N.C. State TE George Bryan: Great Hands

Great hands for a tight end means more than catching the football. N.C. State tight end George Bryan demonstrates below. Photo by Mark van Laere.

[Author’s Note: Click the photos and they will enlarge in a separate window.]

N.C. State tight end George Bryan was second in career touchdowns (17) among active FBS tight ends in 2011. If you’ve watched Bryan play you know that he’s an in-line tight end personified. Somewhere in the range of 6’4″, 265 pounds, Bryan is a plodder when it comes to foot speed and ball carrying agility.

But what he lacks in swiftness of foot he compensates with great hands. A skill that extends beyond the meaning that most people think. It is true that Bryan has good hands as a receiver. He can snare the ball away from his body and make catches with his back to the quarterback on the move. However, the reason he has been a quality target for his N.C. State quarterbacks has been another mark of great hands: gaining quick separation at the line of scrimmage.

Although its unlikely Bryan will become a major part of an NFL passing offense, the skill he demonstrates at the line of scrimmage is exactly what other more promising prospects are generally lacking. Here are three plays where Bryan demonstrates three release techniques that will serve him well in the NFL.

The Rip

Bryan is part of a 12-personnel, near side twin set on 1st and 10 with 11:06 in the first quarter. This play is a run that gains two yards, but Bryan’s job is to release inside the defensive end, find the linebacker and deliver a punch. Here’s the alignment of the teams:

Bryan must work inside the DE to reach the LB so he can widen the DE's lane to pursue the ball carrier and get up field to block the LB.

The TE sets up the rip by releasing from the line of scrimmage with his pads low and angled much like a defensive end taking the corner of a tackle in the sense that he’s trying to prevent the defender from standing him up and at the same time reducing as much surface area as possible for that defender to use against him.

The DE comes off the line with his hands high much like an offensive lineman while Bryan is trying to take an angle that gets him under the pads of his opponent while reducing surface area for contact.

Although still shots don’t show the motion of Bryan’s outside arm that can be seen with video, the N.C. State tight end is well under the pads of the DE and ripping his arm upward to knock loose the defender’s hands as he releases up field.

Trust me when I tell you that Bryan is in "mid-rip" while inside and under the defender. This is also a technique wide receivers learn against press coverage.
The yellow circle is Bryan's arm after fully rotating through the rip on the DE. The move requires an initial dip of the inside shoulder before moving the arm skyward. Combined with a low release from the line, Bryan manages to learn the DE with little problem.

Now past the DE, Bryan is in position to double-team the linebacker with his teammate in the second level.

Note the angle of Bryan's back as he works to get under the pads of the defender and use his arms to deliver an uppercut to the chest of the LB while rolling his hips to generate power. Good technique.

The running back is unable to break through the line but if he did, Bryan had the backside pursuit under control.

The Chop

This is probably not the correct name for the technique in this play, but it does a good job describing the action of Bryan’s hands against the defensive end on this 1st and 10 pass play with 14:25 in the half.

Bryan's first target is from this 1×2 receiver, 11 personnel shotgun set as the TE on the single receiver side of the field.

The first thing Bryan does well on this play has nothing to do with his hands, but that organic processor between his ear holes. The N.C. State tight end sees that the CB over the WR is shaded to the inside and the strong safety’s depth is close to the linebackers. This means the corner is playing man against the single receiver on Bryan’s side.

Because that strong safety is 10 yards over Bryan and the strong side and middle linebackers are shaded inside Bryan, its likely that this is a zone look underneath with the safety having responsibility on him deep. Bryan knows that his best chance to get open is to get a quick release into the zone behind the linebackers and under the safety. This means preventing the defensive end from pushing Bryan off his route and towards the linebacker or delaying his release.

Here’s a great view of how Bryan gets his release:

Bryan at the line of scrimmage. The arrows show the direction of the MLB, SLB, and SS's drops. Look at the DE in a two-point stance. When compared to the three-point stance of the weak side DE, Bryan knows he's going to face some resistance off the line.

At the snap, Bryan comes high of the line. This release seems counter to many of the techniques that receivers are taught to beat a jam. However there’s a method to this madness.

Bryan's elbows are high, which also means his hands and forearms are even higher – higher than the DE's hands getting ready to punch the TE.

As the defensive end begins his punch, Bryan chops downward on his opponent’s hands like he just won a round of the slap game.

Bryan's chop knocks the DE's hands below his knees and takes away his opponent's balance while allowing a clean, straight-line release for Bryan.

As Bryan releases up the seam, the defensive end is struggling to stay on his feet.

Bryan leaves the DE bent over as he sets up his break to the void in the zone for what will be an 19-yard gain.

Bryan’s feet aren’t fast, but his hands are. This release was one of the better I’ve seen a TE make off the line of scrimmage this year. This technique is something he’ll have to be selective with using in the NFL, but there will come a time where Bryan will study an opponent and see an opportunity to use this technique as effectively as he did here.

The Punch

The last technique comes a couple of minutes later, a 2nd and 7 with 12:20 in the half from the Clemson 16. Bryan gains five yards on a reception from a 12-personnel, 1×1 receiver set versus a 4-3. He’s the far side tight end with the defensive end over him and its his release that sets up his route and helps his quarterback on his play action roll to the right flat.

Bryan as the far side TE in this 12-personnel set before the play fake and roll right by the QB.

Bryan’s release against the defensive end on this snap is a punch designed to give the tight end a clean angle away from the defender and slow his path to the quarterback. Bryan sets this punch up with his feet at the snap.

Instead of firing off the line at the DE, Bryan stakes a step inside so his outside shoulder is even with his opponent's inside shoulder.

This angle Bryan takes at the snap tricks the defender into charging inside to hit Bryan. But the TE crosses over and delivers a hard punch to the end’s outside shoulder, reinforcing his opponent’s momentum in the wrong direction.

See how the DE's hips are now facing inside as the TE's shoulders are facing the defender's outside shoulder? That's Bryan crossed over and delivering the punch.
It's a blurred still, but it's still apparent that Bryan is now outside the DE without delay.
Bryan's punch allows him a clean release outside and still gives the QB just enough time to reach the flat.

If Bryan doesn’t get a clean release, the defensive end can work with Bryan to the outside and take away the quarterback’s primary route and force the passer to run or throw the ball away. Or, the end can shove Bryan inside and slow the progress of the route and add time to his opportunity to pressure the quarterback.

Although this play only nets a five-yard gain, most offenses are thrilled to be facing 3rd and 2. They’ll take that all day, and that’s why a tight end like Bryan has enough versatility and situational value to help an NFL team. Bryan is a sound run blocker with a nasty streak who will likely earn a roster spot as that second or third tight end in short yardage and red zone situations. His skill at releasing from the line and catching the football should also make him an occasionally good play action/misdirection option as he earns the confidence of his team.

With his techniques off the line, if Bryan even had Coby Fleener’s athleticism, he’d be the top all-around prospect at his position in the draft. If Orson Charles or Dwayne Allen learn how to incorporate this type of variety of separation techniques off the line of scrimmage – look out.

Next:  I keep promising the next part to Brandon Weeden. It will be posted soon enough.

For more analysis like this at every offensive skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio available here on April 1, 2012.

For past issues (2006-2011) email me: mattwaldmanrsp@gmail.com

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