Lesson One of a Route Clinic From Wes Welker

Video of Wes Welker running routes in practice is like the MGs giving a clinic on the Stax sound. Photo by Brian J. McDermott

I believe the best way to prepare to watch college players is to study the pros. The reason is that if I’m trying to project a prospect’s potential at the NFL level then I need to have good reference points of what works in the NFL. I also have to understand the differences between the college and NFL games when it comes to execution.

I can tell you that the process is ongoing and I’m still learning. This week, Coach Rob Paschall, PR director for the site Coach Huey, tweeted a link to a video titled, “Wide Receiver Technique Release Drills.” I expected an  instructional video.

However, if my eyes aren’t betraying me – and they might be – it was something a lot better. The players I believe I recognize in this video are some of the better NFL receivers in the past 25 years. My apologies if I’m wrong, but I think the footage alternates between Broncos practice during the Rod Smith-Ed McCaffrey era and the Patriots era with Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Coach Paschall could only supply a non-committal response when I asked for verification of their identity.

Lesson One: Storytelling the Out

I’ve arrived at the conclusion that good route running is like telling a suspenseful story. This footage has a lot of fine storytelling that I could watch again and again. I’m not going to profile every route in this nearly nine-minute video, but there were three from Wes Welker that I found especially worthwhile. This post is the first one: a 10-yard out against press coverage shaded to the outside.

In order to get outside on a corner shaded to that area of the field, Welker will have to lead the corner to believe the outside is not his destination.

Welker’s first task is to get a clean release off the line. However, a good receiver isn’t focused on just one thing at a time. He has to demonstrate the ability to execute one thing while setting up the next. This begins with a jab step outside before taking an inside release.

The red arrows mark how Welker sells the jab step by leaning into the fake with his outside shoulder and head.

A defensive back is taught to look at his opponent’s hips and that’s good advice. However, it’s difficult to maintain that focus and not react to what a receiver is doing when four levels of a player’s body are used to execute a fake: foot, knee, shoulder, and head. The eye naturally flows to hard angles and this elicits reactions that have to be difficult for a defender to suppress.

Hard angles also create precision for the player executing them. This is important to remember as Welker executes his break. Back to the initial jab step. While this move is used to get inside, the inside release is to get the defender buying the idea that Welker is doing anything but setting up a break to the outside. It begins with anticipating the jam and working further outside – taking what the defender is giving him early in the route.

Welker gets his hand onto the forearms of the defender. Note how Welker’s arm is extended with the elbow out and the defender’s arms are retracted – clearly Welker is first to make contact.

Once Welker clears the defender’s contact, he does a strong job of driving off the line, selling a deeper release with his body angle.

With his head and shoulders angled over his knees, Welker clearly sells that he’s sprinting down field on an intermediate or deep route.

The defender at this point of the route appears as if he wants to cut off Welker’s angle down field before the receiver can accelerate past and buy real estate. This is a sensible reaction to a deeper route, but Welker’s setting up the defender for his break outside. Once again, Welker uses his hands with veteran skill to get a clean break.

As Welker executes strong technique with his head and hips to make a sharp turn outside, he’s using his outside arm to set up a swim with the inside arm.

Everything about Welker’s execution is sharp angles: both arms have elbows high to execute the swim; butt down and knees bent to come to a quick stop; and head turned outside, because the body follows the head. You don’t often see this from college receivers. Especially the best athletes at the position that are used to getting by with sloppy technique but more speed, quickness, and power from opponents.

Welker’s hard drive off the line has the defensive back still moving down field to cut off his opponent while the receiver is executing his break.

Once Welker finishes his turn, his head is immediately looking for the ball. But there’s  more technique happening here.

Welker’s break is so good that he’s already looking for the ball before the defender can turn around.

Welker’s body lean and knee bend illustrate that he’s driving hard from his turn. Also note that Welker’s arms are bent with his forearms at chest level, making it easier to extend his arms from his body to make the reception.

Although he’s unable to extend his arms away from his body to make the reception, note how Welker looks the ball into his arms.

This is essentially a short route of 10-12, but there are several things happening here that are strung together that require a lot of individual practice that have nothing to do with the proper route depth and timing or the actual reception. Receiver’s may spend a lot of time on an island with a defender, but as one can clearly see there’s a lot more to the position than size, strength, speed, and quickness.

My next post will break down one of Welker’s streak routes.

For more analysis of skill players entering the NFL, download the 2012 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. Here’s an update on my pledge.

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