Testing technique is a lot like testing character; how well it holds up under stress will tell you a lot.
A man’s true character comes out when he’s drunk.
Much to your dismay, I’m not advocating shots before the gauntlet drill at the NFL Combine. I agree, it would be entertaining—even more so if scouts, coaches, and general managers conducted taped interviews while blitzed.
It’s the spirit of the statement that appeals to me. We learn more about the character of an individual when things aren’t ideal.
In this respect, there are similarities to evaluating character and technique. On the nature vs. nurture spectrum, I lean more towards the nurture. People are capable of change and growth.
In life, some of us developed or learned techniques to survive and thrive that were great for environments that were normal for us, but abnormal—if not twisted—for the rest of society. Give those of us with from these environments time and opportunity to learn what is normal and healthy, and the people with strong character will change and grow.
The same holds true for football technique. Most college players haven’t been taught a full range of technical skills at their position.
In both football and life, it’s rarely an “either they have it, or they don’t” situation when it comes to technical skills. When I evaluate a player, I’m taking a snap-shot of their present skill level as part of the process for projecting how much they can develop in the future.
For me, that projection process involves examining the present player against a broad spectrum of skills defined to a professional standard. Here’s my criteria for receivers and tight ends when it comes to catching the football:
- Catch with the hands away from the body.
- Adjust body appropriately to high targets.
- Adjust body appropriately to low targets.
- Track the ball with the back to the line of scrimmage.
- Catch the ball against tight coverage.
- Catch the ball after contact.
- Difficult catches.
- Catch the ball with proper hands technique for the target’s placement.
I define each of these points in the Rookie Scouting Portfolio and I’m always noting scenarios where it could make sense to update the criteria I use. It’s a vital part of the evaluation process that deserves a post of its own.
The more often you can see a player execute in situations that test the extreme range of his technique, the better. This bubble route to Jarvis Landry is a great example.
There is no way that a receiver can catch this target inches from the ground and maintain his balance and stride without extending his arms fully from his body and using his fingertips to control it.
Using the fingertips matters because a player has up to 10 independent points of control to absorb the shock, stop the rotation, and adjust the grip of the target. Although the palms and base of the fingers provide far wider surface area for the ball to land, these parts of the body lack the ability to respond with precision and control.
The ball is far more likely to bounce off the singular area of a palm or base of the fingers than the collective effort of 6-8 fingertips. Even 3-4 fingertips can secure a difficult target.
Mike Evans will tell you.
It’s plays like these that test the limits of technique. Most of the time, good technique will contribute to a good outcome. If it doesn’t, I still value process over outcome—especially if it is consistent.