Have you ever watched a football game and have seen a quarterback continuously get the ball out of his hand just in time before the defensive lineman gets to him? Guys like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady seem to slip away for the slightest bit of time to get the ball out of their hand and to their receiver on time. How do they do this? Well, there’s a variety of skills that these guys have developed over their careers that gives them the ability to do this. Today, we want to talk about those specific skills and how you can improve them so you can perform like the best out there!

Spacial Awareness

Have you ever watched a football game and have seen a quarterback continuously get the ball out of his hand just in time before the defensive lineman gets to him? Guys like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady seem to slip away for the slightest bit of time to get the ball out of their hand and to their receiver on time. How do they do this? Well, there’s a variety of skills that these guys have developed over their careers that gives them the ability to do this. Today, we want to talk about those specific skills and how you can improve them so you can perform like the best out there!

The ability to anticipate where defenders are going to be before they get there is a skill that is essential for quarterbacks to have who want to move well in the pocket. Quarterbacks who  have the ability to keep their eyes downfield and focused on reading the play out while subconsciously move in the pocket are the ones who have great success. There is a video below of what we are talking about.

How do quarterbacks improve this ability though? Is it through just practicing these specific types of situations? Vision plays an extremely big role for players when deciding the depth of where the defender is at and how fast they are coming at the quarterback. These variables are also true for the defenders on the field that are trying to cover the receivers. This is what makes it so challenging for a quarterback because the quarterback has to account for himself to be able to get in position to throw, but also decide if the window that he wants to throw into is open. This can be quite difficult as the pocket collapses down on the QB. Let’s dive into the variables make up the qualities of having great movement in the pocket and how to improve these qualities.

Peripheral Vision Training

When a human being focuses their eyes on a set point, the visual field outside that set point that can be seen is known as the peripheral vision. The peripheral vision is different for every human being as the neurological system is very complex. The good thing for quarterbacks is that peripheral vision can be improved if it is trained in a very certain manner.

The speed at which a defender is approaching the quarterback is an essential factor that quarterbacks need to know because they need to know if they can hang in the pocket or get out of there as fast as possible. A defender running free at high speed and an offensive lineman getting pushed back into the lap of a QB can look similar in the peripheral vision, unless the rate of the speed of the object in the peripheral vision approaching the QB is detected. This is one variable that absolutely needs to be taken into account when training for this.

The next variable is the angle between that of the receiver and the quarterback in relation to the defensive back or linebacker that is covering the receiver. Sometimes, a quarterback might escape the defensive lineman but then still not be in a good position because the angle of the throw is still not a good one to try and complete to the wide receiver. Sometimes buying a little bit more time is the difference between a completion and a pick six.

One of our favorite drills to perform is one where we combine both of these variables. Here is the setup. After the quarterback takes his drop we have him look either to the right or the left. From here, we toss bags or tennis balls from the opposite side of the QB so the QB has to evade the object by using his peripheral vision. After a few bags are thrown, the coach will then rush the QB to the right, left, or directly in which the QB has to make a decision in which direction he wants to move to evade the defender. The coach can approach the QB in either a fast or slow manner. If it’s in a fast manner. the QB will evade the pocket because this is simulating a defender running free. If he comes slow the QB makes the slight change in the pocket and delivers the ball as this mimics an offensive lineman getting pushed back. This is combining the thought process of evading and moving, but also deciding if he wants to stay in the pocket or not. This is all using the peripheral vision.

The second part of this is adding the thought process of when the ball should be delivered. Whoever is catching for the QB can start with their hands on their knees and then flash their hands when they want the ball to be delivered. This could be right after the movement of the QB or a split second after they move. The hardest thing for a quarterback is to be able to hesitate a split second after moving in the pocket so the timing of the throw lines up like it needs to in order to have a completion. Try this one out and add the layers of the drill as the QB starts to get a grasp of it. This is definitely a very challenging exercise!

Movement in the pocket can be extremely challenging as it is difficult to get all parts of the body moving and adjusting in the same direction, while at the same time having good enough balance to deliver a strike down field with a lot of velocity. Quarterbacks at every level struggle with this as the center of mass is lost as quarterbacks either get too narrow in their base when they move their feet or their momentum takes them off balance. This is especially true for quarterbacks when stepping up in the pocket.

When a quarterback practices moving in the pocket, there needs to be some common teachings so the quarterback can have success. Here’s what they are:

  1. The weight should ALWAYS be loaded towards the back foot. This is done so the quarterback can deliver the ball when the window opens. If the quarterback has to take a split second to adjust the transfer of weight to get the proper velocity on the ball, then this is most likely already too late.
  2. The steps should always be short and close to the ground. We want as little wasted movement as possible. Big steps mean a narrow stance and a loss of balance.
  3. The eyes and front shoulder position should always move in a uniform manner. As the eyes move, so should the front shoulder so the body is in a good pre pass position to deliver the throw once that decision is made.

With that said, we don’t live in a perfect world. These are all things that are practiced in a fixed practice setting so it can be drilled into the subconscious mind. Ideally, we would want the QB to be a lot more worried about reading the defense and making good decisions with the ball. Thats’s why it takes so many repetitions at the QB position though. Repetition and mindful practice make conscious movements subconscious habits. Below, we provide a video talking in depth about pocket movement and the small details that needed to be taken into account when practicing it.

Maintaining the Box

The base is and center of mass is extremely important when moving in the pocket, but one area of the body that is not touched on that much at all is the trunk position. How many times do you see a quarterback’s shoulder position change as they step up or move right/left in the pocket? You see it ALL THE TIME! The reason that this is such a big problem is that an elevated shoulder position before initiating the throwing motion can often lead to accuracy problems and velocity problems. It is so common to see a quarterback step up in the pocket to throw a dig route in which the ball is overthrown and intercepted by the Cover 2 safety sitting back there. Should have been a completion, but an elevation in the shoulders caused a dysfunction in the throwing motion.

Dusty and I explain this concept as “playing in the box.” If there were lines drawn from shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, and then from each shoulder to each hip, there should be a perfect rectangle. If there is any change in this rectangle with pocket movement, then there is a flaw! This position will allow for proper weight transfer, proper sequencing in the throwing motion, great balance for players, and an ability to efficiently get out of the pocket fast if need be. We have attached a video below to go in depth about the ins and outs of “playing in the box.”

 

Throwing in a Phone Booth

One skill that is not practiced enough in relation to pocket movement is the ability to throw from a limited amount of space once moving. A lot of times as a QB moves, they need to be able to deliver a throw under duress without being able to transfer their weight forward when they throw.  This is why the idea of rotation during the throwing motion is so important. Quarterbacks absolutely need the ability to use more of their upper body rotation to create velocity on throws when they can’t use their lower half to create it. This is a skill that has to be practiced! There’s a million ways that players can practice this, but this is important to practice on throws that need touch and also throws that need some velocity on them.

Do you still want to play the quarterback position players? The QB position is the hardest position in all of sports because the movement involved is so detailed while also being able to make split second decisions simultaneously. This is a tall task, but one that can be accomplished through a lot of mindful work where quarterbacks are working towards the specificity of the position. Out of these categories, see where you are deficient and then work to get better in them! Everyone has weaknesses and this is often a glaring weakness for a lot of quarterbacks. I hope this article helps as we are trying to change the way that the position is trained! Please reach out to us if you have questions or want to collaborate. A good phone number to call/text is 812-343-4226 or you can reach us by email at drew@theqbdocs.com.

-Drew Kiel PT, DPT, CSCS