Why the Oklahoma Drill can wait in youth football

By Andy Ryland | Posted 3/28/2018

Photo via Football Scoop

Youth coaches should remember: What looks great in high school, college or the NFL doesn't always translate to the youth game. Older athletes have the skills, experience and physical maturity to make these things look easy. Little Johnny isn’t ready for all that yet.

For years at the start of every training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals ran all their players through the Oklahoma Drill.


This is a contest that pits one defender against a blocker and a running back. The defender has to shed the blocker and tackle the runner. Even the Bengals eventually decided to ditch it.

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At the youth level, this is a complex drill beyond the scope of most kids. It shouldn't be used until players have the physical and cognitive abilities to execute it safely.  

Physical and emotional maturity also play a role, as the players need to understand what's being asked of them, and what they should learn from the drill.  Installing attitude and mindset takes high levels of maturity.

The Oklahoma Drill is often viewed as a battle to see who's the toughest. Young football players don’t need to get tougher. They need to grow in confidence so they can perform the fundamentals that are necessary to shed blocks and tackle opponents.

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From a technical standpoint, the Oklahoma Drill is about pad level and hands – blocking vs. shedding blocks. The ball carrier is a timing mechanism to teach tacklers how not to get tied up with blockers.

At the NFL and college level, these types of drills also are about energy and enthusiasm. Youth coaches have better and safer ways to create excitement with kids. Coaches can do versions of this drill at a slower pace with bags, for example.

Youth coaches have limited practice availability and need to use their time wisely to develop fundamentals. USA Football's Coaching OnDemand includes a wealth of examples.

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There are some things you can take from the Oklahoma Drill in the video above and apply it to practices:

  • Notice the defender and blocker are lined up close to each other. Controlling distance is a big part of learning.
  • About half of the reps ended with the tackler and ball carrier on their feet, even after contact. Not taking someone to the ground shows a focus on skill development.
  • About 10 seconds into the drill, everyone goes crazy when a defender “blows up” the blocker. It’s such a popular clip that NFL Network shows it again. Notice that the ball carrier ran virtually untouched past the defender. What was the point of the drill again? If it was for energy and enthusiasm, fine. If it’s about defensive technique, the running back is standing in the end zone.

This is an updated version of a blog that originally published July 13, 2013.