Execution


Tony Gonzalez has enjoyed a long and productive career because as his athleticism has declined he still executes strong technique. Photo by Chemisti http://www.flickr.com/photos/chemisti/457300762/

While researching YouTube highlights for my last blog post, I came across a series of short videos on fundamentals for wide receiver and tight end. One set of these videos features former Packers, Chiefs, and Vikings tight end Paul Coffman, who does a fantastic job of demonstrating fundamental techniques for blocking, releases, routes, and pass catching. The other set has current NFL pros demonstrating the same fundamentals.

The difference between the two is that Coffman’s videos feature middle school and high school students executing these techniques. This may seem boring in contrast to the NFL stars, but there’s something to be gained from watching both, which is the vast difference in execution.  This seems obvious, but it is vitally important when evaluating players. Coffman’s kids are still learning these techniques while the pros make everything look easy and effortless. 

But “simple” and “easy” aren’t synonymous without years of practice. This is something to remember every time you watch a college athlete or young NFL player. Those prospects who make fundamentals look easy closer to becoming refined pros than those who are simply athletes with raw positional skills. 

Releases

Let’s begin with former NFL tight end Paul Coffman providing a lesson on the proper stance and release for a tight end at the line of scrimmage. If you’re interested in what makes a good stance, watch the first 1:40 of this video. However, I’m moving on to releases at 1:41. After Coffman introduces the swim and the rip techniques, he demonstrates the swim at the three-minute mark and then has his pupil execute it.

Now let’s watch Jason Witten get off the line of scrimmage at various points in the video below (watch 1:39 and 3:44)

1:39 – Witten is so quick and fluid with his technique you have to watch it several times to see it.

3:44 – Although this swim move is in space and not at the line of scrimmage, watch how effortless Witten does it.

Blocking

Here’s a video where Coffman is teaching releases for routes and blocking. For the first couple of minutes, Coffman has an aspiring TE and WR practice releases that require a head fake and a jab step used in combination with a hands technique. Note how stiff their execution is. At their level of football, they are probably going to have an advantage just because they have had some exposure to the technique. I really like Coffman’s explanation of the hands technique to get off the defender, which also applies to WRs, which you can see example of smooth head fakes and jab steps from my last post that breaks down the techniques of some of the best NFL wide receivers to play the game.

2:55 – At this point, Coffman gets into blocking and the position of the hands and body to execute a good drive block for a TE or as a receiver from a two-point stance. Watch this lesson until the 3:20 mark of the video and then go back to the Witten video (see below) and skip to 2:42 and 2:48,

2:42 – Watch how easily Witten gets into the pads of the Ravens LB from a two-point stance. This may be a case of the TE catching the LB off guard, but place one of Coffman’s students in that kind of game situation and the pupil won’t be able to process what to do as effortlessly as Witten. In fact, many college tight ends will struggle with the same lack of recognition.

2:48 – Note in the freeze frame that Witten comes out of his stance with a low position even though he’s still far from the defender he’s going to hook block as a part of a double team. It’s much harder to get low after you released high. The hand placement is perfect. He delivers his hands with a short punch and follows with his legs driving like pistons to move the defender at his will.

Now go back to the Coffman video from the 5:30 mark to the end.  This is where he discusses the how and why behind delivering a punch with good technique, which you got a chance to see with Witten’s block at 2:48.

See how Witten didn’t wind up to punch the defender?  Now return to the Witten video and watch 3:09 and 3:36 for more examples of excellent punches.

3:09 – Look at the flat back with his stance and the toes pointed forward before the snap. Watch the release into the defensive end. Although the defensive end is shooting to the inside, Witten’s block works because he starts low, upper cuts into the defender and establishes the kind of leverage where he can use his hands and legs in concert to move the defender.

3:36 – Here’s an example of pass blocking where Witten’s first punch comes from a good stance with a low starting point. However, watch how he moves inside to follow up and resets to deliver his second punch from a lower point.

Head Fakes and Setting up Breaks

In this next Coffman video, the former NFL TE discusses the importance of incorporating movement into the route. His explanation at the top of his segment about getting a defender to raise his head is really valuable. After you’ve watched the first 1:05 of this video and then another 20-30 seconds of the student attempting these techniques, pause it and read below.

Now let’s look at Tim Brown put this technique into action at the 0:57 mark of the video below.

Brown uses the subtlest of head fakes with additional movement to get the Broncos DB to bite outside before Brown breaks inside. You may have to watch it several times, but you’ll see the movement. Although not extremely noticeable, Brown’s technique is far more natural than the exaggerated motions of less experienced players. This comes with practice.

Returning to Coffman’s instruction, watch the first 1:05 seconds of this video on executing a break.

Note that the student doesn’t do a great job of executing this break. He’s just a kid. This is a football camp, not his life. While college football is a significant step up from the high school level, the expectations are still not nearly as high as the NFL. Some of the same issues Coffman pointed out at the beginning of this instruction you will see if star college receivers and younger NFL players who are struggling to make an impact – watch the preseason and it will be even more prevalent.

