5 Running Back Drills to Increase Agility and Speed

By Coach Martin | Football Drills

running back drills

A running back is a key position for any football team's offense.

A lot of times, there’s only one running back on the field at all times. This makes the player's job even tougher, as he has to handle a lot of responsibilities on his own.

Other players, meanwhile, often have multiple players at their position to take some of the heat off.

When people think of the running back position, they often just think of taking hand-offs or pitches from the quarterback and running with the ball.

But a running back's job is so much more complex than that.

In today's game, the running back has been called upon to play a significant role in the passing game.

Many running backs are asked to run routes out of the backfield and catch a lot of passes. This is especially true in higher levels of the game.

Even in youth football, though, the running back has a lot of roles and responsibilities besides just carrying the football.

He must play a big role in the pass blocking game, picking up defenders who are rushing the quarterback up the middle or from the outside edge.

These various responsibilities all take a slightly different skillset. This makes it rather difficult to prepare a player to be a great running back.

Besides just simple power and strength, a running back needs to build agility and speed.

As a youth football coach, you can help your running backs do this through various running back drills.

Here are five running back drills to help your players increase agility and speed.

A running back running with the ball

5 Running Back Drills

1. The Jump Cut

Successful running backs can make adjustments on the fly as they're running with the football.

They can see what defenders and holes are in front of them and adjust where they're running based on that.

This requires running backs to have the agility to start and stop, and change direction, rather quickly.

One tactic for doing so is called the jump cut. To teach this skill and have players practice it, you'll need four cones.

One cone will be where the drill will start.

Next, you'll place a second cone five yards in front of the start cone. This will be your stop cone.

Two more cones need to be placed one yard apart from the stop cone -- one directly to the left and one directly to the right. These cones will serve as the cut cones.

To run the drill, your running backs will begin at the start cone and sprint toward the stop cone.

Once they get to the stop cone, they'll take a jump cut to the left cone and then immediately sprint forward for five more yards.

This drill can be done the other way, too, with the player jump-cutting to the right cone.

This drill will help running backs work on both their acceleration and deceleration, which needs to come from the outside of their feet.

It’ll also help them maintain that all-important low center of gravity.

One vital coaching point is to have the players try to make their jump cuts as close to that of right angles as they can.

This will give them the most efficient jump cut for avoiding tacklers and then accelerating downfield.

You can create simple variations of this drill, too.

One way to do so would be to lengthen the space between the stop and start cones to seven or even 10 yards.

You can even widen the space between the stop cone and the cut cones to 1.5 yards. This will help the players get even stronger.

2. Line Response Drill

One of the best running back drills that requires no equipment at all is the line response drill.

This is a very simple drill to teach, but it takes some time for players to master.

To start, have your players align themselves at any yard line on the field.

They should be facing one of the sidelines, with their shoulders square and their head faced straight forward.

Before the drill starts, they should crouch down and squat low. Their left foot should be on one side of the line and the right foot should be on the other.

At the start of the drill, the players should chop their feet in place quickly. They should keep each foot on the appropriate side of the line.

Then, when you tell them to, they should move their right foot back and forth across the line.

The left foot will stay on the left side of the line the entire time, while the right foot will alternate between the left side and the right side.

Have them do this for five to 10 seconds.

Once they’re able to get this down, you can have them alternate their feet.

The right foot will then stay on the right side of the line, while the left foot alternates between the left side and the right side.

This drill will help running backs work on the power in their lower body that they’ll need to explode out of the crouched position.

Two variations on this drill are to have the players burst forward after they finish their steps.

For example, if you have them alternate their right foot for 10 seconds, they should sprint straight forward for five yards when they're done.

You can even have them sprint at an angle of 45 degrees to either side -- since running backs won't always run straight ahead.

An agility ladder laid out on the grass

3. Ladder Drill

To set up this drill, you'll need an agility ladder. Standard ones are 10 yards long and have squares that are 18 inches in them.

If you don't have a ladder, you can create it on your own by putting tape on the ground.

The basic version of this drill will have the running backs run straight through the ladder by putting one foot in the center of each square.

If you start with your left foot, for example, then that foot will be in the first square.

The right foot will step in the second square, the left foot in the third square, and so on until you reach the end.

This drill will help running backs work on a consistent stride and burst off their steps.

There are two main variations of this drill, and each will work on a running back's agility.

The simplest variation will have the players place each foot in each square as they run through the ladder.

They should still run straight forward, but now need to put each foot in each square, instead of only one. This will help teach them a stutter step going forward.

The other variation is more advanced but is well worth teaching once your players get the first two down.

For this drill, players should start by standing to one side or the other of the ladder.

If they start on the left side of the ladder, they'll step into the first square with their right foot, then with their left foot. Then, they'll step out of the ladder with their right foot and their left foot.

Next, they'll proceed to the square in front of that.

They'll go through this step in reverse -- stepping in with the left foot first, followed by the right foot, then out of the square with the left foot followed by the right foot.

This will teach players how to shuffle quickly from left to right and right to left, all while moving forward downfield.

4. Cone Hops

The great part about this drill is it can be used for starters in the game, and there are also variations that make it much more complicated.

Once again, you'll need some cones to set this drill up.

Two cones should first be set up roughly one foot apart, one in front of the other.

Then take two other cones and put them two feet apart from side to side and five yards ahead of the other cones. 

The simplest version of this drill will have the running back start by lining up to the left of the first two cones.

He'll use his right leg to hop over these first two cones laterally, with his left foot up off the ground.

Then, have the players do the same thing but by starting from the right and using the left leg to hop over the cones to the left.

The first variation on this drill is to have the running back burst forward and sprint through the second set of cones that are five yards downfield.

So, the drill will start by having the player hop laterally to either the left or right and then sprint straight forward after they land.

The second variation of the drill will have the players backpedal back to the beginning of the drill.

So, there are three steps to this most advanced version of the drill:

  1. Hop laterally to either the left or right.
  2. Sprint straight forward for five yards.
  3. Backpedal back five yards to the starting cones.

This drill will work on a running back's agility, speed, and power all at once.

That's what makes it such a great drill, especially when you can incorporate the most advanced versions.

5. Sweep Drill

This final drill will help running backs work on their speed, agility, and hand-eye coordination all at the same time.

You’ll need five cones for this drill, and you as the coach will serve as the quarterback.

Set up the five cones five yards apart from each other. They should be beyond where you’ll throw the ball on the toss running play.

Have the running back line up in a standard I-formation.

Then, call a "snap" to start the drill and toss the ball to the running back toward the direction where you set up the cones.

The running back will need to catch the toss successfully, and then run toward the outside of the field.

He should weave in between each of the cones as he runs forward.

As he makes his way through each cone, he should switch the ball from one hand to the next so that it's in the outside arm.

This will help teach the running back how to protect the ball from defenders.

The easiest variation of this drill is to do it to the opposite side of the field than the original.

This will help the running back with his hands and vision to both sides of the field.

A final variation would be to arrange the cones differently.

Instead of being spaced five yards apart in a straight line, you can set some of the cones up in a more diagonal fashion, say at a 45-degree angle.

He'll run straight ahead between cones set up straight ahead, but then cut to one side to get through the cones that are at a 45-degree angle.

This drill combines all the main skills a running back will need -- vision, hands, agility, speed, and power.

A yellow football helmet and a football in the grass while the players are having a meeting in the background


Running back is one of the most demanding positions.

It asks players to have a lot of roles and responsibilities that take a lot of different skills to master.

As a coach, you can help your running backs work on two of the most important skills (agility and speed) by running the above running back drills.

Have them master the basic form of each drill first before proceeding to a more advanced variation of it.

Then, once they've mastered these five, you can add in even more running back drills to advance their skills even further.

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