RSP NFL Lens RB James Conner (Steelers): The Eyes-Feet Connection

RSP NFL Lens RB James Conner (Steelers): The Eyes-Feet Connection

Matt Waldman’s RSP showcases a run from second-year NFL running back James Conner of the Pittsburgh Steelers that features the eyes-feet connection. 

If you are thinking on stage, you’re playing slow. When you react to the stimuli around you and have trained your body to move accordingly to those variations of patterns around you, you’re in the flow. James Conner is in the flow on this 26-year touchdown run and it’s evident with two small hops before he reaches the crease that his linemen gave him.

When running backs assess their options within the bounds of a designed play, they read the helmets or hips of defenders emerging on one side or the other of offensive linemen. Based solely on the design, Conner wants to head to the left side of the line. Based on the initial read as he’s taking the exchange, he sees the penetration to the inside and appropriately cuts his stride with a short hop of less than a yard to bend his path towards the right side of the line for a cutback.

The length of the hop is critical. Hop too far, and Conner has less space to operate if he reads that the cutback isn’t a good option. Small changes of direction that keep the runner in a balanced stance help the runner buy time to make multiple choices. The larger the steps, the more committed the back must be to the path he’s heading.

When Conner reads the helmet of the defender cutting off that cutback lane, he’s experienced enough to recognize that the left side is the better option. This isn’t a conscious thought as much as it is a flash of colors and a feel of open space. This is what a master musician like Hal Galper is referring to when he says that he hears/sees colors on stage. He’s reacting to the sounds around him in the same way that a runner is reacting to the movement around him.

It’s intuition supported by layers and layers of ingrained actions developed through practice.  Conner’s eyes-feet connection appears smooth and comfortable. The footwork is measured and tighter to buy him maximum space and that creates him more time to weigh his options without becoming tentative.

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