This is why I wish I ranked Austin Collie higher than I did when he was a senior at BYU. I loved his game, and I scored him well, but I allowed concerns about his speed to go against my better judgment with my overall rankings at the position. I originally had Collie in much higher spot because of his great hands, great hands technique, good skills to vertically separate, and all of those things he did effortlessly. When I then read that Collie spent every night after dinner working with QB Max Hall, extra work beyond organized team practice, I saw the connection between a young player with refined skills and a professional approach to his craft. When you see technique + work ethic + baseline athleticism required for the job, you should take notice. I did, but I should have endorsed him more in my overall rankings. I’ve learned since then that consistency of execution and work ethic is a big indicator of a successful player.

Here’s an instructional video from Hines Ward on the techniques of running a curl route.

He’s like a machine compared to Coffman’s pupil.

Catching the Football

Larry Fitzgerald echoes some of Coffman and Ward’s points from these videos, including extending the arms and turning the hips while extending the arms to catch under thrown balls on routes with horizontal breaks.

Note the explanation of hand positioning. I can’t tell you how many times I see receivers miss passes because they had their hands in the wrong position for the location of the oncoming ball. If you see this consistently from a receiver it’s a good sign he’s going to have trouble adjusting to the NFL.

Releases Redux

Calvin Johnson talks about the fade route in the video below, but he begins with the release. He reiterates Coffman’s point about the proper way for a wide receiver to use his hands during his release, which is not to aim for the defender’s shoulder, but the area below the elbow. As Coffman mentioned earlier, hitting the shoulder doesn’t prevent the defender’s hands from reaching the receiver’s body. However, hitting at the elbow or below does.

Note the spacing Johnson recommends with the sideline. Mario Manningham was a player I remember watching who demonstrated the all to frequent problem of squeezing the sideline on this route on Sunday Night Football during the 2009 season and Chris Collinsworth – a former NFL receiver himself – criticizing the emerging Giants receiver for making Eli Manning’s job much tougher. Manningham isn’t the only highly regarded NFL prospect I’ve seen make this error on a regular basis. Even some of the better receivers in the NFL have this lapse in technique.

Learning From the Enemy

Nnamdi Asomugha’s lesson on playing off man coverage is an instructional way to learn what receivers are trying to do to break down a defender’s technique.

If a DB is supposed to play a receiver’s hips then you understand why Paul Coffman is trying to teach receivers to get the defender to raise his head.

Marcus Trufant teaches proper technique to jam a receiver below

Notice the receiver in the early demonstrations of this chair technique isn’t using his hands to release from the jam. However, Trufant does cover what a receiver with good hands technique can do if the cornerback has a breakdown with his.

If you memorize these techniques for pass catching and handling press coverage, you’ll be surprised how many college receivers/tight ends have clear lapses or total lack of fundamental technique. What you’re seeking is consistently effective technique. And remember, just because it is a fundamental technique doesn’t mean it is basic. Great players have great technique with the fundamentals. If they don’t, they’re just athletes. You want great players, not just great athletes.

Categories: Analysis, Players, Tight End, Wide ReceiverTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 comments

  1. Hello,

    I’ve recently discovered RSP and am greatly enjoying your analysis. I’m learning things I didn’t know I didn’t know.

    I have a question about jamming receivers at the line. In certain game situations, particularly at the goalline where the field is compressed, would it make any sense at all for a defense to substitute a LT or RT for a corner? They are the ultimate jammers, after all. Would the tremendous advantage in size and power outweigh the obvious drawbacks?

    I coached football briefly in Canada, and our head coach called me crazy for suggesting it. He had a point–in Canada, there’s a yard of separation between defenders and offensive players at the LOS, so obviously an O-lineman at corner would be an oversized pylon. But American rules…. ?

    Thanks again for your great work.

    • Hey Marcus,

      Thanks for the feedback. I would imagine that your creative approach to personnel could work in highly specific situations, but you have to realize that one of the qualities that makes great pass rushing DEs is the ability to get lower than the offensive lineman around the corner. Plus a lineman in space will not be as effective holding off a receiver because of the movement the receiver can establish before he even encounters contact. Further, an offense would likely get wise to that idea quickly and use motion to gain an early advantage that would take this away.

      I’d be interested what others thing about this as well.

      Thanks again for the question.

      M

  2. Matt,

    Great site you have here. I’m really enjoying reading through all your analysis of game film, and I loved your Emerging Talent article on Eric Decker, who is one of my favorite up-and-coming players in the league. I like how much emphasis the RSP puts on what the film says, because to me that’s far and away the most important aspect of evaluating a player.

    In reading through this piece of yours, the one thing that really jumped out at me was your anecdote about Austin Collie. Particularly, how his technique and intangibles said star receiver, but his measurables didn’t seem to agree.

