Footwork + Pocket Presence For Quarterbacks

Most football teams hinge on the abilities of their quarterback and their efforts can make or break a game. Today, the NFL is currently in the Golden Age of Quarterbacks, as many teams have converted from a ground-and-pound, running back heavy offense to a pass-happy attack. Of course, it relies on an adequate quarterback, but most NFL franchises have made efforts in recent seasons to add mobile athletes at the position. And, contrary to popular belief, being mobile doesn’t just mean scrambling out of the backfield -- it means being able operate in the pocket and find space to use. A quarterback’s footwork and pocket presence depends on an intelligent athlete that has put in work during practices. Being as efficient as Tom Brady is after fifteen seasons in the NFL isn’t a natural product, he wasn’t born with those skills. Only hard work and effort can shape a quarterback’s footwork and pocket presence, so what are you waiting for?

Ladder drills will help athletes develop fundamental skills as well as quick footwork in the pocket. These drills also teach the quarterback proper form when handling the ball inside the pocket -- for example, keeping the ball high and tight, close to your numbers. Brady is not the quickest or fastest quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, however, he has unbelievable footwork that allows him to move effortlessly in the pocket.

Additionally, learning the various step drops should be a key practice point to any young, evolving quarterback. Even if your team does not throw the deep ball often, it’s important to develop these skills. The three kinds of drops are 3, 5 and 7, with each one achieving very different effects.

The 3-Step Drop

The main benefit to the 3-Step Drop is its inherent quickness with no extra time wasted. Often used on very short pass plays in order to catch the defense sleeping, the 3-Step Drop allows the QB to be in a throwing position instantly, ready to release at a moment’s notice. Look for it on downs like 3rd and 2, where the defense might be expecting a run and the offense wants the ball out of the QB's hands instantly.

The 5-Step Drop

The 5-Step Drop can be found on short to mid-range passing attempts. Commonly used because it creates space for the quarterback without taking too much time to reach a natural throwing position. Quarterbacks will use 5-Step Drops because they provide stability and balance before letting go of the ball. Look for it on most downs, but particularly on plays like 1st and 10, 2nd and 7, 3rd and 5, etc. Ideal for situations when an offense isn't trying to throw short, but also doesn't want to throw deep either.

The 7-Step Drop:

This drop will most often be found on deep passing plays. Quarterbacks will use 7-Step Drops to create an extra pocket of space before throwing. Then, when they step-up to gain momentum and power before releasing, they aren’t running right into pass rushers or lineman. Look for it on long play attempts like 3rd and 15 or 4th and 20 -- last desperation plays where only a big gain will bring a new set of downs. On other occasions, quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck will pull out this drop to catch the defense off-guard in typically non-deep throwing situations.

As you can see, mastering each kind of drop step is crucial for each quarterback’s game. Being comfortable in your routine as a QB is half the battle; nervously trying to count your steps during the game takes focus away from what’s unfolding in front of you. Now that you’ve got a better grasp on the types of drops, let’s talk about pocket presence. In fact, your drop steps won’t matter much without the ability to recognize what’s going on around you. Even slower quarterbacks like Peyton Manning thrive under pressure thanks to their quick reactions. Knowing when to step-up to avoid pass rushers is key -- as well as recognizing when the entire pocket is about to collapse and scrambling for their collective lives.

(Related: Read about reading coverage for quarterbacks here.)

Huddle Up

So, in the end, the best quarterbacks aren’t the ones with the strongest arms or the fastest legs -- they’re the ones that know how to extend plays with excellent footwork and pocket presence. For decades, the QB was an immobile animal that had no choice but to take sacks when pressure arrived. But now, the game has evolved and there are more demands out of the game. Taking sacks is often a major deterrent when discussing quarterbacks, but the best ones won’t just survive under pressure -- they’ll thrive. Nailing down your footwork isn’t easy and it can feel jerky and calculated, much like learning to ride a bike for the first time. But once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be able to extend your game far past anything you’ve imagined yet.

If you still find yourself struggling with your drop steps -- which is perfectly reasonable given their incredible difficulty while learning -- then consider hiring one of CoachUp's private trainers! Our extensive team has tons of knowledge and helpful tips that will have you dropping back correctly and confidently in no time! What are you waiting for?

Be prepared for the biggest moments by mastering the small ones off the field. 

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