This week I have been spotlighting the craft of playing receiver and using plays from the careers of Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and Cal’s Marvin Jones as examples. Yesterday, I profiled two crossing routes that couldn’t have been run more different from each other. Today, I’m going deep and examining a vertical play from both receivers.
What’s fascinating about spotlighting Hill and Jones is that outside of Techwood and Berkeley campuses, these receivers seem like polar opposites to the general public. Hill played in a run it and chuck it, triple option offense where he averaged 30 yards per catch for a stretch this year. Hill looks like the next generation mutant receivers – X-men that begin with Homer Jones and continues today with Calvin Johnson.
Marvin Jones played in a west coast offense at Cal. Steve Young says Jeff Tedord’s offense during Aaron Rodgers’ time at Berkeley was literally the 49ers offense of the dynasty era. I don’t think much as changed conceptually. Jones was the high-reception, third-down bail-out “Z” receiver during his final years with the team. Mr. Reliable. Under the safeties. Under the radar.
But Jones blew the lid off that perception at the Senior Bowl and anyone who studies his work at Cal will see that he’s a capable, if not dangerous, vertical threat. Below is a route from each that displays how, and how not, to handle physical play. Remember, these articles I’m writing aren’t complete evaluations of any player, only observations of plays that I’ve seen that I feel are representative of a small portion of the player’s overall game.
Going Deep With Hill
Hill’s “shot play” is from the 2010 Clemson game on 3rd and 10 with 7:36 in the first quarter. Georgia Tech is in its base offense: the 30-personnel, double-wing, 1×1 receiver set. Hill is the far side receiver split just inside the numbers at the 40. He faces a corner with help from the safety over top.
The offense recognizes this type of coverage from the alignment of the corner and safety. The safety is aligned deeper than the corner and the corner has his back to the sideline. This usually means the corner is going to guard the outside and funnel the receiver inside so the safety can help over top if the route is a deep one.
If Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt leads Hill appropriately with this pass, Hill likely scores a touchdown because he had separation on the corner. I will show you a play tomorrow that shows why Hill is a dangerous deep threat. However on this target, it doesn’t play out as designed because Nesbitt’s throw targets HIll’s back shoulder.
There are several possibilities why Nesbitt placed the ball there. One is it was an accident. Another is that Nesbitt and Hill have already discussed this placement as a possibility in case the route exceeds the limits of Nesbitt’s deep range. The fact that the corner is inside and under Hill on this route is another logical reason a quarterback would make this post a back-shoulder throw. I’ve seen Drew Brees make this kind of throw to Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, and Robert Meachem several times over the past few years. The Saints are well-practiced with adjustments on deep throws.
Another possibility is that Hill made his break too early and now he has to adjust to a throw that, conceptually to Tech’s route system, was placed correctly. Regardless of what was supposed to happen, Hill’s job is now to do what he must to make the play. Here’s a closeup of the route and attempted catch beginning with Hill’s initial release.
Hill now has to treat this play as a back-shoulder fade, but one where the cornerback also knows its coming. This means Hill has to manage physical play.
Hill’s error in hindsight is that he didn’t need to reach back to the Clemson defender to earn position on the ball. He has the height advantage and a defender under and inside of him on a ball he’s judging will arrive at his back shoulder.
Hill doesn’t get his hands to the ball in time because he used them to guide the defender away from his space despite the defender not needing any help. This contributed to Hill’s jarring wake up call.
I broached a variety of reasons why Hill got smacked in the face with the football from 40 yards, but I believe the root cause is Hill’s route. One thing I notice consistently with Hill is that his routes lack precision, even the deep routes. He has to improve where he is on a route and how to be conscious of the little things to get into position to make the play. This includes framing his arms and hands from his body to secure the ball regardless of the defender. Once he gets better at all phases of a route, he’ll play faster and the faster he plays, the more productive he’ll be.
Going Deep With Jones
Marvin Jones’ example is also a 40-yard route. After a false start on 2nd and 1, Cal comes to the line on 2nd and 6 with 6:43 left in a Nevada contest where they are down by 21 and they have to score to have any chance to mount a comeback. Jones is the outside receiver on the far side of the field in a 2×2 receiver, 10-personnel, shotgun set. The Nevada corner is giving Jones eight yards of cushion.
Like Hill, Jones begins with a simple route and ends with a difficult adjustment to catch the football.
In the photo below, Jones is nearly at the same point down field as Hill was on his 40-yard route. Unlike Hill, Jones is over a yard behind the corner whereas Hill was even.
As Jones begins to fade to the sideline, he knows he has to get on top of the defender. In contrast to Hill, Jones is in control of when and how to use his hands on this route. Jones actually swims his arm over the inside shoulder of the defender. This is impossible to see with the still below and difficult to find on the wide shot, but that is what happens.
Because Jones swims that inside arm, he now has his arm resting on top of the Nevada player’s outside arm. This gives Jones the advantage because he can raise his arms to the ball without the Nevada defender committing a blatant interference penalty to stop him.
If the defender had his arm on top of Jones, he just has to exert a little downward pressure with his forearm to prevent a reach for the ball and likely get away with it. In this situation, the corner would have to hook Jones’ arm and not only will it be easy to spot but it will also give Jones a chance to do a little play acting if necessary to draw the yellow flag.
Where Hill is ahead of his opponent for 50-60 percent of the route, Jones is behind his opponent for at least 80 percent of the play. Jones knows where he is, what he has to do, and when he has to do it.
Sterling Sharpe does a fantastic job of showing Dez Bryant and Xavier Bowman why extending the arms from the body on a vertical route provides this advantage for the receiver (see section of article “Buying Back Real Estate” for video clip). Jones now only has to concern himself with making the catch and staying inside the boundary.
Watch below how Jones drags the back foot. Three of his four appendages are extended forward and airborne, but he has the body control to turn his back foot parallel to the yard marks to maximize the surface area to touch down into the field of play.
It’s a nearly perfect deep fade and Jones demonstrates that he knows how to use his hands down field. This wasn’t the first time I saw Jones manage physical play down field. Here’s what I reported from the Senior Bowl for the New York Times Fifth Down Blog:
Jones blew past Iowa State cornerback Leonard Johnson on a deep post in one-on-one drills. Later in shells, he caught a deep post for a touchdown where he made an excellent move late in the route by reducing the shoulder – dipping it away from contact of the DB – and slipping ahead of his opponent to make an over-the-shoulder catch. He kept both feet inside the end line and maintained possession of the ball as he was dragged down from behind. He later caught a seam route in tight coverage on a strong throw from Russell Wilson, snaring the ball over his shoulder after getting on top of the defender early.
Jones is a technician like Giants wide receiver Steve Smith was already a good technician at USC. I had Smith as one of my top-three receivers in the 2007 Rookie Scouting Portfolio over the likes of Robert Meachem and Buster Davis – two more celebrated prospects at the time. I’ll be ranking players in a couple of weeks for the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio so I don’t know where exactly I’ll place Jones, but it will be fairly high among a deep class of wide receivers.
Tomorrow: Finally, I show a positive play of Stephen Hill (I’m tired of picking on him) and possibly one more cool route from Marvin Jones.
Coming Soon: Lance Lewis showing how he’s the spitting image of Brandon Lloyd on fade routes.
For more analysis like this at every skill position, purchase the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Pre-order the 2012 RSP and buy past RSPs (2006-2011) here.