Two players that come to mind when I think of good footwork are Idris Nolan offensively and Hensley Sejour defensively. Idris is quite a good basketball player, which requires a significant amount of body control as well as footwork. Hensley, coming from a football background as a defensive back (I believe) has worked on his footwork extensively.
Whether offensively or defensively, Idris and Hensley have the same traits in common:
1. Awareness of the current situation.
Each player understands where the disc is on the field. Knowing where the disc is on the field allows you to position yourself to make a play. They are also keenly aware of the type of player that is opposite of them and are able to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, they are aware of they player who has the disc.
2. Positioning themselves.
Using the knowledge from assessing the situation, they position themselves to make a play. Offensively this could be repositioning yourself to a location that will make the next throw easier, or closing the distance between themselves and the defender. From a defensive standpoint, it could be as simple as taking an extra half step toward the disc, or a step to the break side.
3. Making people commit.
Offensively, Idris is great at making people commit one way and changing his direction. I think that comes quite a bit from playing basketball and trying to get people off balance. Defensively, Hensley will position himself so that the offensive player only has one cut. However, with the footwork of a defensive back, if he is feinted, he is able to recover quickly without tripping over himself.
Their awareness, positioning, and footwork to make people commit or recover allow them to make plays on offense and defense.
Over the past two years, our teams have started to implement footwork drills during track sessions. Most of the footwork drills are ladder drills at this time. Our workouts in sprinting have incorporated some footwork drills, but usually the focus is on Ultimate specific type of sprints. Everyone on our team has noticed that their footwork in Ultimate is better from even doing something simple as ladder drills.
I think the Ultimate community is very slowly coming to the realization that there is a proper way of doing things, but have yet to make the change. Mostly because there has not been an authority figure to say this is the right way to do something. For instance, we may do some defensive drills, but each player executes their footwork as they know how and are unwilling to change because they have been successful in the past even with poor footwork.
This will change in the future, as I see the implementation of soccer and defensive back football type drills into ultimate, as players start to make the association between the footwork in those two sports and Ultimate. This implementation will have to come from players who are/were low level college players who have practiced the footwork and know the drills that work to improve footwork. With few exceptions, we are not there quite yet...but we will be shortly.