Five Senior Bowl wide receivers talked with Matt Waldman and provided helpful tips behind the techniques of playing their position.
RSP: Cody, tell us about your development transitioning from high school to college.
Cody Hoffman: In high school, we didn’t even have a receiver’s coach. When I got to BYU I worked on route running and the technique of getting in and out of routes. I have always tried to have an emphasis of working on press coverage. It’s nice to be able to work on it out here with a receivers coach and against some good DBs.
RSP: Kevin, what is your technique focus in Mobile this week?
Kevin Norwood: Getting off press a little better and getting my footwork right. The Jaguars receiver coach is teaching me something I can use to get open more and to beat pressure more, which is to stand on the balls of my feet, which helps me be quick on my feet.
Shaq Evans: Playing on the balls of your feet is how you keep your base. If you’re on your heels you’re going to slip and fall. You’re also not going to get out of cuts very well. It’s why they always want us out with our heads over our toes and on the balls of our feet. When you do those things you can make really accelerate out of your cuts.
RSP: A lot of receivers at this stage of their development entering the NFL possess 1-2 refined moves to beat press with either their feet or with their hands, but they lack the skill to integrate the hands and the feet together or demonstrate variety.
Shaq Evans: It’s something that progresses over the years. Like you said, at first I was just using my feet or just trying to win using my hands. But these last two years I felt like I’ve put them both together, especially this year.
Robert Herron: You also have to mix it up. Like coming off slow and then use a sudden move to keep them guessing. But you always want to attack them. You don’t just want to do a move at the same way at the same spot because they can just sit there and then you have to change direction into the man [and you’re back at the same point you started]. You want to attack him and make him feel uncomfortable [about what you’re going to do next].
Ryan Grant: You want to have a bag of tricks and I try to use one of at least three types of releases coming off the line. If he’s outside, then I’m going to try to give him something outside to think about and if he’s inside I’m going to do something inside and if he’s heads-up, I’m going to take a step at him to freeze him.
RSP: Is there something that you see from a defensive back that tells you what techniques you should be using when you line up against them on a given play?
Evans: Yeah, definitely. If the corner is a guy that [doesn’t play as aggressive] I like to take the line of scrimmage back to him and quick-set him. If the guy plays really physical then I want to do something really quick with my hands first before he gets his hands on me. That way I can get past his hips. Once you get past a defender’s hips and it’s hard for him to recover. Watching how a corner plays in press coverage is one of the main things I watch on film.
RSP: What are some things that you’re working on past the stage of the initial release?
Evans: Making sure that I’m always going vertical. When you get a DB’s hips to turn down field you have him because you can break in any direction or stop. Whenever you get to the top of your route you always want to have his hips turned towards the end zone. Once you get his hips turned towards the end zone your always have him beat.
RSP: Talk about the difference in mindset and action for a receiver when he’s facing zone coverage instead of man coverage.
Herron: It’s the timing and knowing where the other players are and against man, you only have to get open against one dude. With zone you have to know where the inside dude is and adjust your route off him. When you come out of your break you either have to see where he is or know where he’ll be. You might be running an out route against zone and settle into a spot after your break because the corner could be sitting where you’re headed.
RSP: Would it be accurate to say that routes against man coverage is like telling a story to the defender that you want him to believe whereas versus zone you’re reacting to your opponents’ stories and trying to find what he’s hiding from you fast.
Herron: It is like that, but with both you still want to make them do what you want them to do. It’s just with zone you have to adjust to what they’re doing.
RSP: In man you dictate, in zone they dictate . . .
RSP: Is there anybody you faced during your career whose game you really respect?
Evans: D.J. Hayden from Houston who was the 12th pick overall with the Oakland Raiders last year is a really good corner who I faced my junior year. He was a tough player to go against, I’m not going to lie. He was very patient as well as strong and fast. You had to be more patient than him and get physical. He helped me raise my game because I realized that I had to become a more physical receiver.
RSP: Facing a patient corner is a difficult challenge for receivers because there’s an expectation of when a receiver thinks he’ll get his opponent to bite on a route. When that time doesn’t arrive . . .
Evans: It’s tough. When a corner is that patient and moves his feet well and uses his hands well you have to be able to knock him off his spot or use your hands to rip through.
Grant: If he’s patient you have to make him move his feet. You attack the foot that he doesn’t want to move and make him move it. If he’s head-up you probably want to make him move that inside foot. If he’s outside then you want to make him move that outside foot.
RSP: Let’s move on to making the catch. How important is it to attack the ball at the earliest window within your range to make contact with the ball?
Grant: At first, I wasn’t that good at attacking the ball in the air when I came to Tulane. But my coaches told me that I had to be hungry for the ball and attack it. You want to catch the ball at its earliest and highest point that you can reach. You want to always be going up early, going up strong, and taking it away. If you do those things you’ll be fine.
Herron: It’s big! If I were to give anyone advice it’s that you have to snap your head and hands to the quarterback as soon as you get out of your route. It was something that I had to learn over the years. You want to almost see him throw the ball. If not, you want to see the ball just out of his hand or else it’s more difficult to find the ball in the air.
RSP: It sounds like something so simple to do, but when you have a helmet on and you’re trying to snap your head around it can have a discombobulating effect on your vision. Is there a hint or tip on doing this well?
Herron: You want to locate the “X” of the football (the point where the seams intersect) and watch it all the way until it lands in your hands. Because the ball is spinning you can’t always see the outside of the ball. In college there’s a strip on the ball, but there’s no stripe on the NFL ball.
RSP: When it comes to catching the ball where on your hands do you want to make the reception?
Grant: On your fingertips. I don’t want the ball on the palms of my hands. When that happens it bounces off hard.
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