Updated: Mar 24
There are other things you need to do, despite what that logical side of your brain is telling you to do: step up, remain calm, don’t give up on the play. In the face of outside pressure you need to move forward, stepping up into the pocket. It’s an unnatural reaction, but you have to do it.
-”The Art and Magic of Quarterbacking” by Joe Montana
Let's look closely at one of the sentiments expressed, the one that catches me up, "Its is an unnatural reaction, but you have to do it." Wow! This is one of the NFL greatest QBs saying what most young players think, "You want me to do what, Coach?"
So begins the daily drilling of this most "unnatural reaction" to angry defensive players intent on stopping your QB's pass. Before we get into the drills I tend to do. Let's talk age level and passing game philosophy briefly. Plainly stated I will make my youth quarterbacks (under Middle School age) learn and execute a three step drop passing game 99.97% of the time. That limits them to quick drops, a quick release, and minimum reads. Fundamentally I will instruct them keep your eyes up the field from the moment of the snap and when you plant that third step, throw. This syncs up with the pass routes and gives the receiver the best chance to make a catch. You take a hitch step only for two reasons: 1) hit a back on a check out route, and 2) step up and escape - become a runner. Three step passing route are not read progression route and your young QB does need that complication in his mind as he executes your offense. It is only as a QB begins to mature in the game that 5 step passing routes begin to "infiltrate" his repertoire. This is when the 10 minutes for individual escape passing drills as a younger QN begin to become more intense and longer in duration. That said let's take a look at another 'master" of escape, Tom Brady. Watch as Brady steps up with a hitch step and then angles first to his left and then to his right to avoid the rush from the Bills players thus extending the play. That's not due to consuming avocado milk shakes! That is intensive drilling coupled with a great internal clock and peripheral vision.
So how to you develop your Middle School and High School QB to extend plays like this? First, some background: This skill will be primarily need in your 5 and 7 step passing game. For Middle School and High School QBs I rarely introduce 7 step passing concepts. That even applied to the Division III College QBs I coached. It was all 5 step drop, OK, so let's breakdown 5 step drop in terms of what can happening: Top of the drop back This is typically where the ball would be delivered in 3 step and Quick 5 step Drop passing concepts. However, in the 5 step passing concept this is the "settle" step prior to the hitch step and first read. Read - 1st hitch step
This is done on 5 step drops to get that first read. Doing so does not interfere with the sync between Receiver and QB. You are typically at about 2.2 seconds post snap. This is of importance to note for coaches and can be discussed with advanced QBs. If all is well this is ideally when the ball is delivered. Rush - 2nd hitch step
Your QB will use this 2nd hitch step when the primary Receiver is covered. Good QBs will make this read to not pass quickly, great QBs will make it instinctively. This second hitch step is also effective at neutralizing a blitz. So you may have two issues ongoing: a blitz/pressure on QB and the primary Receiver is open. In this case the direction of the 2nd hitch step must be made to elude the rush. That is "up in the pocket" on outside pressure and angled right or left to avoid "up the middle" pressure. Now your QB's internal clock needs to tell him he's at about 2.6 seconds post snap. Release - leave the pocket and run This is kind of self-explanatory in that the defensive pressure has flushed the QB from the pocket area (tackle to tackle) and the QB becomes a player on the move. Why don't I just say the QB is a runner? Because the QB must keep his feet moving, quickly, and maintain a good pre-pass position. Don't give up on the pass initially. The ball should only be tucked into the standard "eagle claw grip" of a runner once the QB has determined no pass should be delivered. There are some drills we can discuss to illustrate the proper escape. One point of emphasis -escaping the pocket rarely, and I mean rarely, ever involves running away from the line of scrimmage! Leave that tricky maneuver to Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. The way out is step up and escape through the "front door or the back door" but always up, lateral, if appropriate, and sprint to open grass.
The Wave Drill One of the time tested quarterback pocket drills. I like this drill because your quarterback has to go forward, backwards and hitch up at an angle to the left and right side.
Have your quarterback start by dropping back in a 5-step drop. A 5-step drop is characterized as a kick step, a crossover step, a second kick step, a second crossover step and a final settle step.
You as the coach will be directly in front of your quarterback. As the 5-step drop is being executed, coach can point/yell a hitch forward, hitch back, or 45 degree or slide angle motion.
Have your QB complete a variety of the movements in one set. I typically keep it to no more than four of those listed above. At the end of the desired movement, such as hitching up, have them end the drill with an escape route by saying "front door" or "back door". The front door is simply to the QB's front side and the back door is to his back side. Remember these are forward sprints to open grass not backward retreats away from the defensive. Front Door Escape Route: The front door escape is primarily used when the QB receives pressure "up the middle". The front door escape require the QB to run parallel to the line of scrimmage with a SLIGHT arc. The slight arc is not always necessary as sometimes a straighter line will work. That decision needs to be made by the QB quickly. Typically the QB will maintain a good pre-pass position while running, eyes up field looking for a Receiver. This is simulated by the coach having the "receiver" in the drill raise his hands. Let's take a look (following three videos from Athletes Acceleration):
Always remember if you wish to simulate no one is open the coach will instruct the "receiver" in the drill to not raise his hands and the QB will sprint to open grass.
Back Door Escape: The back door escape is used when the QB feels pressure from his front side, middle front side or occasionally when indicated the back side. As the QB spins from the defender it is imperative he maintain a two handed grip on the ball as he executes a 270 degree spin away. The QB will lose sight of his Receivers downfield and must quickly regain eye contact as he begins to run parallel to the line of scrimmage to his backside. Your QB will be chased by the defensive player(s) he may not see as he will have his back to the defensive player. If your QB locates an open Receiver he must quickly get his non-throwing shoulder pointed toward the Receiver. Once the QB executes this pivot he should fire the ball. The back door escape is far more complex a plan than the front door escape so I tell my QB to attack the open grass towards the line of scrimmage as a first priority and then make the pass or run decision. In this manner he keeps his feet moving away from pursuing defensive rushers and still keeps the pass option open. Let's take a look:
Notice the shoulder pivot. This is a must to get an accurate pass delivered. Up and Out When your QB faces pressure from one or both sides he should be drilled to step up into the pocket. Recall a typical 5 step drop involves a first hitch step or read step. So we are talking about a second hitch step up into the pocket to escape pressure from the sides. After the hitch step(s) up into the pocket the QB will escape out the front door running toward the sideline and parallel to the line of scrimmage. He should maintain for as long as a pass is a possibility a good running pre-pass position and look for the open receiver. Now you might be asking yourself why did I say escape out the front door? Think about this for a moment the QB has stepped up into the pocket one maybe two steps while the rush is evolving to his side(s). I want my QB to have the best possible eye sight on the downfield receivers. Reversing and spinning 270 degrees by itself removes your QB's eyes from his Receivers. That is why I teach up and escape out the front door. In summary it is necessary to drill, drill, drill these Pocket Presence moves every practice during individual time. A QB will contend with great athletes that are hell bent on sacking him and ruining his day. Your QB will have no more than 3 seconds post snap to deliver an accurate pass. That is how fast defensive rushers can get to your QB. Hopefully you will win most of these 10 yard turf wars and come out ahead in the end.