. 43. You have to know where to fit and feel comfortable. We let kids see the holes develop and we tell them how the defense will play each scheme.XandOLabs.” X&O Labs 5 www.com .

Defender starts in an athletic position. There are four total stations with three groups at three minutes per station with a one minute transition. The blocker engages defender in position specific area (i. Its full contact and intense competition. Description: A defender and his partner start face up. the defender turns up. The ball carrier will fluctuate between a jog and sprint and turn up to the defender 3-5 times. Keith Herring. the head coach at Brentwood High School (MO) works a “Bears Drill” daily that he got from former Chicago Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt.e. one runner and one defender.com . The defender is 3-5 yards behind his partner.XandOLabs. club up. Description: A defender and his partner (ball carrier) start 10 yards from each other on the sideline. The defender will remain focused on being in position three yards behind his partner with his eyes on the closest hip. the second defender scoops ball and scores. bite-the-ball!" by biting the ball. and players will get 15-20 reps at it by switching sides. While we believe many of you are doing some of the same things with these topics. Walter Pape in Colorado provided a detailed account of his tackle circuits. their backs flat and follows with their hips. According to Pape. But we‟ve found one coach who integrates those “Oki” principles into a teaching period. bite-the-ball!" Our surveys were also flooded with dozens of responses on coaches that run Oklahoma drills where they pit two on two offensive and defensive lineman against each other with a ball carrier. and bite-the-ball!" Station 3 – Strip and Score: Goal – Get Takeaways. club up. pursuit and tackling. proper fits. It‟s a half-line drill that incorporates block destruction. Once the ball comes loose. club up. the defender executes a tackle “buzz feet. it makes the players keep their heads up. Station 2 – Cutback Tackle: Goal – To work on angle and cutback tackling. Herring will match up a defensive lineman with an offensive lineman who X&O Labs 6 www. Description: Engage offense player with a defender tackling him. Have the ball exposed while a second defender comes in to strip ball by grabbing the nose of the ball and violently ripping it out. Once the partner turns up. The goal is to get off the block by extending or ripping through the block and get to the runner with the ball. we at least wanted to chronicle one of our readers‟ responses. LB will be engaged by OL or DB engage by WR). Once the defender is 2-3 steps from partner break down “buzz feet. partner has a ball in arm. Station 4 – Shed Block: Goal – Shed blocks. Station 1 – Bite the Ball: Goal – Proper tackling technique and head up tackling. Once the defender is 2-3 steps away "buzz feet. Description: Have one blocker. both start jogging towards the opposite sideline. On the whistle. Once his partner moves forward. The width of the drill is 20 yards.Case 2: Most Productive Defensive Circuits Case 2: Most Productive Defensive Circuits The responses we received to defensive circuits focused primarily on tackling and takeaways.

it gets us juiced up for that period.XandOLabs. “The fullback will try and block the front side linebacker while our tight end or slot reaches our contain player. we don‟t take anyone to the ground. who will be unblocked.com .Case 2: Most Productive Defensive Circuits will try to reach block him (diagram 5). There will also be a wide receiver vs. They get two reps and it‟s a thud drill. Behind the defensive lineman there will be two linebackers.” said Herring. We just try to strip the ball and knock the ball carrier back. It‟s all done before our team period in practice. a stack linebacker and a cutback linebacker (Herring plays a 3-3-5 scheme). “We give the back three or four yards and he can cut it back. a corner and a slot receiver (or tight end) matched up against a contain player as well as a free-safety deep. The free safety runs the alley as an inside out fitter. but the back-side linebacker must be there to play his role.” X&O Labs 7 www.

