The All-22 is a fine tool, but it’s not as revealing as the broadcast angle on this play.
A recent post featuring Delaware’s Mike Johnson underscores the power of a straight line in route running. Today’s post highlights the power of subtle movement in an otherwise straight stem: how it’s done, why it’s effective, and when the most revered film angle makes it easy to miss.
Andre Davis could have been playing opposite Rashad Greene and catching passes from Jameis Winston, but he opted to stay closer to home. The 6’1″, 205-pound receiver plays bigger than his dimensions. Speed is the primary question mark.
However, Davis has made is share of plays in the vertical game and it’s because he understands how defensive backs read body language in a route. If I worked for a player-personnel unit in the NFL and I was asked to boil down Davis’ portfolio of tape to few pivotal plays that speak to his true strengths and growth potential–plays that show why you believe he’s worth acquiring–these two examples would be on my short list.
The Hips Are The Body’s Remote Control
Ask a basketball player what part of the body they should key on when they defend a man and the best will tell you it’s the hips. This is also true of any sport that requires guarding or pursuing an opponent. Here is one play shown from two different angles. Even with the hint I just gave, see if you can spot what Davis did to beat the defender for a 51-yard touchdown on this All-22 angle.
Was it the play action? Was it blazing speed that most say doesn’t exist in Davis’ game? Or was it the cornerback making an incorrect guess that Davis was breaking the play outside?
Here’s the play from a broadcast-replay angle. Now note what you see:
The first thing you should notice is the long strides off the line of scrimmage paired with his pads and helmet over his toes. This is the body position of a player in his “drive phase.” Imagine a sprinter accelerating off his mark and there’s a lot of commonalities here.
This drive phase forces most defenders in off coverage to maintain a cushion and account for the vertical route. If you replay this clip from 0:31 and pause it at 0:32 where Davis left foot is planted at the 43, you’ll spot that he turned his hips outside during his stem–not a lot, but just enough to influence the corner to turn his hips to the sideline in anticipation of an out route.
Look at the still of the route at this point and note the location of the first down marker. If a receiver is going to run an out or curl on 1st and 10, this would be the point where the break is coming. The combination of Davis’ long strides, uninterrupted pace of that stride, and subtle hip bend outside forces the corner to bite on the sideline route.
A step later (below), Davis bends the route inside and the corner is caught leaning the opposite direction. Barring a drop, this play is over in these two steps.
This is among the many reasons why All-22 isn’t the answer for football analysis. It is a answer–and a very good answer–but not the answer.
Route Sorcery: Davis vs. Darqueze Dennard
Davis only had 41 yards on 2 catches against Michigan State, but he had some notably impressive moments in this game, including routes that helped him draw (at least, I’ll have to read through my notes) three defensive pass interference calls.
One of Davis’ better moments came against Bengals first-round pick Darqueze Dennard. Like the last play, Davis sells the vertical threat, driving off the line hard.
Davis is probably not as fast as Dennard, but the effort forces the corner to eventually turn inside and look for the ball on this sale of a vertical route up the sideline. Note how Davis places his hand on Dennard’s back hip and leaves it there for a least 10 yards?
Most people will tell you it’s for him to frame position and as a subtle push-off mechanism. This is true, but there’s an even more admirably devious purpose–to bait the corner into subconsciously relying on that contact to know that the receiver is still running down field and not making a break. That contact gives the corner just a shade too much confidence in playing the ball and not the man.
By the time Davis removes his hand from Dennard’s hip, it’s too late for Dennard to make any adjustment to play the ball on this back-shoulder fade. It’s a brilliant little move that can bait a faster opponent into a false sense of confidence.
Also note how well Davis changes his stride to make a play on the ball. The receiver is in a full gallop with a wide-open stride, but he exhibits the control to come to a full stop, leap, and turn to the ball in a very fluid motion.
It’s not how fast a receiver is that earns him separation on most routes, but how fast he can stop. Davis stops pretty fast here. Davis is not a master of routes, but what he displays as a collegian is worth admiring and instructive to readers who want to understand the nuances of receiver play and why a large variety of athletes at the position make it in the NFL.
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