Penn State boasts one of the top rushing attacks in the nation, both because of their creative scheme and a strong stable of running backs led by the all-world Saquon Barkley. Charles Huff is the running back coach at Penn State and he has graciously decided to give the readers of Inside the Pylon a look into the “Running Back School” program he uses to sharpen the fundamentals and mental game of his ball carriers.
Coach Huff’s RB school also includes aspects of the position that are often overlooked. An example of this is sideline running. Often times, it isn’t thought about or coached, but if it is taught properly, runners could “steal an extra 1-2 yards” or establish ownership of that part of the field.
When a runner gets past the numbers into the sideline area (outside of the numbers), defenders are usually running with a head of steam toward them and are usually ultra aggressive because of the lack of space. If running backs aren’t alert and aggressive in this area of the field, they might not lose the opportunity for more yards, but could also take big hits unnecessarily.
The runner, Leonard Fournette, breaks a tackle and gets to the sideline, but as he gets to the sideline, he decides to let off the gas and walk out of bounds. It looked like an illegal hit on replay, but the hit could have been avoided and Fournette could have gotten some extra yardage if he was the aggressor.
According to Coach Huff, a runner’s goals when going toward the sideline are to save space to continue to get yards and end in a positive body position (falling forward, going through a guy), but, most of all, he has to be the aggressor. It’s not enough to simply tell a back to be a bully on the sidelines. There are techniques that have to be taught to ensure that runners can accomplish these goals.
For example, a stiff arm might be seen as an aggressive move, but it should not be used once a runner is outside of the numbers. A stiff arm might break a tackle but it propels the runner toward the sideline, which won’t maximize the run.
Instead runners should think about the following options when getting close to the sideline:
- Forearm lift – Create space by going at the defender. Go into the defender rather than staying on path outside. Dip the shoulder and explode from the hips into a defender, while keeping feet moving.
A defender coming at a runner could either be running full speed and out of control (high hat, high chest) or could be using a shimmy technique (crouched, under-control, protecting against cutback).
- Complete cutback – When a defender is fully committed to his angle, the runner could use a hard cutback. However, the key is to get vertical in four steps because the runner has “invited” pursuit by cutting toward chasing defenders.
It is also important for the runner to know his tool box. Unless the runner can get close to full speed in four steps, this should be the last option.
- Stop and Chuck – When a runner grabs a defender and throws him. Again, a runner has to know his toolbox. This move should be reserved for stronger, bigger runners.
- Hesitation – When a defender is using a shimmy technique, the runner could dip toward the defender to try to get him to stop his feet and then run away.
Coach Huff uses a great drill to teach his players proper sideline running technique.
The three simulated defenders are in the different areas of the field. The runner has to be aware of where he is and what tool he has to use to maximize yardage.
Defender 1 – (inside of the numbers): Barkley uses a hand swipe in the clip but he has the option to stiff arm because he has space even if the side arm propels him laterally.
Defender 2 – (outside of the numbers): For the drill purposes, Barkley has to use the forearm lift in this area of the field. Runners have to get in the habit of saving space and becoming the aggressor.
Defender 3 – (right on sideline close to end zone) As the runner gets right on the sideline and closer to the end zone, defenders usually dive at the runner. The runner has the option to either try to jump over them, which Barkley does in the clip, or get their shoulder pads under the defender’s shoulder pads to protect his legs.
Coach Huff believes, “Once you put that on film, defenders will be less aggressive.” He pointed out Marshawn Lynch as a great example of a sideline runner. Defenders don’t take aggressive shots him, they simply try to get him out of bounds. By creating sideline violence, runners will take less big hits, steal yards, and establish ownership of that area of the field.