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.
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.
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.
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.