5 Mistakes High School Quarterbacks Make and How to Fix Them

By Jeff Harper
Quarterbacks Coach
Loyola College Prep in Shreveport, Louisiana
Owner/Coach Gunslinger QBA Follow on Twitter & Facebook

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There’s nothing like coaching football, from the youth level all the way to High School, it’s the one time of the year I look forward to the most. The excitement of a new season, installing new concepts, coaching up new players, preparing for new opponents and the traditional rivals, fire me up for the new season. Everyone’s in first place week one and the excitement spreads to everyone that follows your program. With that said, all coaches regardless of age, love the start of a new season. The new season also has its struggles. Anyone who has coached a new quarterback knows exactly what I mean. It is stressful. All eyes are on your guy and the expectations for him to be successful are overwhelming.

I’ve been coaching football since I graduated college in 2003. I grew up playing football and absolutely loved it more than any other sport. There was nothing like Saturday mornings growing up and playing in our recreational league. We were good, undefeated every year, and had high expectations for our team’s future. Then we got to High School and everything changed. It was a struggle, it was stressful, and overwhelming. I played the quarterback position my entire life. I’ve experienced every emotion you can possibly feel. The most uifficult emotion to process is the feeling of failure.al

Coaches are always researching how to fix certain issues that plague their QB’s. With every QB you will find that there are things that need to be fixed for them to be effective. Some catch on quickly while others are slower at making the adjustments. In my opinion, the 5 most common issues are throwing mechanics, proper footwork, and the need to understand defensive concepts.

1. Poor Throwing Mechanics
Many coaches, not all, overlook bad throwing habits because a kid may have a big arm or is an incredible athlete but that will only cause bigger issues in the future. I’ve seen some great mechanics and I’ve seen somewhere I wonder, how in the world does he throw like that?! I currently serve as the Quarterback Coach at Loyola College Prep in Shreveport, Louisiana. We have 5 quality quarterbacks 2 seniors, 1 junior, and 2 freshmen. Each quarterback brings something unique to the position as well as minor issues that must be addressed. The first issue we have is the flaws in their throwing mechanics. That doesn’t mean that they don’t throw a nice ball. They have mechanical flaws in their throwing motion. Most QB’s don’t have their elbow above the shoulder, or as Darin Slack teaches “getting the elbow to zero”, as they throw the ball.  The elbow needs to be above the shoulder in the mechanics of throwing. There are a number of drills that can be incorporated in the “daily must” of the practice schedule that can help fix this issue.

We start every offensive session working on mechanics to correct their throwing motion. We do a lengthy warm up where we focus on one knee throwing. We make sure that our shoulders are turned toward the target with the elbow above the shoulder as they rotate to throw. We focus on the follow through bringing the thumb of the throwing hand down to the outside of the knee of opposite knee and the back shoulder pointing to the target. This drill is used at every age and is effective in evaluating the QB’s mechanics.  

Fix it with basic drills for mechanics:

  • 2 knees down – shoulders rotate to throw, high elbow release, follow through and fall forward to a push up position…emphasis on falling forward and having momentum going to the intended target.
  • Feet shoulder width apart – rotate the upper body to the target, high elbow release, follow through with body weight transferred to the foot opposite of the throwing side.
  • Step over drill – QB is in the proper throwing position, front shoulder should be pointing to the target, transfer weight to the back foot, 6 inch front step with the front toe closed, high elbow release, follow through with weight transferring to front side and the back leg follows through over the front foot. This drill is great for teaching QB’s how to finish their throws utilizing the power generated from the hips.
  • Stick drill – take a long stick or broom handle and place it under the throwing arm of the QB. This will cause the QB to be aware of where his elbow is in the throw.
  • High release drill – place a target in front of the QB and have them work on getting their elbow up allowing the ball to be released over the target. This also teaches the QB how to place touch on the ball.

2. Sloppy footwork
When throwing, many QB’s are off balance or don’t follow through on their throws. There may be a follow through but no balance at the completion of the throw. This can be seen when the QB is leaning backward or their weight is moving away from the throw which is a sign that footwork needs to be addressed. Weight transfer is something we work hard on to maximize arm strength. Footwork is something we constantly work on in every practice. A QB may look good in their footwork drills but when it comes time to make a specific throw they can’t do it due to inconsistency with their feet.

One of the issues we encounter is the “drive step” when they drop back. QB’s don’t pay attention to the first step away from the snap. The first step is very important to the timing of every play as well as their consistency in the passing game. A lot of QB’s hop or take a false step after they have taken the snap.  We teach the right handed QB to have his left big toe lined up with the heel of his right foot. This allows them to “drive” off the left hip/foot creating space in the drop back. We don’t want wasted movement or unnecessary steps. QB’s will hit a quick 3 step with a hitch and throw. The most popular offenses are rhythm, read based, systems with RPOs that require timing and proper balance to make the throws.

Fix it with basic drills for footwork:

  • Drops – video the 3 step no hitch drop, 3 step with a hitch, 5 step gather drop, and fast 5 drop. Have the QB throw to both sides from each of these drops. Video them then break down the video so that the QB can see what their lower half is doing during the drop phase. You will also see whether or not the are over striding, open hips too much, and the follow through.
  • Cone drills – figure 8, 3 cone, W drill, roll outs, flip hip drills, & pocket awareness drills.
  • Ladder drills – works on both speed and proper footwork. We will also use the ladders and combine cone drills.

3. Not understanding defensive concepts
Nothing can be more frustrating for a quarterback than not understanding the defensive coverage. A few years ago I was working with a Quarterback who was receiving offers from every major D1 program in the country. He went off to school, enrolled early, and was competing for the starting job at a top ranked program. He got a lot of playing time early in the season even started on the road in conference play. For the first time in his career, he experienced failure. He struggled with understanding the complexities of the defenses he played against and took a step back in his development. This was new for him due to the fact that he always succeeded and now he was facing something unfamiliar to him. Anyone who coaches must know the X’s & O’s. This is not an option if we want to coach effective QB’s, success is in the details.

Fix it by teaching coverages during concept install:
When we install a pass concept we teach what coverages we can attack with that concept. So if we are in a 3×1 and the defense is lined up in Cover 2 we teach them what the defense will do on that concept and show them the defense will likely roll to a different coverage than what we see. This will help them know how to attack multiple coverages. Expecting a QB to be successful in the passing game without teaching them how to read and attack coverage is disastrous. It will lead to turnovers, stalled drives, a tired defense, and a long season. Spend time teaching coverage from an early age. In our academy we have QB’s from the age of 7 to 19 and we start teaching coverage from the start and we expect them to learn the basics of coverage.

We try to keep it simple and by giving them keys at the line of scrimmage. We start with the Safeties and their alignment. If there’s one safety pre-snap they can have an idea of what coverage they may see, either Cover 1 or Cover 3. They will then look to the Corners and read depth, eyes, and leverage. If the Corner is playing deep they know what to do before the ball is snapped. If they are pressing or playing deep, they can make a decision on what routes will be open. After they’ve read the Safeties and Corners they move to the Backers or hole defenders lined up outside the box.  We attack the Backers/hole defenders often with our RPO concepts. From the area behind the Backers and in front of the Safeties to the boundary our QB’s know the keys in each passing concept.

4. Poor ball placement on throws
Every year new QB’s join our football programs across the country. Learning a new offensive system has its struggles. Quarterbacks will struggle with where and when to throw the ball on certain pass concepts. Every program addresses ball placement on throws the same way: routes on air, 1 on 1’s and pass skelly? Quarterbacks can get discouraged easily because they aren’t completing a high percentage of their throws. Knowing when and where to throw the ball takes the pressure off the young QB. Offensive systems are different from team to team. Some use passing trees for their routes and others are concept driven. Passing concepts are what we use in our system with specialty routes being tagged based on down, distance, and field position. Concepts, as well as numbered route tress, require the ball to be placed in a specific area and correct timing. Having a knowledge of the coverage, with the proper footwork and throwing mechanics allows the QB to get into rhythm and play with confidence.

5. Dwelling over mistakes
The last issue I see with High School Quarterbacks is how they deal with their mistakes. Coaches know this all too well. Guys who haven’t struggled in their Youth career will struggle early and often in High School. Teaching a QB how to handle the difficulties of High School football can be challenging. Developing patience is the key to helping them get over their struggles. The more pressure they feel the more they will continue to struggle. If a quarterback knows what is expected and can’t meet those expectations on the field consistently, the way to help them is to be patient and encouraging. There are two things that can’t be coached…attitude and effort. If a young QB has a great attitude and is giving maximum effort they will respond to the encouragement of the coach. We never know when the young QB will be taking snaps on Friday night it could be sooner than anticipated which requires coaches to prepare all them to be the starting QB. Preparing QB’s to have a quick memory is crucial to the mental aspect of playing the position. The quicker they can  get past their mistakes the more effective they will be. If we teach them to get over things quickly we too must do the same. We must get past their fumbles, interceptions, botched snaps, and misreads which in turn will help them in the long run.

Fix it with tons of patience from the coach
We all want to see our QB’s respond well to our coaching. Be patient and encourage the student athlete. Sometimes the only positive thing in a player’s life is the time he has with his coach. The impact coaches have on student athletes is life changing and nothing is more important than changing a player’s life for the good. When it’s all said and done…the most important thing we will ever do as coaches is the investment we made in to the lives of our players.

Keep up the good work Coaches!


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