Who does your quarterback dial-up when he needs a play? Free agent Nate Washington isn’t at the top of most teams’ shopping lists when it comes to primary starters on the open marker.
However, Washington has been the Titans receiver most likely to answer the phone on the first ring.
Washington’s speed, timing, and aerial prowess in tight coverage makes him a valuable commodity in the NFL even if the NFL considers him a top-flight contributor off the bench. Michigan State’s Tony Lippett might prove he has move upside when it’s all said and done, but the Spartan wide receiver reminds me a lot of Nate Washington.
For those of you new to my Boiler Room Series, I profile players within the scope of no more than a few video highlights. The idea is to find plays that do a strong job of characterizing what a team needs to know about a prospect and distill it to a minimum number of plays.
If a team asked me to find one play that best represents the positives of Lippett’s game, I’d share this 2nd and 25 target versus Purdue. Lippett demonstrates technique, athleticism, a physical mindset, and his quarterback illustrates supreme confidence in the receiver.
Lippett is slot left and Purdue’s defensive backs switch players prior to the snap, pitting the outside corner on Lippett to ensure that the Boilermakers don’t have a mismatch of a safety on the Spartans’ to playmaker. The corner moves inside and aligns three yards off Lippett with slight inside shade.
The receiver executes a three-step release where he takes three steps to set up the defender and finishes with a hands technique to earn position up field. Lippett, like many young receivers, doesn’t achieve optimal depth off the line with his first three steps.
Two of Lippett’s first three steps lack depth off the line and it almost appears that he’s running in place. I’d like to see the Michigan State receiver get at least a full step closer to the defender’s body so he can put the opponent on his heels, force a turn of the hips, and/or maximize he effectiveness of the hands technique he’ll use to finish the three-step move.
The arm over the shoulder of the defender is actually a chop move, not a swim. The swim begins with more misdirection that involves the opposite arm to set up the swim. The chop involves the inside arm and the hand of that arm is used to chop down on a body part to prevent a defender from maintaining contact.
Lippett does a fine job executing this move but because he fails to gain early depth with his release, he’s not earning the full effect of this move. Instead, of swatting the defender to earn at least a step of separation on this release, the best he can do is earn a half-step. This didn’t matter to Cook, who believes all he has to do is give Lippett a chance to win the ball.
If I were part of an organization creating a draft board and focused on wide receivers, Lippett’s quickness and use of hands will be a plus. The senior has more to learn, but he’s far enough along that he should prove capable of layering additional techniques into his game at a fast enough rate to help an organization within the course of a season.
His work with releases is something to be built on rather than torn down.
The play for the ball is both athletic and technically savvy. Lippett explodes to the ball with full extension, catches the ball with his hands, and as soon as his hands meet the ball, he turns his back to the defender while still airborne. By the time his first foot hits the ground, his inside shoulder is facing the chest of the corner and the ball is under his sideline arm.
This is all performed with one fluid motion. When a player integrates his athleticism, technique, and awareness of the situation this well, it’s a good sign.
Lippett makes a strong catch, but he’s still six yards shy of the first down marker with three unblocked defenders within a four-yard radius of him. I could write about Lippett’s will to win the play and his clutch mentality to earn the next eight yards through three defenders, but let’s dispense with the romance.
The actions that illustrate whatever motivations one wishes to assign Lippett’s effort begin with an aggressive mentality. Lippett attacks the corner back with a stiff arm. He doesn’t just punch at the defender–throwing the arm mindlessly at whatever is ahead of him–he raises the arm away from the defender to gauge where to place it.
Once Lippett targets the inside shoulder, he bends his hips to drive through the defender over top. The hips are the power base and can generate a strong shove or push. In this case, Lippett’s hips not only push the defender over top, but they also absorb the shock of the second defender wrapping his waist.
The receiver sheds the wrap, turns outside to continue pushing the corner with his stiff arm and spins inside the defenders at the 17 to reach the first down marker. This hips and knees remain bent in a position to drive up field, drag the corner and gain another 2-3 yards after crossing the marker.
A 28-yard gain on 2nd and 25, despite a not quite good enough release off the line, solid position from the cornerback in coverage, and three unblocked defenders in position to stop Lippett from earning the final six yards for the first down.
Provided that the workouts in t-shirts and shorts substantiate Lippett has the kind of short area quickness and long speed to hang in the league, plays like the one above are enough for an NFL team to dial-up Lippett in May and, within a couple of years, be glad it did.
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