Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is at times brilliant - and at others, not so much. When things don’t go well for him, it often is due to a breakdown in his footwork, leading to poorly thrown balls and stalled drives. The team has hired Jon Kitna to replace new OC Kellen Moore as the quarterbacks coach. Kitna is an excellent teacher, but he and the team are hamstrung by the CBA rules that severely limit the time that can be spent working on things like mechanics and technique.
This has led to many outside football coaching clinics where players at all levels of football can go get help. One such place is the TEST Football Academy, located in Martinsville, New Jersey. In looking for some more information on how such places can help players like Dak, I was put in contact with Tony Racioppi, who is the QB position coach at TEST. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me about just how someone like him could be of use.
How do companies like yours work?
At TEST Football Academy we train athletes of all levels. High School, College, NFL Draft Prep and Combine training as well as NFL/CFL players in their offseasons. The Draft Prep/Combine athletes will train with us anywhere from 4-10 weeks. They stay in a hotel and are shuttled to facility everyday. Speed, Strength, agility and Combine testing drills are done from 9-230 each day. At 230-4 I will train the Quarterbacks with the WRs, TEs and RBs and follow that session up with classroom and film work. Pros will come in their offseason and either use a program set up by our tremendous staff including CEO Kevin Dunn, Geir Gudmonson who is arguably the best in the business and Skip Fuller who has over 30 years of experience. Players will also be given strength programs from their teams that we will help put them through. Quarterbacks will start off with 2 days a week throwing just to maintain footwork and fundamentals, and start to address last season’s throwing issues. We will progress to 3 then 4 days as we get closer to Mini Camps.
Just how widely used are they in the NFL? Do teams contract with you directly, is it left up to the players, or is there a mix in the league?
Very common for NFL players to train at facilities where they are from or in a warmer area. It is completely left up to the players. When they train at their team facilities there are rules in place. QBs cannot throw at the facility at all till much later in the year. Quarterbacks need a facility and coach to help their progression on and off field, and also WRs who will catch and run routes for them, which are difficult to find.
Who are some quarterbacks you have worked with?
I have had the opportunity to work with, coach and teach all the top Quarterbacks in college and now NFL over the last 6 years at the Manning Passing Academy. I’ve worked with 15 Quarterbacks who have signed NFL contracts as well as another 10 in the CFL. I currently train Davis Webb of the Jets as well as Luis Perez who was with the Rams and is now in the AAF, as well as 22 Division 1 QBs from the Northeast.
Do the teams give you some directions or suggestions on what they want you to work with the QBs on?
Most teams will give their QB stuff they want to improve on in offseason in an exit meeting. I’ll also break down issues on film of the player and see why. Most guys when they miss throws do something fundamentally wrong. That’s what we will focus on early in offseason to fix that issue or two. I have them for an hour to an hour and a half, where in season they have individual work at practice for maybe 7-12 min long.
(That last sentence sums up the difficulty in teams trying to fix issues. In one session, an outside coach like Tony can get more work than a team can in two or three weeks with only three practices per week.)
Is your coaching all on fundamentals/mechanics, or does it incorporate more advanced things like reading defenses and route structures/receiver roles?
A session usually includes Medicine Ball working on top of drop, Proper Throwing Sequence and adding velocity and power. Fundamentals and Mechanics are then taught and focused on. Being a balanced, rotational thrower using hips as a power source and not weight transfer or shoulders being ripped open. Rhythm, Hitch and Movements are then taught and coached up so we make straight, balanced throws to every area of field. Throwing on the run or Scramble is then added, getting downhill, staying flat to sideline, which is most common, as well as fading. We then drop and throw routes based on Concept and Defense. Which Defender to manipulate, read and what window with what Pace ball is thrown.
How did you get into this?
After finishing my college career at Rowan University (where I am still ranked in top 25 passers in NCAA history), I was able sign 4 pro contracts including 2 NFL (Jets, Dolphins). I then jumped into coaching and have had experience at College, HS as well as internships with Jaguars (2x) and Cardinals. Love my job and ability to make great players better. The way the system is set up Quarterbacks need help to truly progress going into each season.
How many independent coaches are out there?
It’s a growing field but also one with a ton of people copying the best guys but not really understanding the why and how. You truly have to understand the position fundamentally, mentally, thought process, and demands.
Specifically for the Cowboys, how much are they involved in this for their players? Have you worked with Cowboys before?
I think all NFL teams want their guys to put work in. The more done in offseason only helps staffs progress the player which is what it is all about. I have had a relationship with the Garrett family and Jason for over 25 years. His father Jim was one of my biggest mentors in my life. Not a better family in pro sports than the Garretts.
(That seems significant, to me, at least.)
With the changes to the offensive staff, it seems very likely that Prescott will be getting some work in with someone like Tony. I thought this was useful information for us to have. I want to thank Tony for taking the time to answer my questions. If you want to see more of what he does, his Twitter is @Tonyrazz03. He often posts videos of some of the drills he works on.