Sorry for the long absence. Anyway…
FF 101: Day 5 – Receivers
Receivers come in many shapes and many sizes, from 6’6”, 270 pound tight ends to 5’9”, 160 pound slot receivers. Regardless of size though, one thing is ultimately fundamental to the position: catching the football. For some this sounds easy, for others who feel like they have hands of stones, even this doesn’t sound easy. This is complicated by the fact that a receiver is also responsible for running crisp routes, which sometimes include defeating a defensive player at the LOS jamming them, diagnosing the defense, and then catching the football, all the while knowing that there could very well be someone running on a collision course the other way trying to destroy you.
Receivers are typically known as divas, always seeking attention, but then there’s Jason Avant. Personality isn’t a trait that runs through all these players, some just focus on the fundamentals and go about business. So let’s attempt to understand these fundamentals rather than simply seeing all the negatives attributed to receivers.
I could write in every single one of these that an efficient stance leads to a purging of false steps. A false step essentially means taking unnecessary steps before the actual start of the route running. For a receiver this usually means picking up the front foot and moving it forward or picking up the back foot and moving it backwards. Neither should happen, as the receiver should be able to push directly off his front foot. To remove this annoying phenomenon known as false steps, an aggressive stance is desired.
Feet: Feet should be staggered, much like a sprinters. I personally prefer the inside foot to be forward (as do most coaches, though this isn’t necessarily consistent) because it helps in releasing from a jamming defender. There should be about three feet between the front and back foot, with the majority of the weight on the front foot. The amount of weight can be described as “pushing the front cleat on the toe through the ground.”
Knees: Knees should be bent and ready to explode.
Upperbody: The upper body should be leaning slightly forward in order to quickly explode out of the stance.
Hands and Arms: Again, my personal preference, but hands should be up at chest level with arms approximately at 90 degree angles. The reason I prefer hands up is to help defeat a jamming defender.
A lot of people hear about receivers running good routes but don’t really know what exactly that means. Well, let’s take a look at it to help you understand what exactly is taking place in these “good routes.”
Part of good routes is actually understanding what the defense is running. At the snap of the ball the receiver also needs to recognize zone or man coverage. If it’s zone he has to quickly recognize what kind of coverage so he knows where the gaps are in the defense. All this has to be done on the same page as the QB. But to properly do any of that, a few other things are important as well.
Drive: At the snap there should be no false steps from the receiver. This is described above. The reason false steps are so detrimental here is for several reasons: 1) It hinders the timing between QB and receiver; 2) It allows the receiver to be jammed easier; 3) It doesn’t allow the receiver to quickly close the distance between himself and the defender. Closing this gap forces the defender to open his hips away from the backfield, making it hard for him to react to routes the receiver is about to run. The keys to the drive portion are exploding off the LOS, maintaining a good body lean (so that the receiver can run “normally” in a straight line, yet still break down and run other routes), and closing the distance between himself and the defender.
Route Expression: Receivers must drive in and out of cuts. This means they must get up to full speed as soon as possible after making cut and going into a cut. In order to do this, at the break point a receiver is taught to snap his chest down over his toes and lower his butt. The receiver should also keep his head and eyes up and focused through the defender to maintain good balance and prevent the defender from jumping the route. It is also important to keep the arms pumping and within the body's framework. Receivers often hold the arms out or lower them, which can give easy clues to the defender.
Lastly, and probably the most common of all poor route runners, is fading on routes. A cut at 90 degrees is a cut at 90 degrees, not slowly changing to 80 degrees. Don't start fading toward the end zone. It is essential that receivers do not fade. I can't say that enough. You will hear coaches preaching it constantly at every level.
Numbers are assigned to different types of routes. These numbers are used for play calling and other aspects of the game. The picture below should which number is what route, odds are toward the boundary, evens are toward the ball.
There are obviously more routes available, such as a wheel route for example, but these are the main ones.
So he’s done all this stuff with running routes, but he still hasn’t caught the football. Everything that has already been discussed is pointless if he doesn’t catch the football. So how do you catch a football? Well it sounds kind of easy when you go out in the back yard and do it with your kid, but there are many things that experienced people don’t even think about.
There is the obvious: catch the ball with your hands. But first you need to catch the ball with your eyes, meaning you need to locate the ball. Then as the ball approaches you are told to catch the “fat” of the ball. But in a game a receiver isn’t simply standing there waiting for the ball to fall into his hands, he must attack the ball in the air, and absorb it as it hits his hands. If the ball is above the numbers, press the thumbs and forefingers together forming a triangle. Below the numbers press your little fingers together, forming a cup for the ball.
How to catch a ball:
How not to catch a ball:
For tight ends it is very similar to the offensive linemen I detailed earlier.
(Edit: I tried to find a picture of Carson Butler blocking, but for some reason I couldn’t find anything…)
Blocking in space is much different however. If WRs block it turns ten yard runs into touchdowns. Michigan was always very well known for teaching their WRs to block down field. Stressing this is vital to the success of any offense. It really isn’t as much about skill as it is about desire. There is some keys to blocking in space however, so we will still discuss them.
The first is that a receiver shouldn’t break down to block until he is about 2-3 yards from the defender. Once this distance has been established, it is important that the receiver break down so that he can mirror the defender. He then should strike the defender in the breast plate with his palms while fitting his fingers under the defender’s armpits. The goal is to have the receiver’s helmet below the defenders to gain leverage and then drive the defender. Because these aren’t typically offensive linemen blocking, usually the receiver’s are taught to use the defenders momentum to the blocker’s advantage. This means if the defender fights one way, fight pressure with pressure and force him to overrun the play.
You'll find a lot of good WR blocking in this awesome Tyrone Wheatley Tribute from Wolverine Historian. (EDIT: Can't really see much blocking from WR in this video. Sorry)
EDIT: Good WR blocking on this Brandon Minor from the game that introduced Minor Rage to the world and Penn St.
So playing receiver isn’t as easy as playing catch with your kid. I’m not saying it’s the hardest position on the field, but it’s far from easy. There are a lot of things that need to be recognized very quickly and there are fundamentals that need to be done very precisely. On top of this, focus needs to be consistent, as does desire, whether the ball is coming his way or not.
Just be happy it’s not you crossing the middle of the field with your QB setting you up to get your block knocked off.