Hackett nixed 7-on-7 drills this summer for safety, science

Aug 23, 2022, 1:43 AM | Updated: 1:47 pm
Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett takes part in drills during an NFL football training ca...

Denver Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett takes part in drills during an NFL football training camp session at the team's headquarters Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (AP) — Nathaniel Hackett’s first training camp in Denver was notable for its paucity of hard hits, at least until a joint practice with the Dallas Cowboys.

What really turned heads, however, was Hackett’s decision to ditch 7-on-7 drills, the staple of today’s pass-heavy offenses pitting the quarterback, his snapper and five pass catchers against a mix of defensive backs and linebackers.

With no big bodies mucking up the middle and no hand-offs to worry about, quarterbacks work on their rhythm with receivers, who sharpen their skills going against D-backs trying to disrupt it all.

At the same time, the offensive and defensive linemen usually head to an adjacent field for often-spirited 1-on-1 pass rush drills.

Hackett nixed those, too.

Hackett, who came to Denver from Matt LaFleur’s staff in Green Bay, where the Packers de-emphasized but didn’t quite eliminate the 7-on-7s drills, instead conducted more 11-on-11 drills.

He said he wanted to give his players more “real football” work, an approach that might prove critical with most of his projected starters staying on the sideline in the preseason.

“I appreciate Coach Hackett,” right tackle Calvin Anderson said. “I think he’s a revolutionary mind and he’s not afraid to think outside the box and do something new.”

Former NFL offensive lineman Tyler Polumbus said he would have felt awkward heading into a season without the standby drills.

“It’s a different era and clearly it’s worked for the Packers,” Polumbus said. “But I’m not going to lie, I’ve got my reservations about it.”

“For us the big boys, during 7-on-7s, that’s when we do our 1-on-1s. So I know that was huge for me,” Polumbus explained. “Honestly, I’m not sure how confident I would feel going into the season right now because 1-on-1s, it’s the only time that you can go out there and work on your craft.

“I could try new things and not be afraid to blow up the play and in 11-on-11 I’m afraid to try new things,” Polumbus said. “Because if I try something new and I get beat, well, I get the play blown up and everybody’s yelling at me.”

When Hackett sat down for a pre-practice interview one morning on local radio, he was asked how he’d respond to the Denver radio station’s half dozen or so former NFL players-turned-commentators including Polumbus who were crushing him for his low-contact approach to camp and for ditching the 7-on-7s.

Hackett explained that he chose safety over tradition and science over habit. His goal, he said, was to get to the season healthy so he wasn’t going to overwork his players with too much hitting or overexpose them to injury through drills he feels are superfluous.

Only twice did the Broncos conduct any 1-on-1 drills during camp, and those involved receivers facing D-backs and tight ends and running backs lining up against linebackers.

“That was by popular demand, for sure,” Hackett said. “It’s good for some of those young guys to get those reps against each other. The crowd loves it.”

A handful of other NFL coaches have tweaked their offseason work regimens regarding 7-on-7s. Bills coach Sean McDermott cut down on his 7-on-7s, but maintained his 1-on-1 pass rush drills. Giants coach Brian Daboll used spring OTAs for his 7-on-7 drills and, like Hackett, stuck with 11-on-11s this summer.

“I like the quarterback to feel the people around him,” Daboll said. “There’s a time and a place for it. In some of those spots instead of 7-on-7, we’ve worked individual technique … but I think it’s important for a quarterback to feel the people around him, up front in particular.”

Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell is among those who still swear by the value of 7-on-7s.

“You know there’s a purpose for it,” he said. “You want to rest your big guys some during that time and we can get a lot of recognition, speed recognition, on the pass. We lose the play action, run-pass part of the ID for our players, but I’ve always been a fan of it.”

NFL receiver-turned-radio host Brandon Stokley said 7-on-7s allow players to gain confidence, get their timing down, work out the kinks and even experiment.

“You see 7-on-7 in middle school on up, it’s a big deal,” Stokley said, invoking his buddy Peyton Manning.

“Peyton Manning thought they were pretty important and we got a lot of reps in and got a lot of work done by doing those drills,” Stokley said. “Now, I’m not saying you have to do them every day, but I think there are benefits to doing those drills.

“So, it’s a different approach the way Nathaniel Hackett is doing it. It’s different than the school I grew up in and the things I thought were beneficial. I guess the proof will be in the pudding.”

Win and maybe it’s a trend. Lose and it might just be a fad.

Polumbus suggested that ditching 7-on-7s makes it harder for players to rise up the depth chart because they don’t have nearly as much of an opportunity to make their mark.

“I think it’s a bummer for the younger guys more than anything else,” Polumbus said. “But I get it, you’re not here for the younger guys. You’re here for the starters.”


AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan and John Wawrow and AP Pro Football Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.


More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

French soccer game suspended for 15 minutes after tear gas

TOULOUSE, France (AP) — Play was briefly suspended in a French league soccer game on Sunday after tear gas coming from the stands left some players struggling to breathe. Host Toulouse was leading Montpellier 4-1 when play was stopped in the second half and the referee decided to send players back to the locker room. […]
1 day ago
Manchester City's Phil Foden, right, celebrates with his teammate Erling Haaland after scoring his ...
Associated Press

Man City brings United down to earth with 6-3 rout in derby

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Erling Haaland and Phil Foden scored hat tricks Sunday as Erik ten Hag was humiliated in his first Manchester derby. Manchester City destroyed rival Manchester United 6-3 at the Etihad and moved to within a point of Premier League leader Arsenal. It was Haaland’s third hat trick of the season – […]
1 day ago
FILE - Linesman Ryan Daisy is seen during the second period of an NHL hockey game between the Detro...
Associated Press

Behind the stripes: What 3 NHL officials enjoy off the ice

It has been almost three decades since the NHL took the names off the back of officials’ jerseys and replaced them with numbers. Since then, with the notable exception of Wes McCauley and his popular, flamboyant calls, most referees and linesmen generally fly under the radar and don’t mind the relative anonymity. But it’s their […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

A look at major soccer-related crowd disasters

Police fired tear gas after violence broke out at a soccer match in East Java province in Indonesia as Persebaya Surabaya beat Arema Malang 3-2. Panic and a rush for the exit left at least 125 dead, most of whom were trampled, police said Sunday. Here is a look at some of the worst soccer-related […]
1 day ago
Mechanics change the front wing on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain's car during the Singa...
Associated Press

F1: Verstappen’s title on hold after Perez wins in Singapore

SINGAPORE (AP) — Max Verstappen’s Formula One title celebrations were put on hold after the Red Bull driver placed seventh at a chaotic Singapore Grand Prix, won by his teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday. Perez’s second win of the season saw him finish 7.6 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz […]
1 day ago
Police cars wrecked in soccer riots are seen on the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Jav...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: What’s behind Indonesia’s deadly soccer match?

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Violence, tear gas and a deadly crush that erupted following a domestic league soccer match Saturday night marked another tragedy in Indonesian football. Here’s a look at how the chaos occurred and what is being done to prevent future incidents: ___ HOW DID THE CHAOS OCCUR? Chaos broke out after Persebaya […]
1 day ago
Hackett nixed 7-on-7 drills this summer for safety, science