New Combine Drills and What They Mean
The NFL Combine is set to kick off with a few new wrinkles in the drills this year. These new drills reflect the evolution of certain positions in the league and what is expected of them. It’s also a reflection of the evolution of the game itself. You go back ten years and compare today’s game with that, and it’s like night and day. Pass is now king. Running back is a committee position. Small Linebackers are in. The changes are everywhere. With changes in the game come changes in personnel, and these new combine drills show that teams are looking for a different type of athlete with a different type of skill set.
Let’s check it out:
Drill explanations come from the NFL website.
NEW: End zone fade routes added to routes thrown, timed smoke/now route drill
End zone fade: Quarterbacks will throw passes to receivers running 10-yard fade routes to the right side of the end zone, creating a need for the use of pylons in these drills. The route addition is intended to mimic a popular pass attempt seen inside the red zone, typically attempted from a snap taken close to the goal line with the target being the back corner pylon.
Timed smoke/now route drill: Quarterbacks will throw one pass to a receiver running a smoke/now route — Usually a route that is adjusted to at the line based on pre-snap reads. This usually is indicating a quick completion will be available against soft coverage — on each side consecutively.
The fade route can be a dangerous weapon for teams with big-bodied receivers, especially in the end zone. Between the twenties, a fade route can be a way to get chunks of yardage without the receiver necessarily having dynamic mismatch speed. The Quarterback needs to be adept at throwing this pass in order for it to be successful. Not enough air under the ball creates a line drive throw easy to intercept. Too much air allows the defender and Safety to converge on the pass putting the receiver at a disadvantage. The QB really needs to have a good touch on the pass. This drill will show who does and who doesn’t.
NEW: Duce Staley drill; Inside routes with a change of direction added to routes ran
Duce Staley drill: Named after the former Eagles running back and current assistant coach, the drill will involve a running back lining up behind a horizontal step-over bag that is part of three bags laid to form a cross. The running back will step over the bag in front of him, then laterally over the perpendicular bag, then backward over the other horizontal bag before repeating the path in the opposite direction. Coaches lined up eight yards away, holding pop-up dummies will move in a coordinated fashion, creating a hole for the running back to identify before exploding through it. The drill is designed to display a running back’s ability to use his eyes while navigating physical obstacles as a ballcarrier might perform while running an inside zone play, which doesn’t create a defined target for the running back, but instead the possibility for a number of options to run through.
Inside routes with a change of direction: As angle (or Texas) routes become more common in the passing game with running backs used as receivers increasingly often, this drill will measure a running back’s ability to run such a route and catch a pass successfully while fighting against his own momentum.
These two drills are made to gauge vision, agility, mental processing, quickness, and route running ability in a Running Back. All traits thought to be only necessary for a “Scatback” years ago are now a necessity to be an every-down RB in today’s game. Running backs that are a threat anywhere in the formation are at a premium, and vision is an underrated trait that literally makes or breaks them.
Receivers and Tight Ends
NEW: End zone fade route
End zone fade: Quarterbacks will throw passes to receivers running 10-yard fade routes to the right side of the end zone, creating a need for the use of pylons in these drills. The route addition is intended to mimic a popular pass attempt seen inside the red zone, typically attempted from a snap taken close to the goal line with the target being the back corner pylon. For receivers, this will display how well they can locate and track the ball before making the catch and keeping both feet in bounds in a tight area.
Just as the Quarterback needs to throw a good fade route, the receiver needs to catch it. This drill tests the receiver’s ability to locate the pass and track it in the air, then instantly go up and get the ball, and make sure they come down in bounds. This drill tests awareness, vision, body control, and route-running ability.
NEW: New mirror drill, new screen drill
New mirror: Player lines up at setpoint between the middle of two cones roughly six yards apart and slides laterally left and right based on the coach’s direction. Drill places emphasis on feet and change of direction ability of the player with at least four movements to the right and left.
New screen: Player will set in pass protection position, then release and sprint toward first coach holding blocking shield 15 yards wide of starting point to simulate engage-and-release-action of a screening lineman. If the first coach steps upfield, the player must adjust direction and advance to the second coach, at whom he will break down and engage. If the first coach remains stationary, the player will break down and engage him (and will not advance to the second coach).
This drill is a 340-pound mauling offensive lineman’s worst nightmare. It tests an offensive linemen agility, footwork, strength, and awareness. With defenders getting smaller and faster as well as Quarterback mobility being more and more prevalent, having offensive linemen that can block on the move is a necessity. Having an offensive lineman that is good in space is the difference between a screen-play being a loss of yardage or a touchdown. This drill will show who’s got the moves.
NEW: Run and club drill, run the hoop drill
Run and club: Five stand-up bags are in a vertical line, five yards apart, with the final bag including “arms”. The defender will fire out of a three-point stance and run through the bags, clubbing the first with his right arm, spinning on the second bag, clubbing the third bag with his left arm, ripping through the fourth bag and flattening downhill to slap bag with arms to simulate a strip.
Run the hoop: Two pass-rush hoops are laid on the ground two yards apart, forming a figure eight. Two towels are inside the hoops, one in each. The player lines up at a start cone (to right of hoops) in a three-point stance, fires off at movement of a ball on a stick (simulating snap), runs around the first hoop, picks up the towel with his left hand, crosses to the second hoop and drops the towel, continues around the second hoop, picks up the towel with the right hand and crosses back to the first hoop and drops the towel before finishing through the start cone.
Speed, agility, flexibility, and, most importantly, pass rush moves. These drills test all that. For defensive linemen, just getting the sack isn’t good enough anymore. The strip-sack is king in the NFL now, and coaches are looking for guys that can make those game-changing plays. The Run and Club drill is especially important because it forces the prospects to show their skill with pass rush moves. Coaches can see how skilled a player is and who needs to be coached up.
NEW: Shuffle, sprint, change of direction drill; short zone breaks drill
Shuffle, sprint, change of direction: In a measure of a player’s quickness and agility, the defender will start in a two-point stance five to seven yards outside the hash before shuffling across the field. He’ll then open his hips and sprint on the coach’s command, then change direction on command and finish with a catch of a thrown football.
Short zone breaks: Three different route reactions are involved here. First, the player drops at a 45-degree angle, flattens out at five yards and breaks forward (simulating breaking on a short out) before catching a ball. Then, the player drops at a 45-degree angle, flattens at five yards again, and breaks inside (simulating breaking on an underneath route) and catches the ball. Finally, the player takes a flat drop and reacts to a coach’s signal to turn and run with a wheel route before catching a ball.
There are big changes here. These Linebacker drills are all about speed, fluidity and coverage ability. They simulate zone coverage covering underneath routes and covering the RB out of the backfield. Smaller LB and the “Tweener LB/S ” types are going to dominate this drill.
Box: The player will backpedal five yards and then break at a 45-degree angle on the coach’s signal. Once he reaches the cone, the player will plant, open his hips and run back five yards with his eyes on the coach. On the coach’s signal, the player will break toward a coach at a 45-degree angle and catch a thrown ball.
Gauntlet: This one is essentially the same drill run by receivers. A player will start with two stationary catches, with each made in opposite directions before sprinting across the 35-yard line catching balls from throwers alternating between each side. The drill will be timed from the second stationary catch to when the defensive back reaches a cone 10-yards upfield from the final catch. The player will also perform it a second time in the opposite direction.
This drill also simulates zone-coverage. It tests a player’s backpedaling, hip fluidity, and click-in-close-awareness. Defensive backs need to have those quick reflexes to react to passes thrown in front of them.
The defensive backs running the gauntlet is a must in today’s NFL. With the rules already structured to their disadvantage, defensive backs need to have hands like a WR to take the ball away.
It’s a new day in the NFL, and the evolution is just beginning.