This conversation between my husband and me happened earlier this week:
Me: “I can’t do this. This is so wrong. It just isn’t natural.”
Phillip: “Yes you can, you’re a strong woman. You can face anything.”
Me: “No one warned me that I might have to face this one day…it happened so suddenly. I’m not ready to do it.”
Phillip: “You just need to do it. As they say, ‘Sometimes you just have to rip the band aid off’.”
Me: “I can’t. You need to do it for me.”
Phillip sighs, reaches over to the computer I’m sitting in front of and hits the submit button. And just like that, I drop the second pick in my fantasy draft, Julio Jones, a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. If you ever play fantasy football, you’ll understand the agony of dropping a player that you’re relying on for the season. He suffered a season-ending injury last week and so, as a fantasy team owner, I suffer with him.
It was a timely issue considering I was going to spend some time writing to you about receivers. This is the last group of players who are technically, but not exclusively, responsible for advancing the football by way of catching passes from the QB. You can find these players can under different names like wide receivers, slot receivers, or split ends. These names are derived from where the player lines up on the line of scrimmage. For instance, the tight end (yes, I’m still snickering about the name, and yes, I’m immature) lines up tight against the offensive line (the big men in front of the QB). The split end usually lines up on the opposite side of the tight end but a little farther away from the offensive line. So they are split away from the main part of the “O” line. The wide receiver is lined up even farther away from the offensive line, hence the description of “wide”.
Like every other position, there is much more to it than just catching a ball. Receivers need to run in a certain pre-determined pattern called a “route”. These routes are studied and practiced over and over by the receiver and the quarterback in order that in a game there is no guessing where the receiver will end up on a certain play call. In almost all cases the quarterback will throw the ball before the receiver arrives at the place where the ball will end up. These routes need to be timed perfectly or disaster can happen, like an interception (where a defensive player catches the ball). Over the years there have been many quarterback/wide receiver partnerships that played perfectly together. We have heard of Joe Montana (QB) and Jerry Rice (WR) in the 80’s and today we have Matthew Stafford (QB) and Calvin Johnson (WR) to name very few. When they are not responsible for catching the ball, receivers are needed to be a decoy and/or help block. This means that they run their routes as though they are going to be the one to get the ball in order to fool the defense to go after them. The other option is they block the defender that they are assigned to in order to help the running back find a lane to run through or another receiver to catch the ball.
Receivers are usually among the most lean and quickest players on a team. They need to be in order to do what is demanded of them. Take Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, this quiet, hard working receiver is larger than an average NFL receiver (if there is such a thing in the NFL as average) at 6’5” and 236 lbs (detroitlions.com). He runs a 40 yard dash in 4.3 seconds (point of reference – I run the forty yard dash in…never, I don’t run), so speed is a highly coveted trait, another skill is the ability to jump vertically (43.5 inch vertical was reported in 2012 – NFL.com). A receiver needs great hands, what does that mean? It means they have to be able to be pliable enough to catch a ball that is thrown at such a velocity that it can easily bounce off the hands and yet they have to be tough enough to hold on as defenders start beating at the ball in order to force a turnover. Running the routes accurately is an absolute since the QB depends on them. And continuing to run for more yards after catching the ball is another skill that teams search for.
These highly skilled and hard working players make up another facet of the offense that gives us so many wonderful plays on the highlight reels. They are acrobatic, fierce, fearless and incredibly tough.
Next time, we start on the offensive line. Happy FB watching!