How To Play Running Back In Football

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Running back is one of the critical positions in football. An excellent running back helps the offense control the clock and get first downs. Poor running backs force offensive coordinators to throw the football more than they want to.

This article will show you how to play running back in football and why the position is so important.

What Is A Running Back In Football?

A running back in football is a player who lines up behind the quarterback. Their primary responsibility is to run the ball, but they will also block for the quarterback and catch the football.

Running backs play a crucial role in helping to establish the line of scrimmage and manage the clock throughout the game.

How To Play Running Back In Football

The running back position in football is unique. Most running backs are shorter, stalkier players who will make defensive players miss their speed.

Running backs should have natural speed, elusiveness, and toughness.

Let’s learn more about these three running back traits.

Improve Speed

Speed is the number one natural ability a running back should possess. The ability to run away from defenders trying to tackle you is what every running back should strive for.

When the ball is handed off to the running back, the coach and other offensive players expect that the running back will run for a touchdown.

While this is rarely the case on every play, the expectation is that the running back gains positive yards to help get first downs.

Speed is a major contributing factor to gaining positive yards.

Train Elusiveness

Elusiveness is another critical attribute for a running back.

The term elusiveness means the ability to make people miss. Running backs who know how to make defenders miss are often the most challenging to play against in football.

Quick, agile running backs who can make the first tackler miss will often gain positive yards when running the ball.

Doing quick reactionary drills will help train the body and the mind to become elusive.

Train Mental & Physical Toughness

The last key attribute to playing running back in football is toughness. Running backs will almost always be tackled when they touch the football (unless they score a touchdown or run out of bounds).

Running backs needs to have the physical and mental toughness to carry the ball 10, 15, or even 20 times in a game.

Running backs may get tackled by heavier offensive linemen or linebackers.

Being able to absorb contact, get up, and get ready for the next play is essential for every down running back.

Training To Become A Running Back

It is very common in high school and college football to see a running back receive the ball on a handoff or a pitch play. The running back then tries to take the ball to the end zone.

Like wide receivers and defensive players, running backs need to work hard on their skills to succeed on the field. Most of these skills are taught through practice.

If you are a running back, you need to keep your quickness and agility sharp. When running your sprints, try to make quick 90 and 45-degree turns.

Doing this will keep your feet under you, which is very important for eluding tacklers. You can also practice keeping your knees high to avoid tacklers diving at them.

By jumping rope and doing push-ups, sit-ups, and leg lifts, you’ll get in the best shape possible. And not only will this help you play better football, but it will also lower your chance of getting hurt while playing football.

Three things you need to do to be a good running back in football:

  • Get in shape and work on flexibility so you can avoid injuries.
  • Work on your individual skills so you can be successful in the field.
  • Practice at home so that you can keep your quickness and agility sharp.

Uncover your opponent’s offensive and defensive tendencies so you can easily build a game plan.

Inside You’ll Find:

  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
  • How to identify player weaknesses
  • How to save time in your weekly breakdowns

Key Attributes In A Running Back

Next, let’s talk about five essential attributes of being a great running back.


Quickness is the ability to change direction as fast as possible. It’s essential because running backs don’t get more than one or two steps before they must make a cut or turn their body toward the defender that has been assigned to tackle them.

Quicker running backs are more dangerous because they can get a few more yards on the run to elude defenders.

Leg Drive

Leg drive is the ability to break tackles and continue moving forward. A good running back needs to bend his body around defenders and continue for additional yards.

If you’re someone who gets hit and instantly stops progress, then you need to work on your leg drive to keep moving forward and gaining positive yards.


Balance is the ability to move in all directions while being contacted and still control your body.

It’s one thing to be able to run fast and make a quick cut, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to do it while keeping your balance. If you don’t have good footwork, you’ll end up on the ground more often than not.


Power is the ability to move the defender assigned to tackle you. Power is one of the essential attributes of a running back.

A good running back must have great strength because he needs to run through arm tackles, keep his balance when lowering his shoulder, and hit defenders when blitzing.

The hardest thing for a running back to do is stay on his feet when hit by defenders. The position requires excellent endurance and strength not to tire him out unnecessarily and cause him to injure himself.


Determination is the ability to fight through fatigue and injuries. A great running back doesn’t get down on himself when he gets tackled, and he’s willing to put in all the effort necessary to help his team win.

Running backs that give up easily and run from defenders often find themselves on the bench during critical points of football games.

If you are a running back in football, you have one of the most challenging jobs because you have to face defensive players trying to tackle you.

You need to find a way to avoid getting tackled while still carrying out your job description as a running back.

Blocking As A Running Back

Playing running back isn’t just about carrying the football. It’s also about blocking.

Many coaches will have their running backs stay in to block during pass protection. This allows them to add another player to the blocking scheme.

Running backs need to know how to block offensive linemen and blitzing linebackers.

Difference Between Running Backs & Fullbacks (RB & FB)

The difference between a running back and a fullback is that the fullback is mainly used for blocking while the running back is the primary ball carrier.

Fullback is a position used by teams who run a power scheme. Fullbacks are thicker than running backs (weight-wise) but are too small to be offensive linemen.

These players’ main job is to open up holes for the running back and protect the quarterback on passing plays.

Different Types Of Running Backs In Football

There are three different types of running backs in football.

Speed Running Back

A speed running back is often a running back that is smaller in stature but is extremely quick and agile.

This player might not have the mass and weight as other players on the field, but they make up for it in speed. Speed running backs can be used in any offensive system.

Coaches will get the football to speed running backs to the outside; that way, they can run in open space, away from the defensive lineman.

Power Running Back

A power running back is a thicker, heavier running back specializing in running between the tackles.

This player may be hard to tackle and doesn’t possess the speed that a speed running back would. These running backs are great for short-yardage plays or if the offense wants to wear down the defense.

3rd Down Back

The last type of running back is the 3rd down back. This is often a player specializing in catching the ball out of the backfield.

Running backs are tasked with running the ball after they receive a handoff. They don’t typically specialize in catching the football.

Coaches will often have a 3rd down back on long-distanced plays to help catch footballs out of the backfield.

Learn More

Below are more running-back articles to help you improve. We’ve also created the Running Back University course to help you become a dominant running back.

Reduce Fumbles In Football With The 5 Points Of Pressure

Why Running Backs Run Up The Middle

What Is A Fullback In Football? Learn Here

What’s The Difference Between Running Backs & Wide Receivers?

Running backs are a unique position in football that requires both speed and elusiveness to be an effective player.

If you want to learn more about the running back position, we recommend checking out our list of courses here.

If you want to learn more about football in general, we recommend you check out our learning center for more!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.