Instinct or Practice: Demystifying the Nature of Running Back


Is it instinct or practice? Nothing is as simple as it looks. Here’s a 2nd-and-five run by USC running back Silas Redd in the middle of the second quarter against Utah this year that begs the question.

Nice run. Some might say Redd demonstrated excellent balance. Others might go further and say it was nice balance but a fluke play because how often does a running back get tackled, land on the chest of the defender, and not hit the ground only to realize he is not down?

Perhaps a few times a season in the NFL.

Most people will say this run was a display of good instincts. In some respects, it’s similar to the way some listeners of popular American music in the early 20th century said that black jazz musicians just did what came naturally. Entertainers at the time went along with these notions because it was a matter of keeping business.

Eubie Blake once gave an interview in which he said that when a hit song made the rounds, he would write an intricate arrangement of it, pretend that he he and his musicians did not know it, and ask a listener to hum a few bars before breaking into a complex version of the song; this convinced the assembled audience that all the talent they were hearing was proof that these people were simply natural musicians. If that story of Blake’s is true, we know what happened next, and how a party joke and clever ploy to get jobs helped deepen a stereotype.

- Stanley Crouch, Oxford American, Issue No.79, Dec. 2012

Running back may be one of the more “instinctive positions” in football, but the idea that you either have “it” or your don’t is also a simplistic way to look at the world. I believe there is special talent in the world. I believe that an individual can have a natural feel for something. While it may be a small ingredient that makes a big difference when comparing players side-by-side at the highest level, it takes a lot more than instincts to sustain that top level of play.

A drummer may have naturally good rhythm. It’s not what makes him a good drummer. The work the drummer puts into his technique, his ability to play with other musicians, and his understanding of music beyond his drum kit goes a lot farther towards making him a good drummer than a natural feel for keeping time.

The same goes for running backs. Coach Hoover’s site is probably the best online resource I have seen – hat tip to Smart Football’s Chris Brown – on football fundamentals. One of his posts is about the Balance and Touch Drill.

Watch these drills and you will see that Silas Redd demonstrates this same technique.

Perhaps USC or Penn State doesn’t do these drills. Maybe Redd didn’t even see these drills in high school. This can be the case with running backs. Yet more often than we think, the skill fundamentals are often hidden within what appears to be natural athleticism.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Prepayment is available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

Categories: Analysis, Players, Running BackTags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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