Carolina Panthers rookie receiver Joe Adams has dynamite skills after the catch. I also like his ability to catch the football. However, one thing I consistently saw at Senior Bowl practices was difficulty getting early separation against press coverage.
On at least five down field routes, I saw Adams still fighting for separation against the defensive back 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. On each of these routes he was at least a step shy of a well thrown pass. This had nothing to do with speed. Adams has plenty of it. But route running isn’t about straight-line speed. It’s about the receiver selling a story the defender will believe and working it to his advantage.
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. Young pro players will also be studying other pros at their position and I would have to imagine that Wes Welker will be on Adams’ tape reel.
Last 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 Two: The Technique of Getting Deep – Pay Attention Joe Adams
The first lesson was an analysis of a 10-yard out against press coverage shaded to the outside. This post is a streak against press coverage. Welker demonstrates that good technique and quickness can earn a receiver separation even if his long speed isn’t considered fast by NFL standards.
Here is Welker at the line before the snap. Note the position of the defensive back and the position of Welker’s hands and feet.
When facing press, its best for the receiver to either avoid contact completely or establish the contact first with his hands away from his body. The less surface area a defender can contact of the receiver’s body, the lower the risk of the receiver having his route redirected. What fascinates me about this photo is that Welker’s feet are both pointed outside. Is he trying to fool the defender into thinking that he’s planning an outside release? I think so.
I would go so far as bet that Welker’s feet influenced the defensive back’s shading at the line of scrimmage. When the receiver begins his release he takes an initial step outside to get the defensive back leaning in that direction.
When Welker plants his outside foot in the ground after his initial steps he’s still selling the outside with his eyes, which freezes the defender just enough to break inside.
These initial movements may seem small or inconsequential, but its a lot like the story you hear about NASA making calculations to send the astronauts to the moon. If they were off by an infinitesimally small number the ship could have actually missed the moon. Although not life and death in nature, precision of small movements in a route yield proportionately larger results with each succeeding step in the pattern.
Welker’s initial release earns him enough separation that the defensive back has to turn inside and extend his arms towards the receiver. This extension is in Welker’s favor because fully extended arms lack the leverage of the defender’s body weight behind it. The defender has no force to redirect Welker’s route. The separation also allows Welker to use his quickness to his advantage and the technique he uses to streamline his body illustrates how the receiver gets the early jump on this route.
Much of Welker’s separation is won this early in the route. Long-speed found on stopwatches tracking 40-yard dashes or even 10-yard times isn’t as important here as an understanding of the techniques to manipulate an opponent while controlling one’s own body. Joe Adams has all the athleticism necessary to do exactly what Welker just showed. If he can learn, then what we’re about to see below will be the easiest part for the rookie from Arkansas.
Ever hear a television analyst use the phrase “if he’s even, he’s leavin’,” when describing the route of a wide receiver? That’s what all of this technique is geared to do: get the receiver at an even depth with the defender early in the release. Once Welker drives through the contact and the defender has to fully turn and run, the receiver is practically even with his opponent.
Within three steps, Welker has cut inside the defensive back to earn separation.Of course this takes quickness and speed, but once a wide receiver is in front of a defender with his back to the opponent, that cornerback could have 3.4 speed and still lose this battle unless he interferes with the receiver. The game is about field position. Welker wins the battle of field position early enough to force the defender to trail.
Another 5-7 steps after Welker slips ahead of the defender, the receiver turns his head to track the ball.
Even 15 yards later, Welker’s arms are still down and its his head tracking the football.
Only when the pass is almost directly over Welker’s head does the receiver extend his arms to the ball. The reason for this technique isn’t just about hiding his intentions from the defender, but one of the most common mistakes that young receivers make when running deep routes is that they fail to run through the ball. They stop moving their arms and then lose the opportunity to reach the football. The movement of the arms is a very important component to generating and maintaining speed.
The catch is just the climax of textbook execution from the beginning of the play. Welker’s ability to get early position is still paying dividends. The wide receiver’s early advantage with position on the defender creates a natural obstacle that the defender cannot run through without incurring a penalty. Even if the defensive back has a longer wingspan than average for a man his size, there’s no way he can reach the ball in this position.
Welker finishes the play by securing the football to his body with a high and tight grip so the defensive back cannot chop the ball loose.
Welker’s third lesson will come later this week. Stay tuned.
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.