The quarterback position is one of the most demanding in any sport. It requires the mental capacity to read defenses and the physical ability to evade defenders who run like track stars. Plus, you must be able to throw a football accurately and powerfully.
There are several ways to improve your passing, including strength training. However, a recent study from the University of Manitoba identified one technique characteristic that separates elite QBs from average ones. Researchers found that elite quarterbacks keep their back leg bent during the pass, allowing them drive through the hip to propel the ball. This increases Ground Reaction Force (GRF)—the amount of force going into the ground. The higher the GRF, the more power can be transferred to the ball. Average quarterbacks primarily drive through their knee, limiting the amount of power generated from their rear leg.
Keeping the back leg bent has another benefit. It allows the front knee to remain bent, which enables you to fully transfer your weight over the front and keep your head still—essential for keeping the target steady for an accurate pass. Lower-level quarterbacks try to compensate by bending forward at the waist. This reduces power and creates a lower release point, making their passes easier to deflect.
We have talked about the hip power of the back leg and the ensuing full weight transfer over the front leg, both of which lead to the most important correlation in this study—step length. Previous researchers have found the ideal step to be four to six inches, equal to a throwing base that is 61 percent of your height. Again, knee flexion is key, because too large of a step causes the front knee to straighten and lock out during the throw, putting you at greater risk when taking hits from defenders.
Most coaches preach footwork, especially in the passing pocket. However, the real reason for their emphasis seems to be ensuring that both knees remain bent to maximize ball velocity, accuracy and safety.
At SPARTA, we use the following drill to improve our athletes’ passing skills. It encourages hip drive and landing on a flexed leg. We add a medicine ball rotation to encourage the upper back rotation found in all overhead sports. This specifically helps quarterbacks stay upright, rather than bending at the waist.
Med Ball Skater
- Holding med ball in front of chest, assume athletic stance with weight on left leg
- Lower into quarter-squat and rotate med ball to left
- Explode about five feet to right and rotate med ball to right
- Land with bent knee; immediately repeat in opposite direction
- Repeat for specified reps
Scott Salwasser, CSCS, is a coach at SPARTA Performance Science in Menlo Park, Calif., where he works with athletes from the MLB, NBA and NFL, as well as with collegiate and elite high school athletes. He has worked as a strength and conditioning coach at the Division I level and in the NFL as an intern. Salwasser played football in college and competed as an Olympic style weightlifter. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology.