Structuring the QB's Off-Season
With the season now over for most quarterbacks, with the exception of those at the highest levels, let’s talk about what an off-season program for quarterbacks should look like. There are so many items that need to be covered during an off-season: strength and conditioning, throwing mechanics, film review, developing chemistry with new teammates and coaches, shoulder health, footwork, playbook install, and more. It’s easy to lose parts of what we need in the off-season if we don’t lay out a clear plan.
What we’ll do is break up the off-season into three phases: December-February as Phase I (Winter), March-May as Phase II (Spring), and June-August as Phase III (Summer). Each phase has a strength and conditioning component to it, a skill development component to it, and other items that need to be taken care of at that time.
In Phase I, we get to work on base foundation items that often get lost during the season, like basic mechanics, developmental movement exercises, and base strength work. In the weight room, we should be focused on addressing any injuries lingering from the season, working on improving overall movement ability, and creating a good strength base for future phases. This is also the right time to try to put on muscle mass and do hypertrophy work. Doing conditioning and sprint work, while good for you, isn’t a priority here as we are so far from the season. Think of it like a race car – when you are a long way away from the race, should you be focused on driving as fast as you can, or fixing the engine? This is the time to replace the engine, which means high volume strength work and developmental movement.
From a skill standpoint, this is the right time to work on mechanics and fundamentals. Often, when we change something in our skill set, we take a step back before we take steps forward. In August and September, we really can’t afford those steps back, but in the winter we can. Make those changes to your grip, footwork, throwing motion, etc., and get a lot of quality, highly focused reps so that they are second nature by the time you need to hit the field.
Aside from the weight room and mechanics, this phase should be spent mostly reviewing last year’s film and seeing what could be done better, learning from past mistakes. Learning about next year’s offense and developing route chemistry might be tough as most likely the coaches are still figuring out what next year’s offense is going to look like, and you should be adjusting mechanics anyways.
The short: review last year’s film, make adjustments to mechanics and fundamentals, and work on foundational strength and developmental movement in the weight room.
In the spring, it’s time to start applying some of that remedial winter work to more obvious football activities. This is where we begin spending a bit more time on the field, attaching some of mechanic changes to drops and controlled, full speed situations, and begin power and explosive work in the weight room.
The simple formula for speed in sport performance terms is that the more force you can put into the ground, the faster you can move. The more powerful you are, the more force you can put into the ground. The stronger you are, the more power you can develop. So while the winter was focused on strength development, the spring is time to start turning that strength into power (and you guessed, the summer turns power into speed). So, in the weight room, the focus will turn more towards power exercises, looking to move weight quickly over a distance. This is also a good time to start working in some conditioning – no need to go crazy, but get at least 2 days a week of sprint conditioning.
In the skill area, we now want to take the mechanics we worked on in the winter and work on them in more game-like settings. For instance, if you spent the winter working inside on changing your release point and hip drive in a controlled setting, this would be the time to get on the field and see if you can apply that to a 5-step drop and hitting a dig route. This will take time – taking mechanics from the studio to the field is difficult, but necessary. This is why quality reps in the winter are so important, as the more realistic a drill becomes the harder it is to focus on little mechanics.
As a corollary to bringing mechanics to the field, it is also time to begin working with your receivers. You probably threw around during the winter a bit and such, but now is the time to do so with more focus and consistency. This could mean clinics, 7 on 7s, or just time at the field with a few of the receivers. Also occurring around this time is that your coaches will know next year’s playbook adjustments and will begin the basic install, so the time you spend on the field with the receivers gives a chance to work on your mechanics, your chemistry with receivers, and your understanding of any new concepts. This also trickles down to film review; at this point, you should be done reviewing last year’s film and ready to study upcoming concepts. Most good coaches will have cut ups of other teams executing any new concept you might have to learn, so that’s a good starting point. Make sure to ask for some in any install meetings, which should begin in the spring as well with your coaches. As a quarterback, make sure you tell your teammates to be at these and if they can’t make it teach them the material yourself. A great test of how well you know something is whether or not you can teach it.
The short: begin reviewing film for the upcoming season, get started with new install, take your mechanics to the field with any concepts and your receivers, and begin to focus more on power in the weight room with a bit of conditioning.
Now that we are close to the season, we must take that final step and apply everything we’ve been working on to performance. Work needs to be as close to a game simulation as possible. Power needs to become speed, mechanics need to be second nature, and learning needs to become understanding.
In the weight room, focus needs to turn from power to speed. This doesn’t mean there is no power or strength in the program; it just means doing more sprint work and explosive exercises like lightly resisted sprints and accelerations. The conditioning needs to get ramped up a notch, using very game-specific intervals and game-specific movements. 12 weeks of conditioning leading up to the season, having already done 12 of light conditioning, should be plenty to get into game shape. However, it needs to be done right and be intense.
At this point, we really shouldn’t be tweaking any throwing mechanics. We can still maintain the ones we’ve worked on during the first 6 months, but we shouldn’t be adding anything new. On field work needs to be increased to develop timing and chemistry, as well as ingrain the plays so that at the line of scrimmage we’re not thinking about what our assignment is, rather we’re focused on the nuances of the game and finding ways to be successful. This means more competitive reps and game like situations, perhaps 7 on 7s or clinic work again, but adding helmets and/or defense or anything to raise the stakes a bit will go a long way towards being more ready in training camp.
Hopefully install meetings are well underway and most of the team has a firm grasp of the offense, especially in the quarterback room. Regardless, keep ingraining that knowledge and getting teammates who have fallen behind caught up. The more time that can be spent working on execution rather than installation in training camp, the better off you will be.
Film review of this season’s opponents and how what they do interacts with what your offense is doing will help improve your understanding of all concepts, and doing so will other position groups should help them too. Watch opponent’s blitz packages and compare them to your protections with offensive line; study opponent’s coverages with the receivers and discuss your team’s passing concepts. Look at run schemes vs. an opponent’s defense with the running backs. The better your mind knows something, the faster you can react and the more confidently you can perform. This goes for your teammates as well.
The short: Advance your film study to opponent preparation, keep learning the offense, get as much quality, game like on-field time as possible, maintain your mechanic changes instead of working on new things, keep refining fundamentals, and ramp up your speed and conditioning work.
Football has become a year-round sport. I fully support kids who want to go play other sports and compete on many different fields. However, if you have the time and desire, this is the way to set up your off-season program. If football is your first sport, there’s nothing wrong with playing a second sport, but you still need to make time to get better.
Also note that this template for an off-season program isn’t meant for elementary and middle schoolers, this is a high school and college template. There are no Brett Favre’s or Tom Brady’s at age 12 – let the kids have fun! The time to focus will come later.
Quarterback Coach Alex Drayson will put up articles, thoughts, and reviews to help you stimulate your journey towards being the best QB you can be