3 drills to reinforce wide receiver catching technique

By Mike Kuchar | Posted 4/2/2018

I sometimes fall victim to the dreaded verbiage, “catch the ball,” after one of my receivers commits a big drop. This is bad coaching on various fronts. I’m not telling my player why they missed the ball, and there’s no constructive criticism, only a blatantly obvious observation.

There are a variety of reasons why receivers drop footballs. At X&O Labs, we researched some of the top programs in the country to find three main reasons why it happens and the drill work coaches use to eliminate these issues.

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Here they are common problems:

  • Not focusing on the ball: This sounds obvious, but too many receivers lose focus on the ball before making a catch. Coaches work to eliminate this in different ways. Some coaches talk about “taking a picture of the ball” before it’s caught, while others go as far as marking an “X” on the nose of the ball to force receivers to stare at it before they make a catch.
  • Not adjusting to the ball: Quarterbacks, particularly young ones, don’t always put the ball where it's supposed to be. This is why receivers need to learn how to adjust to poorly thrown balls and still make the reception. This is something that must be taught and drilled daily.
  • Not running through the catch: In today's world of wide-open offenses, yards-after-catch is of utmost importance. When receivers don’t run through the catch, they stop their feet, which in turn allows a defender to separate from the ball. Receivers must realize their job is not over once they catch the ball. They have to do something with it, which is why teaching receivers to run through the catch is so critical.

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The drills below come from various high-level college football programs, but can be implemented in practice with receivers at any level to develop their skills.

1. Issue: Not focusing on the ball

Reinforcement: Goal post drill

A drill to teach concentration among wide receivers comes from Mike Leach, formerly of Texas Tech and current head coach at Washington State. Leach has his players stand behind the goalpost with their hands out before making a catch. This helps receivers focus on the ball, and it teaches them to extend their hands to make a difficult catch in traffic.

  • Have the player stand behind the goalpost with hands out
  • Coach throws the ball at players, who make the catch
  • For more experienced players, once two-handed catches are mastered, they can try one-handed catches

2. Issue: Not adjusting to the ball

Reinforcement: Bad ball drill

This is a relatively simple drill Clemson University uses that can be done at every practice. It teaches receivers to react quickly on the run and adjust to the various types of throws they see from a quarterback.

  • The receiver faces the coach, who's 10 yards in front
  • The coach throws the following types of passes, forcing the receiver to adjust: high ball, low ball, outside ball, inside ball

3. Issue: Not running through the catch

Reinforcement: Bag catching drills

This is a footwork drill Ohio State does daily. Wide receivers work through agility bags, keeping their leverage low while making the proper plants before catching the ball and exploding upfield after the catch.

  • Set up three bags with 1 yard of space between each
  • Receivers work through bags keeping low, simulating various breaks
  • Once the receiver gets to the end of the bags, they catch the ball and break upfield

This is an updated version of a blog that originally published Aug. 20, 2015.