“Essentially. It incorporates conditioning and defense recognition. MacPherson runs through his two offensive tempos.XandOLabs. what it did was create competition between guys that are similar in speed and basically it came down to who was tougher and in better shape. It‟s on air. in Idaho.” Tom MacPherson. “We set cones for the various defensive fronts that we will see that week and place them at 15 yard intervals down the field. Players will listen to alert words like “rocket” or “jet” to remind them they are in fast tempo and will snap the ball on first sound. There are some coaches like Pat Patterson. “The last place finishers in each group would move down in ranking while the first place finishers would move up in ranking each day. the various fronts all the way down the field.” X&O Labs 8 www. We will run the play called without going off-sides. “We will run 6-8 plays then turn around from the other 10 yard line out. We concentrate on communication and assignments and it really works them. If they don‟t hear those buzz words. Guys took a lot of pride in moving up a group. It provided for instant competition that forced players to maintain their status or be dropped to another level. The types of conditioning varied among coaches. MacPherson signals each play.” Mike Judy. and this time was no different.com .” said Judy. He does it late in practice when players are tired because it forces them to focus. “We will put the ball on the ten yard line and work to the opposite end zone. we work on communication and conditioning.Case 3: Innovative Forms of Conditioning Case 3: Innovative Forms of Conditioning Varying ways of conditioning players has always been a subject of interest among coaches. and each resulting tempo. It seems that coaches are always stuck between the medium of wanting to get their players in the best shape physically but not wearing them out as the season moves along into the vital latter months. If we‟re off-sides we‟ll add a play. the ball gets snapped on one. the head coach at Ridgeview High School (FL) does something similar. While we expected somewhat of a shift in the time in practice where coaches condition their players. They jog back to the other end and we start over with another play. “We have two huddles and we call a play and they have to run it and block it correctly vs. The play is signaled to the wide receivers and quarterbacks who then tell the offensive line the play. from the sideline. base and fast as he calls it. who runs a perfect play period to condition his kids. He runs what he calls a tempo change of pace drill on air. a coach in Delaware provided us with his conditioning “bracket” where he grouped his players based on pre-season speed tests. the fact is over 76 percent have their players condition at the end of practice. Ridgeview is a no-huddle team with the cadence built into the tempo. A coach moves and spots the ball.” says MacPherson. up and down the field.” said Patterson.

“They aren‟t allowed to hip throw them or use the other person‟s momentum to get them out.” says Fennewald. the head coach at Norton High School (OH) keeps count of his individual players' number of takeaways on defense. he makes each play a situation such as a 3rd and 8 and he‟ll run 10 plays. the linebacker must defeat the tight end‟s block and the defensive back must whip the corner‟s block. they fire into each other and try to push the other person out of the circle. bottle of Gatorade.” says Kruger. then five yards behind he matches a linebacker on a tight end. the head coach at Mulvane High School (KS) runs his Vortex Drill to develop competition (diagram 6). A touchdown counts as two points with a field goal counting as one point.” said Stephen. like Derek Stephen in West Virginia. one‟s.” Finally. The drill is set-up on a 45 degree angle.” Dave Fennewald. who said practice can‟t be fun? Aside from team competitions.” During his 7-on-7 session. “We may run a two-minute drill with one‟s vs. “Your defense is getting off blocks.XandOLabs. “The players care more about the bragging rights. the defensive coordinator at Xavier High School (CT) tells his defense that if they create four takeaways in a 24-play team period they get out of conditioning. many of Carroll‟s principles that he used has trickled down to the high school level. For example. etc. “We will either keep a tally for the day or week. one point if defense gets a stop.com . so whoever gets to the ball first is credited with a fumble recovery.Case 4: Developing Competition in Practice Case 4: Developing Competition in Practice It seems every coach is striving to develop some form of competition in practice. He starts out with an offensive and defensive lineman in front of each other. then another seven yards from there he pits a defensive back on a wide receiver. Andy Guyon. “On „go‟.” It doesn‟t stop there. some coaches.” X&O Labs 9 www.” For Kim Nelson at Roosevelt High School (SD) Wednesday is "Competition Day. integrate individual competitions in their practice such as his “circle drill” where he has two players line up across from each other in a big circle. We‟ve all heard Pete Carroll talk about having his players compete in all his drills when he was the head coach at USC.” says Nelson. the defensive lineman must defeat the o-lineman. every incomplete pass is treated as a fumble. “On the snap of ball. we won‟t do this until the week of a huge game. Glen Kruger. we go from the three yard line and score one point for a TD and one point for a defensive stop for ten plays. Often times. “We keep score. it stresses physicality. In fact. and the player with the most takeaways will win a „prize‟ which is usually an extra helmet sticker. just to get players thinking on their toes and breaking the routine of monotonous workouts. one point if offense makes a first down. “Even for our inside run period. a similar concept to what Carroll called “Takeaway Tuesdays” at USC.

X&O Labs 10 www. which will be ten yards away from them. he will have ten guys line up with their backs to the ball.” says Santee. the head coach at Boulder High School (CO) credit for not only developing a terrific individual completion drill but finding an innovative use for those big red balls we have in our weight rooms. Players are forced to play with leverage and quick feet. punching or grabbing each other‟s facemasks.com .Case 4: Developing Competition in Practice We also want to give Jeff Santee. Once they get to the ball they have to try and push the ball five yards in the other direction against the momentum of the other player. When Santee calls their number they turn and race to the ball without kicking.XandOLabs. Santee will give each player a number. which he does on the first day of practice. In Santee‟s “red ball” drill. “Its fun and competitive and establishes toughness at the same time.

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