Last year, there were two basic camps among talent analysts when it came to freshman receivers.Clemson wunderkind Sammy Watkins and USC stud Marqise Lee. Both camps appreciate the skills of of the other player, but each side seems vehement about “their guy.” This will undoubtedly change as the years pass and we watch these players develop into upperclassmen.
Thus far, I’m a Watkins guy and for two reasons: I’m a magnet for troublemakers and Watkins pot arrest once again validates my compass for dysfunction is in good working order. And secondly, as odd as this sounds following the first statement, I believe Watkins is a more focused, aware, and mature player than Lee once the two step on the field. Of course Michael Irvin was a sage on the field even if you never wanted to play barber shop with him off it.
Here is one play of several I’ve seen from Lee where his lack of on-field maturity may inspire oohs and aahs from the crowd, but a closer look reveals he has to temper his athleticism with a higher dose of on-field I.Q. Watkins, like Percy Harvin early in his Florida career, has learned this lesson early. Lee, like former University of Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead, likes taking it to the corner store. It’s common with most ball carriers with fantastic athleticism. Just look at the college and early NFL film of Reggie Bush, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Peter Warrick, and several others.
The play is USC’s first from scrimmage, a 1st and-10 pass for a 16-yard completion with 13:49 in the first quarter. USC is in a 2×2 receiver, 10-personnel set. The two receivers to his left side begin outside the numbers and stacked and the two receivers on the right are split with one at the hash and the other at the numbers. Stanford’s defense is in a 3-4 with a lone outside linebacker five yards over the right slot receiver at the hash. The safety is 14 yards deep just inside the hash.
This pre-snap look from the defense likely means that the outside receiver is facing off-man coverage by the cornerback. The twin receivers had one cornerback five yards off the line and over top the front receiver of the stack. The safety 15 yards back is inside the numbers. The left outside linebacker is showing blitz off left tackle and this means that the left inside linebacker probably has shallow zone coverage responsibility to the inside. This looks like man outside and zone inside, which means a receiver should find an opening over the middle between the linebacker and the safety.
Lee is that receiver. He shifts to the slot before the snap and runs an intermediate cross 17 yards down field. The ball is on time and leads the receiver to a spot where Lee can easily reach for the ball in stride and continue running. Lee catches the ball with his hands just outside the left hash. All of this is good work between Lee and Barkley.
But this is where Lee is about to make a mistake. He tries to outrun the zone coverage across the field rather than turn up field and lower his pads. If you watched the Bears-Cowboys game on Monday Night Football then you saw third-year receiver Kevin Ogletree make this same mistake against the Bears defense and lose yardage.Ogletree isn’t the same athlete as Lee, but he was a nice slot player at Virginia who was often relied upon for yards after the catch.
Lee doesn’t head down field. Instead, he cuts back and dips away from the safety rather than lowering his pads and bending the path up field.
Instead of fighting the safety to extend a 17-yard gain into another 6-8 yards, Lee is now about to cut behind the linebacker (No.44) and lose seven yards. Now he has to work harder just to get a net loss of yard from his original forward progress before the cutback.
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