Six Essential Drills for Wide Receivers

By Steve Heck and Matt Pirolli, FNF Coaches Contributors

Steve Heck is in his ninth year as the wide receiver coach at Kutztown University. In 2015, The Kutztown offense broke the school record for total offense. Matt Pirolli just completed his first season as the wide receivers coach at Central Bucks West High School (Pa.). In 2011 Pirolli was a receiver on Kutztown’s historic PSAC conference championship team. The two coaches share six essential drills for wide receivers.

  1. Out Gauntlet Drill
  2. Dig Window Drill
  3. Minnesota Drill
  4. Clemson End Zone Drill
  5. Clemson Comeback Drill
  6. Sideline 49er Drill

With the advent of items known as wide receiver chutes or doors, the receiver coach finally has some props he can utilize at practice. Wide receiver doors are tubular frames that sit on the ground, forcing the player to move through them with a low pad level. They are available in football gear catalogs, or they can be custom-made by using PVC materials. Simply put, the wide receiver doors are the best tool invented to teach low pad level, route expression, top end footwork and a variety of other key receiver fundamentals.

1 THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF OFFENSIVE FOOTBALL IS BALL SECURITY. By using one WR door and three hand shields we created the Out Gauntlet Drill. It’s a simple, fast-paced, easy-to-organize ball security drill that reinforces several key fundamentals (Diagram 1). The WR door is placed near the top of the numbers and the sideline, Five yards away from the coach who is throwing. Three other players with hand shields are deployed five yards apart, a yard from the sideline. the receiver executes a five-yard out cut, making a 90-degree cut and snapping his head, eyes and hands around to find the football. after he secures the catch in his sideline arm, he quickly turns up field and attacks each of the three defenders. the receiver uses a dip-and-rip technique to create leverage as he blasts through the three defenders. The defenders are trying to squeeze the receiver out of bounds.

2 YOUNG RECEIVERS MAY STRUGGLE WITH RECOGNIZING HOW TO ADAPT TO ZONE COVERAGE. Teams that employ zone coverages force receivers to avoid reroutes after they release and to quickly recognize the voids within the zone. The Dig Window Drill (Diagram 2) helps receivers refine the fundamentals of avoiding reroutes and recognizing holes in coverages. Four plastic trashcans are placed 10 yards away from the receiver and coach. The four cans create three windows for the receiver to potentially explore. The last window is longer, to simulate man coverage. Two defenders are assigned to occupy two of the three windows, thus leaving one window open. a wr door is placed near the first trashcan. a defender with a hand shield is stationed midway between the line of scrimmage and the WR door. The receiver releases toward the defender with the hand shield, who attempts to reroute him. To avoid the defender, the receiver must attack half the defender, stay thin, and dip and rip through the potential reroute. after the receiver deals with the reroute, he must re-establish his vertical push toward the door. Once he gets and makes his 90-degree dig break, he must get his eyes inside and scan his reception area.
3 THE MINNESOTA DRILL (DIAGRAM 3) REQUIRES TWO DOORS, A CONE AND SEVERAL FOOTBALLS. Since this is a single catch drill, we push the tempo to get maximum reps and create a competitive atmosphere. The receiver makes three cuts before exiting quickly toward the sideline. The coach puts the ball in challenging locations, forcing the receiver to adjust to the ball, yet still getting one foot down. Our coaching point is to focus on the ball and to “feel the sideline.” ultimately, you must catch the ball first.

4 WE USE THE CLEMSON END ZONE DRILL (DIAGRAM 4) TO WORK ON LEARNING HOW TO NAVIGATE IN THE CONFINED SPACES OF THE END ZONE.The receiver starts at the back end line and makes two 90-degree breaks before finishing in the back corner of the end zone. The coach stands out around the 10 yard line and delivers a variety of throws to challenge the receiver in confined space. it is important to force the receiver to adjust to throws that are both high and behind him. These two-plane adjustment catches are very difficult, yet occur often. Focus on the ball. Feel the end line. a final coaching point with end zone receptions is the skill of “clearing” the ball away from the defender.

5 THE CLEMSON COMEBACK DRILL, WHICH REQUIRES THREE DOORS (DIAGRAM 5) IS A VARIATION ON THE PREVIOUS DRILL. The purpose of this drill is to reinforce top-end footwork with low pad level. The conclusion of the drill isolates some of the unique skills involved when adjusting back toward the ball on comeback routes adjacent to the sideline. The receiver will execute three 90-degree cuts in a five-by-five yard square drill space. On his last cut, he will run parallel to the near sideline and catch a ball that is thrown to a location that will force the receiver to contort his body over the boundary, while still keeping one foot in bounds. Receivers must lean out of bounds with their torso yet keep a foot near the sideline to complete the catch.
6 THE SIDELINE 49ER DRILL (DIAGRAM 6) LOOKS TO FIX THAT PROBLEM. This drill requires three doors, a cone, two coaches or quarterbacks and four balls. The coach on the sideline will throw only the second ball. The coach close to the hash mark will throw balls one, three and four. The first three passes in the drill are designed to replicate curls and comeback type routes. The last throw forces the receiver to attack the sideline, simulating the last phase of a corner routes. The receiver will get four balls thrown in under 30 seconds. Instruct the receiver to keep active hands through doors. The most important coaching point for footwork of the drills that employ the doors is to make the receiver push through the door by a full yard. This will mandate a clean and precise top-end exit, which eliminates rounded breaks and extra steps.
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Dan Guttenplan is FNF Coaches senior managing editor. Do you have a thought about this article you would like to share? Send him an email at, tweet us @fnfcoaches or share it on the Coaches Chat Board.