RB Coach/Consultant Chad Spann provides context behind the Derrick Henry rookie camp video making the rounds this week. His explanation reveals why major media has rushed to judgment.
By Chad Spann (Twitter: @cspann30)
Last week, we saw the video clip of the former Heisman trophy winner Derrick Henry struggle with a footwork drill during the Tennessee Titans rookie mini-camp. ESPN’s Paul Kuharsky, a long-time beat reporter, shot the video and posted it.
Although he qualified the remark by mentioning it was Henry’s first time performing these drills, he questioned Henry’s footwork and thought it didn’t meet what he expected from a top draft pick. This led to some becoming critical of Henry’s footwork, and even questioning his ability to perform at a high level in the National Football League.
Before we begin to write Henry off, let’s get an understanding of the different types of drills, their purpose, and how they translate to game action.
There are literally hundreds of drills that coaches use to prepare their players. All of which have different purposes. I like to classify them like this:
- Every Day Drill: Exaggerated, small area, pattern drills that acclimate or re-acclimate athletes with certain movements usually using ladders, bags, and cones. These are warm-up drills usually performed during the individual period of practice
- Skill Development Drills: Drills used to develop a specific skill (cuts, reads, moves). These are mostly done in the offseason, but there are exceptions.
- Game Situation Drills: Large-scale drills used to develop reactions specific to game situations and usually using a skill previously drilled. These drills are almost exclusively performed during the offseason.
All of these drills are not run during the season because they take time and patience to teach the technique. Time is the most precious commodity during the season and coaches rarely have time to teach technique in addition to installing a game plan every week. This is why they use Every Day Drills to re-acclimate athletes to certain established movements.
How These Drills Apply to the Derrick Henry Camp Clip
Let’s take a closer look at Derrick Henry in this drill during rookie mini-camp. Using the classification I just described, the drill Derrick Henry struggled with was an Every Day Drill, but that title may lead you to believe that this is a normal drill that all running backs should be able to do. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Not every coach uses the same drills. In my experience as a professional player on five different NFL teams, I have never encountered this particular drill.
It doesn’t mean it is a good or bad drill. It just shows that every coach is different and uses different tools based on their philosophy and experience.
As I mentioned in the definition of Every Day Drills, this is a pattern drill. Clearly a pattern that Henry is not familiar with. Not having familiarity with a pattern like this one does not take away from Henry’s ability or footwork; it simply reveals that he has never done this particular pattern before.
Another Every Day Drill for most all athletes is the ladder. Here is a clip of myself and an athlete I recently trained doing an exercise called the Icky Shuffle.
As you can see, he struggled with keeping the pattern. That is not an indication of bad footwork. This particular athlete is known for having great footwork.
The issue is his inexperience with this pattern. Here is a clip of the same athlete doing the drill again immediately after the first attempt.
As you can see, his footwork vastly improved the second time. It wasn’t that he has bad feet. It just took him a rep to become acclimated with the movement I was asking him to perform.
Derrick Henry’s Footwork in Live Action
This practice clip of Derrick Henry is no indication of how his abilities will translate to the NFL. The former Heisman Trophy Winner rushed for over 2000 yards as a junior at the University of Alabama.
Yes, you can argue it was behind the best offensive line in all of college football but it was in a scheme (zone) that relies heavily on the running back’s ability to read and react quickly to find the correct hole. That is a skill that takes strong footwork to consistently be successful.
Like the Icky Shuffle drill that I performed in the previous clips, when was the last time a running back ran a pattern like this on the field in a football game?
Then ask yourself when you’ve seen the drill that Henry performed–which included a back-pedal, 180-degree turn, and then a jump-cut–performed in a football game?
Here are a few clips of Henry at the University of Alabama using great footwork to find the hole and explode through it. The first is an excellent example of a press and cut to set up the left guard’s block on the tackle and the center’s block on the linebacker.
Note the hard jab outside and immediate cut downhill. He squeezed through a crease about the width of his body without hesitation and when he clears that hole, he makes a fine dip away from the safety for a larger gain. This is smooth, fluid decision-making to set up two blocks and then make a second move to extend the run for big yardage.
Some criticize Henry as a long strider. Here’s an excellent example of Henry shortening his stride to cut a play inside and burst downhill through that cut.
Henry reads the outside contain and picks through the a crease littered with two fallen linemen to gain at least 10 yards on this play.
Here’s a nice bounce outside that begins with an excellent stop and dip downhill within a step of the exchange. Once he earns four yards downhill, he reads the pursuit and makes a nice dip with flexible enough hips to turn the cornerback around in the flat.
Henry’s footwork his fine; his familiarity with the Titans drills is lacking. There’s a vast difference between the two.
For nearly 15 years, Chad Spann has been involved with football as a player, coach, and skills trainer at the high school, college, and professional level. Spann ended his college career as a three-year starter, two-time 1st Team All-Conference running back, 2010 Offensive Player of the Year, and 2010 Mid-American Conference Most Valuable Player. His 49 career touchdowns are still the second most in school history.
Spann spent the next five years playing professionally in the NFL and CFL. During the latter years of his playing career, Spann used his experiences at the division-1 and professional levels to develop his own curriculum, teaching method, and techniques for teaching and developing running backs.
Spann now privately tutors collegiate and professional running backs.