Matt Waldman’s RSP Boiler Room showcases the footwork, vision, and knowledge of blocking scheme that Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams illustrates in his game.
If I could outlaw one word in the lexicon of running back analysis, it would be “vision.” The term is too vague and it leads to a lot of incomplete and misleading ideas.
Instinctive and intuition are vital to any craft but to describe vision as these things overlooks the work that goes into decision-making and execution of scheme that requires the practices of footwork, pacing, stride length, cutting, and setting up blocks and defenders — all requiring training until the player can execute these skills to the speed of instinct and make intuitive choices based on layers of ingrained knowledge and skill.
Simply put, calling a running back instinctive is like an analyst calling a baker a magician because the baker pulled a delicious pie from an oven and the analyst has no idea about the necessary ingredients, the precision of how those ingredients must be combined, and the craft of making the pie look and taste good.
It’s parallel lines of thought that music critics had of jazz musicians and tap dancers in the early 20th century: They summon all that great pain and suffering and turn it into something entertaining or they simply have a knack and instinct for it.
After all, if they had to recognize the work that went into it, they might have to give the subjects of their criticism more respect.
Dexter Williams’ game is crafty. Notre Dame runs a lot of gap plays but from an alignment that can compress space at the line of scrimmage and force the runner to buy time in a small area heading east-west before accelerating north-south. It requires a lot of skill:
- Knowledge of where the holes are supposed to open based on the blocking scheme.
- Patience to wait for the creases to open.
- Various footwork patterns to set up the creases and be in a position to hit them downhill with maximum acceleration when transitioning from pressing to cutting.
- Anticipating the creases to hit them even when the openings are there until the back is inches from the bodies in front of him.
This Boiler Room episode showcases several runs from Williams that showcase these skills.
Although Williams runs a lot of gap plays, I think he has the footwork to develop into a capable zone runner. He’s not LeSean McCoy but the tie between what his eyes see and his footwork processes is a notable strength just like McCoy.
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