When it comes to elite receivers, there are a few names you can pick from, but one that is going to be at the top of most lists is Julio Jones. The former Alabama standout has received high-praise from plenty of football personnel including former teammate Harry Douglas, who said Jones “has a chance to be the greatest player to ever play the game.” A large portion of a statement like this revolves around Jones’ insistence on improving every aspect of his game, even if it’s just blocking on the outside!
Importance of an All-Around Receiver
When it comes to the wide receiver position, people often make the error of categorizing players into different sections. One player may have plus-speed, so we assume he’ll be a deep threat to be used on the outside. Meanwhile, another player may have the advantage of size. With this size, it would make sense to employ him as a possession receiver, one that can move the sticks when needed.
However, not all players fit these molds based solely on physical attributes. There are bigger receivers that can stretch the field, just as there are smaller ones that can catch shorter passes across the middle. However, as the game has evolved, coaches are looking for players that can do everything, or in other words an all-around receiver!
Deep Ball Drill
Everyone loves a long touchdown catch. It requires a terrific rapport between receiver and quarterback. The deep ball drill’s primary goal is to teach receiver’s how to run a vertical route and read the ball while running at top speed. Since most of these catches will need to be made over the shoulder, I align this drill in a fashion that promotes that action. The receiver will start a few yards in front of the quarterback.
The quarterback says hike and the receiver proceeds to run in a vertical route straight away from the quarterback. After about 15 yards, the quarterback will throw the pass. It can be directly over the head or over either of the shoulders. One of the main things to monitor throughout this drill is speed. You don’t want to slow down too much throughout the process in tracking the ball.
End Zone Drill
Converting opportunities in the red zone is critical to coming out on top in any particular game. However, catching passes in the end zone also presents another challenge in addition to beating the defense, as you’ll need to worry about the backs and sides of the end zone. Assuming you’re at a level lower than the NFL, then you’ll only need to get one foot inbounds for it to count as a catch. The end zone drill is set-up in a fashion that allows receivers to track the ball and catch it at the back of the end zone.
Receivers will line up on the outside at about the five yard line with a defensive back opposite them. As the quarterback says hike, the receiver must beat the defensive back off the snap. The quarterback will toss a lob to the back of the end zone. The receiver must beat the corner to the spot and leap to catch it at the highest point. At the same time, they must have an understanding of their location to be able to get a quick toe-tap in.
Downfield Blocking Drill
Possibly the most underappreciated quality of elite receivers is the ability to block. It doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, but trust me your coaches and running backs will appreciate it. This drill only requires a receiver and defensive back. Upon the snap, the receiver will start running a vertical route to push the defensive back to start backpedaling. Once the defensive back recognizes it’s a run play, he’ll stop and attempt to charge in the opposite direction.
Here Coach Dodge, Assistant Coach at Ottawa University discusses the best practices for receiver blocking.
At this moment, the receiver must get hands on him and prevent this movement. A key part of this process is deception. As a receiver, you have to make the defensive back think a pass play is coming. Even if it’s a simple halfback dive, if you get off the line quickly, it’s a definite possibility that you’ll force the defensive back to drop in coverage.
Since it is so important to be able to move the defensive back, here is a link to a course that breaks down this topic in depth, taught by former NFL receiver Michael Clayton.
Route Tree Drill
A key determinant of an all-around receiver is the ability to run all routes. As I mentioned in the opening sections, you don’t want to become a one-trick pony. Receivers that are merely deep threats often struggle to find consistent playing time on the outside. The route tree drill is rather simple, but works on various scenarios. The quarterback will be between the hashes, while the receivers group will be on either side as an outside receiver. The first time through the line, the receivers will run short five yard slants.
Here Offensive Coordinator at Syracuse, Bobby Acosta explains how to incorporate the Tree Drill.
Source: Triple Threat WR Play Course
Make sure you’re looking the ball in and then sprinting up field after securing the ball. Next, they’ll run a ten yard curl. After that, it’ll be a fifteen yard route. This is largely a timing route and will be critical in developing chemistry with the quarterback. Finally, you’ll end it with a go route. Essentially, this will involve similar skills learned from the deep ball drill, but will allow you the opportunity to test it out on the outside.
Tip Ball Drill
Oftentimes in games, we see tipped balls end up in the hands of the defense. However, that doesn’t mean receivers shouldn’t be prepared in reacting to a tipped ball when it occurs. This drill will improve receiver’s reaction times, concentration on the ball when it’s in the air and quickness in going after the ball. The set-up requires one line of tippers on the left of the quarterback and a line of catchers on the other one.
Upon the snap, both players will run short slants (keep in mind that both lines should be closer to the hashes than standard pass patterns). The pass will be intended for the tipper, who must get a hand on it and tip it up. Then, the catcher must read the tip and take the quickest route before securing the reception. After completion, the players will switch positions and do the drill again.
More Than Just Catching!
One of my primary missions behind this article was to drive home the fact to young receivers that there is more to playing wide receiver than just running routes and catching passes. Whether it be blocking downfield or reacting to tipped balls, it’s not a position for someone that thinks he’ll get plays off. At the same time, it requires patience. Some games you won’t get targeted as much as you’d like, but that doesn’t give you a right to get down on the play calling or your quarterback!
For more tips and strategies, go here.