A common refrain that ESPN radio host and Footballguys writer Cecil Lammey used to describe former Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray before the Chiefs drafted him was that he was ‘too patient.’ Can a running back be too patient? I think the answer is yes, but it is a thorny judgment call. So is evaluating plays one by one rather than seeking an overall context.
Watching former Auburn running back Michael Dyer during a sequence of three, first-quarter runs against Clemson in 2011 brought this to mind.
Run No.1 (0:26 of YouTube Highlights)
The first carry of the sequence was a four-yard gain from an 11 personnel pistol with receivers 1×2. Dyer flanked the QB to the weak side of the line with both receivers in a twin alignment to that side. The offense ran Power with the right guard pulling to left tackle and the wing tight end following as the fullback lead.
Rather than waiting for the pulling right guard to take out the defensive end and then follow the tight end targeting the linebacker at the edge of the formation, Dyer followed his left tackle and left guard double-teaming of the three-technique defensive tackle. The Auburn running back lowered his pads into the middle linebacker, finishing the run for a rather easy four yards.
On this play, the patient run to the edge might have earned Dyer more yards, but a four-yard gain on first down through a soft spot of the defense was also a good choice. I’d say it was also a more mature decision. Taking the easiest lane that the defense gives up is often worth sacrificing a big gain at the risk of a loss that takes the offense off course with its down and distance schedule.
Run No.2 (0:32 on YouTube Highlights)
On the following play, a 2nd and 6 with 3:29 in the first quarter, Dyer was held to no gain. This run came from a 21 personnel, 1×1 receiver pistol set. Dyer began the play as the slot receiver motioning to the weak side flank of the quarterback and the this sweep that commentator Urban Meyer called the tailback stretch on this broadcast.
Dyer worked to the right side, but his pulling left guard had to hop away from penetration at the edge and this slowed the progress of the lineman’s attempt to pull to the flat. Upon seeing this, Dyer decided to outrun his guard and burst around the lineman. This took him directly into the cornerback’s penetration of the rushing lane and also the defensive tackle’s pursuit down the line from the backside. The result? Dyer was wrapped for no gain.
His patience was lacking on this play and potentially gives more context to the play before about his approach to following pulling blockers that might need improvement
Run No.3 (0:49 of YouTube Highlights)
On a 1st and 10 with 10:46 in the second quarter from the Clemson 16, Dyer gained eight yards from a 1×2 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun run. Once again, Dyer was flanking the twin receiver weak side of the quarterback.
He took the exchange to the strong side behind his pulling right guard, but once again did not wait on the guard to get a block. He burst to the line of scrimmage at the edge of the narrow side of the field and made a cut outside the oncoming cornerback to reach the sideline for a gain eight yards before stepping out of bounds. Dyer displayed good suddenness with the cut and used his inside arm to ward off the rest of the tackle attempt while at the same time carrying the ball under his sideline arm.
If he’s too patient on this run, he probably doesn’t earn the yardage he got by being aggressive and outrunning his pulling teammate. On the Run No.2 the result appears as if he wasn’t patient enough. Yet on Run No.1, Dyer earned an easy four yards with his decision to cut to the inside. Watching each run separately and evaluating as a summation, Dyer could be judged as having inconsistent patience. Evaluating the runs within context of each other, Dyer might be compensating for a pulling lineman that might be notoriously slow to his assignment or making a sound improvisational decision that is more mature than watching a single play out of context might show.
There’s a lot about Dyer on this tape that I like. His pad level is terrific, he has the NFL strength and burst that teams want from a starter, and he has a top gear that can generate huge plays. Dyer reminds me a little bit of Frank Gore (post UM injuries; the pre-injury Frank Gore is legendary) but with a little more speed. Conceptually, I’m more inclined to say that Dyer has the right idea about running between the tackles more often than he doesn’t. He’s a player to remember for April.
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