I lied to you.
The RSP No-Huddle Series was something I initially created to write about prospects likely to get drafted in the late rounds, if at all. I’m still going to do more of those players, but sometimes there are plays you remember that you want to share with people.
One of these plays is a pass involving Chris Polk that reveals more to his game than usually meets the eye and continues an observation I had about the play I profiled yesterday of NIU’s Chandler Harnish.
If you don’t live in the Pacific Northwest, then you probably don’t realize that Chris Polk was a wide receiver in high school. It’s not common to see a player switch from wide receiver to running back when he transitions from high school to college. Usually it’s the other way around: Hines Ward, Jeremy Ross, and Marvin Jones are all good examples. The last time I saw a college receiver transitioned running back it was when Lou Holtz did it with Ricky Watters, who I though was one of the best short-yardage running backs in the league because of fantastic footwork in tight spaces.
This play below is what separates the 5’10″, 215-pound Polk from many of his peers. It begins on 1st and 10 with 9:43 in the half from a 12 personnel, strong side twins receiver set.
Some quick strategy points about this play:
- The twin receivers place the defensive secondary’s focus on what we see as the bottom of the screen, which keeps the one safety deep to that side of the field.
- The beauty of Washington’s play design is how they use the tight end running a vertical route crossing the right hash to run a little interference for any back side defender catching Polk sneak from the backfield.
- The presence of the wing back off left tackle baits Arizona’s defense into at least considering it as a numbers advantage off the edge that will require some help from the Washington left guard or running back to address. What they don’t realize is this pass rush is getting drawn towards the quarterback when the actual (down field) thrower will be to the flanker.
Although his play is what I consider a gimmick with some risk, it’s a well-designed play because of the misdirection involved and the common theme from last night’s play: convincing the defense it has some sort of advantage that doesn’t really exist.
Once the quarterback throws the ball to the flanker, 90 percent of the defense is flowing to the twin receiver side of the formation.
A perfect throw probably results in a touchdown, but the flanker isn’t that great of a passer. Fortunately, the running back is a good receiver who just happened to be a better runner.
As mentioned, the flanker’s pass isn’t perfect – he under throws it. Polk cant get to full speed and run under it. Instead he has to maintain a steady gait to keep the ball in rage and then turn back to the football as the safety closes.
One of the first things I like about Polk’s receiving skills on this play is that he displays “late hands” on this play. The Huskies runner doesn’t extend his arms to the football until the pass is over the head of the safety and just feet from arrival.
Polk catches the ball with his hands and begins to pull the ball into his body.
As Polk begins to retract his arms, the safety does an excellent job of getting his hands on the ball and jarring it loose from the runner’s grip.The next two frames illustrate how it happens.
You may wonder at this point why I’m touting the receiving skills of Chris Polk when he clearly loses possession of the football on this deep pass. However, here’s where I believe good evaluation is a balance of individual skill sets and overall perspective. Polk initially loses this pass, but you’ll see below that he has the awareness to get the ball back.It’s not every day that you see a running back make this kind of initial catch and it’s less common to see one fight for it with the second and third effort of a top-notch vertical receiver.
Polk makes sure to reach for the ball and hang onto it as they skid across the turf. This is excellent awareness that the tie goes to the receiver. Some of you may think,so what? He’s supposed to know that! You’re right, he is supposed to know this rule, but if you think about how often a running back has to execute awareness of this rule in this situation and the answer will be almost never.
Good evaluation is also about spotting on-field awareness, what many former NFL personnel men like Pat Kirwan call FBI – or Football Intelligence. I think of it as Football I.Q. I already know Polk can catch the football, he scores a touchdown on a swing pass later in this drive and later in the game he turns a 15-yard pass into a 50-yard gain. While the skill to make the initial catch impresses me, it’s really this final act that Polk makes at the end of this play that shows a little extra. When a team can field players that do those little extras, they’re on to something.