    I’m an aspiring NFL Scout, and I would like you’re take on a similar dilemma that I ran into this year in evaluating the rookie 2011 QB Class. I was the watching the Iron Bowl, mostly paying attention to the big names- Fairley, Dareus, Jones, Newton, Hightower, Barron, etc., but the player I actually came away most impressed with was Greg McErloy. The way he analyzed a defense pre-snap, quickly went through his reads, and delivered smart, accurate throws reminded me (at least from a football IQ standpoint) of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

    Intrigued by what I saw, I went back and watched a ton more film on McElroy after the Iron Bowl, and was continually impressed with his smarts, pocket presence, and accuracy; as well as his leadership, demeanor, and professionalism.

    In writing McElroy’s scouting report, I seriously struggled to find something (other than having only an average arm) negative to write about his game. After watching the film on the other 10 or so draftable QB’s in the class, I felt that McElroy was the best of the bunch, and ranked him as my number 1 QB. I was shocked when I then looked at some of the expert rankings that had him projected as a 7th rounder to undrafted caliber of player.

    Is it possible that some analysts wrote off McElroy because he was playing on an insanely talented team, and never actually bothered to watch the film on him?

    Here’s the scouting report I mentioned:

    http://www.mockdraftclub.com/position-rankings/quarterback-rankings/greg-mcelroy-profile

    It includes multiple breakdowns of film, and I was wondering if you could take a look and tell me if you think I’m completely off my rocker on this. Is there something I’m missing here? What are you’re main concerns McElroy that I may be failing to see, because I honestly see the next Tom Brady in this kid.

    Any feedback is appreciated, and keep up the great work here at the RSP!

    -Ryan

    • Ryan,

      I’ll check out the report tomorrow but to answer your question, McElroy reminded me of Brady when I first saw him as well. The reason is his pocket presence and aggressiveness as a decision maker. I agree that the only real issue with McElroy is arm strength in the sense that he won’t break the pocket and make plays on his own with his arm and legs that beat a well-defensed play. I think that means that scouts probably value players with more athletic upside. He’s also not the biggest QB and teams value bigger guys who are more likely to take punishment without getting hurt.

      That said, I completely agree with you that McElroy has the smarts and pocket skills to become a sound starting quarterback if a team gives him a chance.

      Thanks so much for writing and I’ll respond more tomorrow.

      M

    • Ryan,

      This is definitely a thorough look at McElroy, which in that aspect alone is well-done. I agree that McElroy could be a steal. I believe I listed him as an underrated player for many of the reasons you do. As I mentioned last night, I think teams might wonder whether he has the velocity on passes to squeeze the ball into tight spaces when forced to make a player. While not essential to good quarterback play in the NFL, it is often regarded as a requirement among teams based on the players they do choose early.

      I was a big fan of Bruce Gradkowski at Toledo because he had everything, but the arm strength. However, he lacked that velocity to get the ball where it needed to be when an NFL defense painted him in a corner and this is something that follows him around his career. He can still develop into a functionally good starter, but the concern that he can’t beat a defense on his own is something that I believe teams take seriously.

      Will McElroy have that issue? I don’t think so. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if McElroy pushes Mark Sanchez in a few years if Sanchez doesn’t take his game to that next level. While calling McElroy the next Tom Brady is very bold and something I’ve learned is difficult to project that kind of stardom because there are numerous factors outside of Brady’s control that helped him elevate his game, I immediately saw the comparisons between McElroy and Brady when it comes to individual skill sets. I was talking about this on some message boards two years ago. The real question will be if McElroy has similar skills as a leader and worker and if the Jets or another team he sticks with has the talent and personnel to maximize his potential.

      BTW – you’re not alone thinking McElroy is an underrated commodity at the position. There are others in addition to us.

      Once again, nice analysis.

      Best,

      Matt

  3. Matt,

    Definitely makes sense that arm strength would hurt McElroy’s draft stock, but I think he’s got a stronger arm than someone like Andy Dalton, who as you know was drafted five rounds ahead of him. It never really made sense to me that Dalton was so highly touted. In watching film on him, his mechanics seem to breakdown when he knows he has to sling the ball 35-40 yards down field because he was trying to compensate for his lack of arm strength. He’s going to have to be used exclusively in a west coast system his whole career, and I’m not convinced that he’s the smart, pro-ready QB that Jay Gruden thinks he’s getting to execute that system. I saw him make some poor decisions when his primary read was covered, and I would bet the Bengals could be looking for a new QB in a couple years.

    Just like with Tom Brady, I think with McElroy it’s ultimately going to come down to an opportunity. He’s a quick learner so I’m sure by the end of camp next year he should be pretty comfortable in the offense, but I think it may take a Sanchez injury for him to ever get a chance to play for the Jets. I think if he ever gets a chance he’ll take the reins and never look back, but who knows if he’ll ever get that shot. All I know for sure is that I can’t wait to watch him play this August, in addition to a ton of other guys! Football’s almost back baby!

    Thanks for the kind words and the shout-out in your latest post. I really appreciate you taking the time to read through my stuff and respond. Keep up the great work here and for FootballGuys.

    -Ryan

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