The little things matter – especially in a sport known for being a game of inches. Most people think of those valuable inches as every blade of grass ahead of a runner or defender in a north south direction. East west inches matter, too. So do the small techniques that players often forsake. Techniques we know are important, but we generally ignore until something bad happens.
LSU receiver Rueben Randle made a terrific play against Florida on October 8, 2011 that culminated a 4-catch, 127-yard, 1-touchdown performance. However, there is a small technique that Randle – and many ball carriers – consistently don’t perform that can make a big difference in the outcome of a game. Randle never carries the football under his left arm.
This is a small technique that isn’t going to keep him from earning a starting job in the NFL. It won’t keep him from becoming a productive receiver for your fantasy team. And it won’t keep his team from winning . . . or will it?
Let’s look at Randle’s final catch on 2nd and 6 with 14:27 in the game. Randle is the flanker on the near side of the field at the Florida 40. LSU comes to the line in a 21-personnel, 1×1 receiver, I-formation set.
Randle, who wasn’t even considered the team’s best receiving threat by most observers when the season began, has really emerged – and improved over the course of the season. The LSU receiver does a good job using his body to get a release off the line of scrimmage against press coverage. At the snap, Randle drums his arms and then dips outside the defender after taking two steps off the line.
Randle does a good job of eliminating surface area that the Florida CB has to jam him at the line. The forearm also helps Randle deliver a shove that knocks the CB off balance within the first five yards of the release and this gives the receiver a decided advantage to begin the route.
Randle’s strength and speed was too much for the CB and as the play develops he gets two yards of separation on the defender by the time he’s 35 yards down field.
Randle makes the catch over his inside shoulder with his hands near his chest. In fact, the LSU receiver has enough speed that his quarterback could have led him further down field and Randle would have been fast enough to run under the ball. Instead, he has to slow his gait just enough to catch the ball with his back still to the trailing cornerback at the Florida 28.
As Randle accelerates after the catch, the Florida safety coming from the inside begins to close on the LSU receiver. Randle actually shows enough acceleration to inch past the safety at the 15 while keeping the ball tucked under his inside arm.
When Randle nears the 10, the safety reaches for Randle and the football. Anticipating the contact, Randle veers closer to the sideline and reduces his inside shoulder from the defender.
Randle’s anticipation of the defender is good, but he would not need to make this evasive maneuver if the ball was under his sideline arm. Randle could have maintained his course and distance from the sideline and used a stiff arm. Or he could have veered to the sideline and then leaned into the safety with the stiff arm. Both options would have been better alternatives that likely result in Randle reaching the end zone because he wouldn’t have to give up ground due to his carriage of the ball.
Randle gains another 6-7 yards, but the safety manages to grab the receiver and his grasp and momentum drags Randle closer to the boundary.
Randle managed a few more steps in bounds, but he’s dragged to the sideline just two yards and a few inches from the goal line.
just enough towards the boundary that his inside foot hits the boundary just outside the two yard line. This was a difference between a 2nd and 6 touchdown of 60 yards an 57-yard reception. LSU scores soon after and dominated Florida in this contest, so Randle’s consistent technique lapse didn’t make a difference in that outcome. But odds are that it will one day.
Imagine Randle in the NFL and his team is trailing by four against a strong red zone defense when he makes this catch with 0:15 seconds on the clock. With what you just saw, wouldn’t you prefer he tucks the ball under his outside arm? Imagine this game is a playoff contest or the Super Bowl. Inches don’t just matter, but they are analyzed decades later. Earnest Byner had a game for the ages against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship 25 years ago – except for one small lapse in technique.
Fair or not, the little things make a difference.
Next: Why “simple is often best” as Brandon Weeden goes for the difficult, and a play from his Texas A&M game hat once again shows more Tarrantino than Gump.
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