Updated: Mar 24
This post is predominately directed at Coaches; although High School or College QBs may find it of use.
Back in December 2014, X and O Labs ( www.xandolabs.com ) produced a 10,000 word research report that went into great detail discussing QB Pocket Presence. Their report entitled, “50+ Drills to Improve QB Pocket Presence, is a great read. If you do not subscribe to X and O Labs I highly recommend that you do. It is a great source of Football Coaching information.
Because of the details of X and O Labs are so richly presented I will not attempt to cover all the information or drills they present. Rather, I would like to highlight some key points made in their report, and quote freely from the report – as I think it concisely presents some great information.
Pocket presence is what can be thought of as the actions taken by a QB after he reaches the top of his drop. For the most part QB pass drops are determined by the play call and the pass routes inherent in the play. Teaching pass drops are covered elsewhere on this site, and are fundamental to the play of a QB. In many senses the pass drop is a series of methodical mechanical steps.
Where things get interesting is what foot movement technique a QB is taught to do once he reaches the top of his drop and begins to work through his pass progression. X and O Labs asked two questions of the readership: “What do you teach your quarterbacks to do with their feet DURING the progression and after the drop?” and “What do you teach at the TOP of drops?”
Here is synopsis of their findings:
There emerged three schools of thought on this aspect of Quarterbacking. They are:
The hitching / rhythm approach
The quiet / statue approach
The fast feet approach
While each technique has its advantages. The discussion revolves around the philosophy as to how to get the ball out as timely, quickly, and accurately as possible.
Let’s look at X and O’s finding and the arguments for each of these approaches and allow you to determine what best fits your offense / philosophy.
Hitching / Rhythm Approach
According to X and O Labs research, the majority of coaches- 44 percent- teach a hitch technique to their quarterbacks at the top of his drop.
This concept can be categorized as “reading with your feet”. That is moving the QBs feet through his progression reads, and changing the position of the feet as the QB changes targets. This method will allow them to be timely with their throws and they will have a better gauge of when they need to get rid of the ball.
Further, expanding on this approach, “Darin Slack and Dub Maddox at the National Football Academy have built on that line of thinking with their R4 concept. They teach that coaches can streamline their QB’s timing and decision making process by categorizing reads into 4 categories
rhythm (top of drop)
read (1st hitch)
rush (2nd hitch / blitz) and
release (leave the pocket / run).
When asked why they prefer this rhythmic method of pocket progressions as opposed to other methods, Maddox said that “Pocket footwork should sync with the rhythm of route breaks and the timeline available based on defensive pressure and coverage. Fast erratic foot fire = fast erratic decision making.
He then argued that if done correctly, a quarterback “can fit 3 routes in a progression in 2.6 seconds...Rhythm route = 1.8, Read route = 2.2, Rush route = 2.6.” The reason it doesn’t happen that quickly or regularly is because players are not taught the process well enough.”
Here are some additional coaching points on the hitch technique from Dub Maddox:
(The hitch technique) maintain a wider base for quicker weight transfer on the throw and stay in rhythm with route breaks. (It also allows QB’s to) reset their hallway in 1 move to a different WR.
Coaching points include:
feet width being just outside shoulder frame
hitch move is a 6 inch directional move pushing off the back foot on to the front foot with the weight on the insteps of the feet.
QB can hitch forward, back, right or left depending on where his progression or pressure is taking him.
Basically it is not different than a boxer. Boxing is about rhythm, power, quickness, timing... “
Before moving to the next approach let’s look at the 4 categories of reads as coined by Coaches Slack and Maddox.
Rhythm – top of the drop:
This is typically where the ball would be delivered when the play calls for a three-step drop. Typically, the timing of routes such as: hitch, slant, out, fade, and/or fade stop require the ball be delivered as soon as the QB achieves his third step (top of the drop). This is done to mesh with the route timing, to insure the ball is released before the rush can get to the QB, and to put the receiver in the best possible position to make a catch and attempt to obtain yards after the catch.
Read – 1st hitch
This is used 1) during a three step drop check out to a back due to defensive pressure, 2) Five and seven step drops where read progressions are possible and can be done without disturbing the route timing.
Rush – 2nd hitch / blitz
Use during progression reads where the primary receiver may be covered. This technique is also effective to step up in the pocket to neutralize a blitz. The direction of the second hitch step must be executed to elude the blitz.
Release – leave the pocket / run
This is self explanatory in that defensive coverage or rush has forced the QB out of the pocket (tackle to tackle). There are techniques for avoiding the rush and escaping out of the pocket. We won’t cover them here. But there is a great drill on under “Videos” in the site menu that can be used to teach these techniques.
One thing of note: leaving the pocket does not necessarily mean abandoning the pass. The QB must keep his feet moving with proper technique while maintaining a good pre-pass position. The ball is only “tucked” into the “eagle claw grip if the QB plans to run.
Fast feet - Foot Fire (Air raid) Approach
According to X and O labs research, 28.6 percent of coaches teach a foot-fire technique to their quarterbacks after the drop progression.
“This concept in many ways is the opposite of the rhythmic approach explained above. The philosophy behind this approach is that the rhythm of the hitching method makes it hard, if not impossible for a QB to throw the ball out of rhythm. This makes it harder for him to throw the ball when things aren’t perfect. By using the foot fire approach, the QB always has a foot in the ground and is able to plant and throw at almost any point depending on where and when he sees an opening.”
The proponents of this approach maintain that using a fast feet technique:
Allows the QB to be ready at all times
Accounts for the difference in route running of different receivers
Timing can be disrupted by defenses and the QB must adjust
Nick Coleman, the offensive coordinator at Itawamba Community College added these coaching points
Keep the base under armpits.
speed up their feet in anticipation of the window to ensure they can throw at the moment they want to
Quiet Feet Approach
The last, and least used of the pocket movement concepts is all about reducing movement. These coaches want their quarterbacks to either barely hop or even not move their back foot at all. Their argument in some ways is similar to parts of each of the previous techniques. They want to combine the calm nature of the hitch with the ability to throw at any time like the foot fire approach. Here are a few comments about this approach:
“Stay balanced and keep your back foot on the ground, watch Tom Brady in the pocket, his back foot is always on the ground, he never has to give up that split second to get his back foot back down to deliver the ball, which is why he rarely ever misses an open window.” - Marcus Miller, Englewood High School (FL)
“Balls of the feet, bouncing lightly. I think of "hopping" as coming off the ground more than I would like. I use the term "Pushing the grass down and letting the grass come up." - James Guest, Oviedo High School (FL)
It is important for QB coaches to accentuate two fundamental concepts when teaching one of these pocket presence concepts.
The alignment of the feet and body to the target
The connection between the eyes and the feet
If the QBs eyes are not focused downfield and processing information the best footwork will be undone. Training the connection of the eyes to a QBs footwork can be drilled using any pocket movement technique. I urge you to visit the X and O lab website and view the extensive drills there.