It takes a diverse skill set to find success as a running back. Your role goes well beyond carrying the football. You also need to be able to catch the ball and block for your teammates while contending with the elements.
Stevan Ridley knows these responsibilities well. He’s spent his career finding holes and picking up yards on professional football fields across the country. Ridley spoke to Pro Tips and shared his insight on how to be a successful running back.
HAVE A LITTLE PATIENCE
There are a lot of qualities that set running backs apart: speed, power, elusiveness. But don’t overlook patience.
The players tasked with blocking are there to help you gain yards. Running straight into a waiting linebacker or defensive lineman can lead to a minimal gain or even negative yardage. Giving your linemen time to do their job can be the difference between a few yards and a game-changing run.
“You gotta trust the big boys up front,” Ridley says. “Give them time to make it up to those linebackers. But also let those blocks develop in front of you before you actually hit your hole and go for your yardage.”
With the way offensive playbooks have developed, you can no longer rely solely on your running skills. To find success in the backfield, you’ll need the skills to be a pass-catching running back.
There are a few things to focus on as a receiver. The first step seems like an obvious one – you need to catch the ball. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. You need to work on timing with your quarterback. You also need to study the playbook and understand what it takes to be successful when running a route.
But it can go beyond just making the catch. You’ll need to be ready to take advantage of the field in front of you.
“Once you catch the ball, you have to practice running in open field,” Ridley says. “Most times running backs are running between the tackles. A lot of bodies around us. Being in open field, you have to learn how to be able to use space, take advantage of space and separate yourself from defenders.”
STOP THE BLITZ
The running back is a player that faces physicality on almost every offensive snap. From running through a hole in the line to an opponent tackling you, physicality is part of the game.
One of the most physically demanding parts of playing running back is picking up the blitz. When the defense sends several defenders at the quarterback on a pass play, you must be ready to lend support to the offensive line to slow down the blitz.
Ridley suggests welcoming the physicality. “This is our one time that we get to go deliver the blow instead of taking the blow,” he says.
EMBRACE THE ELEMENTS
The football season can extend from the fall into the winter months. Throughout this time, you may experience a wide range of weather conditions. Week 1 may be warm and sunny. However, the forecast for the championship game could be cold and snowy.
Adverse weather conditions can affect how running backs approach the game. Ridley says he does not wear gloves if there is rain or snow in the forecast during a game. While football gloves may help you control the ball, they could become slick in wet weather.
There are times when you’ll need to battle adversity on the football field. But it goes past just being down at halftime in a big rivalry game.
Ridley experienced this firsthand after coming back from a knee injury. While these situations can be difficult, you need the right attitude to work through it. Ridley says it takes dedication and focus to overcome these setbacks.
“You work hard enough, you can really overcome anything,” Ridley says. “It’s more your mindset and getting over that hump mentally. And then the physical will follow.”
Being a running back takes more than securing the handoff and running. By putting in the work, you can help your team’s offense reach new heights.
Looking for more Pro Tips for the gridiron? Add Single Leg Hops to your workout to focus on your explosiveness. You can also try these five football drills in practice to help boost your speed and agility.