Agility Drills for Football

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You've got four to five seconds to run a great 5-10-5. Learn how to make the most of every tenth.

By: Chad Zimmerman

The Pro Agility is a drill coaches commonly use to assess overall athleticism. A tenth of a second can drastically affect your ranking on their lists of potential prospects. Perfect form and technique will help your times reflect your true athletic abilities. Martin Rooney, director of the Parisi Speed School, shares some timeshredding tips that have allowed his athletes to dominate the NFL Combine.

Dominating the Pro Agility is not quite as simple as the drill's directions—unless, of course, you have Rooney teaching you the ins and outs. His great coaching and superb knowledge have repeatedly produced superb results. Year after year, Rooney pumps out one Pro Agility master after another. In four of the last five Combines, a Parisi athlete has run the fastest overall time.

ROONEY: "This test has been included at the Combine because it involves rapid change of direction and can weed out pure linear sprinters. The fastest straight-ahead man won't be good at this drill if he doesn't have the change of direction skills required in football."

Set up three cones five yards apart

Start at middle cone with both feet and one hand on ground

Sprint five yards right or left to an outside cone

Plant, touch line and sprint 10 yards in opposite direction to far cone

Plant, touch line and sprint five yards in opposite direction through middle cone

According to Rooney, the Pro Agility assesses three physical characteristics:

1) Strength for your weight, or relative strength by testing your ability to overcome your own inertia and change direction rapidly.

2) Speed of movement in lateral and linear running because the drill tests both types of sprints.

3) Specific flexibility in the low back and legs, since to perform well, you have to be athletic from a low position.

Most football players are quite familiar with the three-point stance, which is often the most intuitive starting position. However, this stance is wrong from the knees up.

"Do not bend your legs too much in the starting stance. Too often, an athlete will crouch down like he's in a football stance. The bent legs uncoil and press him up when he starts, which costs valuable time. The key is to bend at the waist with the knees bent about 15 degrees. Your legs will look relatively straight, and this will be the highest position you attain during the entire test."

Football instincts usually take over when placing your hand on the ground for this drill. Many players put their right hand down, because it is the hand typically used in a three-point stance. The second instinct is to put a lot of weight on the hand—much like the start for a 40-yard dash. Both impulses can kill your final time.

ROONEY: "I prefer that the hand opposite from the side you are running be down at the start—the left hand if you're moving to the right first. Also, keep the down hand as un-weighted as possible. When you place a ton of weight on the hand, it takes time to un-weight it, and that arm isn't available to help you run. This costs time. Also, keep your eyes and head down—not straight ahead. Looking ahead sends you upward at the start, and, again, costs time."

Look at any offensive lineman in a three-point stance, and you'll see his up hand or forearm resting comfortably on his thigh. Although effective for the big uglies in the trenches, it is counter-productive in the Pro Agility. On the flip side, letting your arm hang freely does not save time either.

ROONEY: "If sprinting to the right first, position your right arm with the elbow at 90 degrees and your hand next to your right hip. Placing the hand on the right thigh will cost you time, and letting it hang down is a mistake, because then you have to activate and move the arm. Keep your up arm tensed and ready to fire forward to match the cross step of the left leg."

How many times have you been told to keep your eyes up and never cross your feet on the football field? Probably thousands. But, again, the fundamentals of flawless technique on the field don't match the techniques needed for a fast 5-10-5.

ROONEY: "Once your stance is correct, then and only then can you move to the first step. For the first step, we have our athletes cross over with the left leg if they're moving to the right, and stay low with their eyes down. Do not turn and face the line for the first five yards."

Contrary to a solid basketball and hockey fundamental, direction changes are not made by way of a jump stop.

ROONEY: "Stay low and don't jump into the turns. A common mistake is to hockey stop, which is wrong because when you're in the air after jumping, you cannot move yourself. Use a one-two touch of the feet into and out of turns.

"Also, keep your center of gravity over the inside leg on the turns. This ensures that you will lean in before the turn happens and not continue moving in the wrong direction."

Proper timing when touching the lines is key.

ROONEY: "Keep your hand low and make contact with the line at the same time that your outside leg plants on the ground. You waste time if they don't happen simultaneously."

Now that you've got Rooney's ultimate tip sheet for this Combine test, it's time to figure out how you're scoring.

ROONEY: "A great target for my athletes is to be four-or five-tenths of a second faster than their times in the 40-yard dash. If they cannot do this, they need to improve. So if you run a 4.5 or better in the 40, you need to run 4.0 or less in the Pro Agility to show that you really know what you're doing."

1. "First and foremost, don't run the test just to run the test. Learn it perfectly and master your technique. Then perform it and add intensity.

2. Stay low. Coming up during the test costs you time both moving up and coming back down. Unnecessary changes of height can add over a half-second to your time.

3. Know the surface on which you're running, and wear the right shoes. Shoes that slide and don't grip sacrifice time. Every time I see an athlete's feet slide during a start, I know he has just added unwanted tenths to his score.

4. Finish through the line. The final five yards should be completed in three steps or less. More steps or less effort cost you here as well."


Rooney usually has 8 to 12 weeks to work with an athlete before the Combine. During that time, he trains the athlete twice a day, six days a week, focusing on each Combine test at least three times a week. Special attention is paid to the Pro Agility and 40-yard dash, because they are more technical than other tests.

Here's a look at some of Rooney's most successful Pro Agility students since 2001:

Kevin Casper 3.75 2001 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility overall and all-time record
Rashad Holcomb 3.83 2001 NFL Combine's second fastest Pro Agility overall
Mike McMahon 4.112 2001 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility or QBs
Mathias Nkwenti 4.118 2001 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility or OL
Deion Ranch 3.76 2002 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility overall
Dewayne White 4.22 2003 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility or DEs
Langston Moore 4.21 2003 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility or DTs
LJ Smith 4.118 2003 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility or TEs
Dunta Robinson 3.75 2004 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility overall and all-time record
Justin Beriault 3.80 2005 NFL Combine's fastest Pro Agility overall
Domonique Foxworth 3.89 2005 NFL Combine's third fastest Pro Agility overall

Want more Pro Agility information? Curious about how Rooney coaches for other Combine tests? You're in luck. Rooney has a DVD that will prep you for every Combine drill. He provides tips, advice and coaching points for each drill to maximize your numbers and boost your status as a legitimate prospect. More information is available at

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock