The first person who tipped me off to Bobby Rainey was NFL.com writer and researcher Chad Reuter, who worked at CBS Sportsline and NFL Draft Scout. Like many of the great tape grinders out there, I don’t get a chance to talk with them often or at great length because they are busy doing what I’m doing – working long hours. If this blog hasn’t helped you figure it out, the community of tape grinders who aren’t current NFL scouts is a cool group of people. If they recognize you as one of them, you learn that on the whole, they are hard-working, generous people with an abundance of humility.
Reuter is definitely one of these people. So it was a pleasant surprise last fall when he saw Rainey play, liked him, and thought of me when wanted another opinion on him. Being sought for a second opinion from a fellow tape watcher – from my limited perspective – isn’t common, so it was memorable.
What I don’t remember is whether it was Chad or I that compared Rainey’s upside to that of former Redskins and Eagles return ace and situational back Brian Mitchell. I think it was Chad, but I initially agreed with that assessment. The comped player wasn’t important, except that it signified that we agreed Rainey had the talent to compete for a roster spot in the NFL.
Since then, I have watched a couple more of Rainey’s games and I like his skills as an all-around weapon. Some critics of his game say Rainey bounces too many plays outside. I have seen Rainey’s share of runs that are designed to go outside as well as some runs that he bounces to the corner. However, I have also seen Rainey cut plays inside and get the tough yards.
The play below is a 30 personnel run for nine yards on a 1st and 10 play with 2:51 in the third quarter. There are more impressive runs between the tackles in this game from 21 and 22 personnel, but I like the replay angle of this attempt that shows Rainey’s perspective of the run, which gives me a few things to discuss about running the football as well as Rainey’s skills.
If you look at the number of defenders on each side of the official, you can see that the right side of the offensive line faces four defenders in the box while the left side of the line only faces three. This 30 personnel running set is a balanced formation for Western Kentucky’s offense and it gives them a chance to run to either side of the line with a good chance of success. In this situation, the fact that the safety on the left side of the offensive line is 10 yards back makes it more appealing for the offense to run to that side instead of to the right side where the safety is in the box five yards off the line of scrimmage.
This is something the running back should be considering before the snap, because the information should help him set up his blocks. After the snap, Rainey does a good job getting his head up and reading the line of scrimmage as he runs to the exchange point with the quarterback. At this point, there isn’t any penetration into the backfield that is disrupting the intent of the blocking scheme and the safeties are holding their ground where they stood before the snap.
As Rainey takes the exchange, his head remains up and reading the line. What he sees is his right guard coming off the double team to take the linebacker. The common rule for running backs is to read the helmets of their opponents when reading blocks and run to the opposite direction. In this case, the linebacker’s helmet is to the outside shoulder of the right guard. Rainey knows that gap is filled and he must adjust. He also might see the arm of the defensive tackle outside the right shoulder of the center, which is the first clue that hitting A-gap between the center and right guard isn’t a good idea. The other reason is that his up-back is the only defender with a shot to block the linebacker at the left hash and hitting that A-gap would give the linebacker a free shot.
The nice part about this blocking scheme and where Rainey begins his read is that his first option gives him a natural beginning to press and cut back to the left if the blocks off the double-team don’t pan out. A player I want you to remember is the safety on the right side of the line that No.82 is trying to block. He’s going to disappear from the frame of the next photo, but it is clear in future stills that Rainey knows where this defender is and what he’s doing.
Rainey makes a strong plant with his outside foot and begins his acceleration through this gap to get a quick four yards. What I like about this decision is that Rainey actually presses this hole a bit and helps widen the rushing lane when he makes his cut closer to his fullback. It also freezes the safety No.25 to the outside, which will also server Rainey will in a moment.
What happens next is one of the fun parts of this run. Rainey gets into the this hole with his next step and now has a few options. With his head up, Rainey has a split second to make his decision.
It is more difficult for a runner to break a tackle that’s a clean shot coming from an east west direction. Rainey understands this and makes an impressive cut to his left that not only helps him elude the safety coming from the right, but he foils the angle of the safety on the left with an angle that’s more over the top. This decision and its execution demonstrates good peripheral vision, sound decision-making, balance, and agility.
Now watch for the safety coming from the right as Rainey cuts outside the safety coming over top. As he gets up field with this cut, he forces the safety to turn back and reach for Rainey’s legs rather than deliver a head-on hit where he can drive with his shoulders and wrap. The same holds true for the safety coming from the right side of the field. Rainey completely avoids this defender’s hit, which would have come from an optimal angle for a tackle. Instead, Rainey is dealing with the cornerback and safety delivering hits that aren’t at direct angles and allows the runner to use good technique to drive for extra yardage.
Rainey runs through the safety’s wrap attempt at his legs and leaves the defender on the ground. The picture below demonstrates why good pad level is so important.
The low pad level also forces North Texas to gang tackle Rainey, who keeps his legs moving for another five yards down field.
This is by no means an indication that Rainey is going to become a great inside runner in the NFL. However, the skills to read, move, and finish are there. What’s working against him is a small school background, the fact he’s already 25 years-old, and he’s under 5’10″ and 210 pounds. Still, I’m keeping an eye on him because I like a lot of what I see.