Drill Bits: Agility & Speed

Off-season work is about "getting the basics of the game to become second nature," as one Penn State practice observer explained. From winter to preseason practices, the players conduct a wide array of drills, some of which we will look at more closely in our Drill Bits series.

Speed & Agility

The Penn State coaching staff works a variety of drills through the spring and preseason practice sessions to "boost speed and quickness," as one observer explained. "[The players] work their initial burst on a run, their acceleration, their footwork and their endurance."

Bag Work

Overview: "Working the bags" involves a variety of drills that include the use of "bags" that are semi-circular padded cylinders. These are typically placed in intervals of one to three feet.

The drills often involve navigating the bags head on, sideways or in a "Z" style. The drills can be timed but are often taken at a pace driven by the drill coordinator (often a coach or grad assistant).

PSU QBs use the bags to test their footwork.

Benefits: A variety of drills that test and enhance footwork, agility and lateral movement are run. These drills can also help to bolster a player's overall endurance. "These [drills] are really used to get the [player] sharp with his footwork and agility," according to one observer. "It gets him up on his toes and comfortable making fast movements."

Ladder Drills

Overview: A drill common throughout the football world, PSU uses this as a "faster tempo" agility set. The drill lays out a "ladder" — a single row of boxes, about one foot by one foot in size. These boxes are one column wide and have 12 or so rows. The ladder is placed on the ground. From here the players run a series of drills.

Played will run in an "in-and-out" pattern approaching the ladder from the side and placing one foot in the first square and then the second, stepping out in the same manner, and then back in the following square. This drill is also run head on and at times backward. These are done at a very brisk pace.

Benefits: This drill is focused on speed footwork and "getting a player to focus on his step movement and control." As another observer explained, "The ladder is all about control; nearly every time it is brought out someone gets snagged up. You really have to focus to improve with it."

Lateral Drills

Overview: "Playing the width of the field is essential, particularly for the linebackers and secondary. [Coach Vanderlinden] focuses a lot on the lateral work for his [players," an observer said.

These drills are basically teaching sessions that focus on the basics of lateral movement, particularly with the "feet and torso position. You can't just turn and sprint to the sideline — it's about anticipation — the ability to move, keeping the ball-carrier in your sights and being in position to make a play. If you run head out to the [sideline] you'll never be in position to pull a guy down."

Dennis Landolt takes in some lateral work.

Benefits: These drills test lateral movement with a focus on enhancing technique, speed, footwork and body position. As one observer said, "I think it's one of the most important skills to have as an outside 'backer."


Overview: The players on PSU's squad will run a variety of sprints, from the standard 40-yard dash at times to 110-yard and even 300-yard runs. These are sprints where the players have to beat a set time based on their position and presumed ability.

In some cases players will run individually, but in other instances the entire unit will run and share a countdown for several sets. In some runs the players will break up into groups by position like the following:

Group A: WR, DB, RB
Group B: LB, FB, QB, DE, TE
Group C: OL, DL

Players will also run standard sprints, sometimes in full pads and helmets to "build up their speed in full gear." But they can only use the pads and helmets in the spring and preseason, not in unsupervised off-season work.

As one practice observer explained previously, "Obviously [the players] will never run 300 yards in one shot during a game; but if their bodies can handle 300 consistently, it's a good bet they can handle 20 or 40 easily."

Benefits: Obviously, the sprints test and work the speed of a player, but they also focus on improving the player's run technique with his overall stride and body control.


Overview: Players will also work on their acceleration, which will have them run 30 to 40 yards where the first half of the run is a jog and the second half is an all-out sprint.

Benefits: "A player is always moving on the field, so it's good to work his transition speed — that acceleration from read to react," an observer explained. This is also a drill used to help players with leg or knee injuries recover and test their abilities.

Stay tuned to FightOnState.com for our continuing Drill Bits series and unmatched coverage of Penn State football and recruiting.


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