We have already discussed the techniques needed to become a good pass catcher. While these are important tools to being a good receiver, the ability of a receiver to block and block well is just as important for team success. Preparing to be a good blocker is similar to being a good route runner; preparation and repetition are critical for success here, and nearly anyone who wants to can be a proficient blocker IF they are willing to put in the effort.
As with most things in life, technique is the most critical aspect for this skill and anyone can learn this skill through proper coaching and repetitive practice. Receivers for the most part absolutely hate blocking drills, so if you can find a guy who is really gets into the drills he is an extremely valuable part of a football team. Today we will set the table for a future technique-only segment by highlighting the general objectives and situations common to the wide receiver position.
Blocking techniques are really straight forward and incorporate many of the concepts that we discussed previously in the general receiver notes. The important thing to at the receiver position is consistency. You absolutely DO NOT want your receivers to give the defense any presnap indication on the play type (run/pass) or general location where the play will go (left, right, center of the field). Hence, it is imperative that the receiver utilize a consistent stance at the line of scrimmage and, for the most part, a consistent burst out of the gate. (Click here to see how this is done) It is also important that a receiver use his head and understand the overall goal of his assignment.
There are relatively few blocking strategies that a receiver will use on a running play. We will get into the specifics in a bit, but I want to introduce them to you up front so that you can understand what the receiver should be thinking on certain plays. The goal in blocking for a receiver is to remove one defender from the play. This is an important concept to grasp before we move on to understand how this is actually done. Removing a player does not have to involve a decleater (although this is highly encouraged).
Most offensive coordinators like to try to scheme up front and have the receivers "hold their own." This concept produces a pretty basic blocking scheme for the wide receivers. You will often hear the term "stalk block" used for the majority of blocking done by receivers. While this is not the only open field technique that is used, it is the most common and does involve a great deal of technique, awareness, preparation, and practice.
The aforementioned basic standard (especially when man blocking up front) involves the receiver’s location in relation to the direction of the play. If the receiver is on the half of the formation to which the play will be run, we will refer to the receiver as the "playside receiver." If the play is designed to go to the opposite side of the field (in relation to where the receiver is lined up) we will refer to this receiver as the "backside receiver." Also note that many zone blocking schemes utilize all receivers as though they are playside receivers because a shifty back may cut against the grain and turn the backside into the playside.
In general, the playside receiver’s responsibility is the defender immediately in front of him. Thus, the playside receiver’s goal is to keep the man in front of him from disrupting the running play that will be coming to his side of the field. Since the ball is coming this way, there is a good chance that the receiver will be in the play and that his block will play a part in the success/failure of the play. The most common example of a receiver making a difference playside occurs during a basic toss sweep, where a good block can be the difference from a corner making a tackle/being the force man or the RB getting to the edge for a nice gain.
If the receiver is a backside receiver, the play will be going away from him. Even though the play may not be coming in the receiver’s direction, we do not want to waste this player. Thus, you typically see the backside receiver come across the field to try to scrape a linebacker or a safety. This is how you end up with long runs. The general point is that the play is designed to be run away from the receiver and the receiver will be of little use as a blocker if he remains on the non-play side, so he runs a fictitious route and slams into a deep safety.
By bringing the receiver across the field, we can assume two things may happen defensively: the defense may be in zone, so the defensive back across from the backside receiver will be less likely to pursue a RB all the way across the field (thus making him a non-factor in the play) and even if the defender is able to come across the field, you would be much more inclined to have this defender (likely a corner) trying to make a play on your back as opposed to a safety. In either case, we want to maximize all of our players by having each player contribute as efficiently as possible by hitting a linebacker/safety in the middle of the field.
Situation and objectives are also important in WR blocking. A receiver has to know the play, the situation, as well as strengths/weaknesses of his team(ates). A team's style of play will also dictate the strategy a receiver needs to take to ensure success.
For instance, a "power back" who may lack speed is incorporated into a game plan to pick up relatively small chunks of yardage (i.e., you would expect this back to average 4 yards a carry with his long run being a 15 yard gainer). For this back, a receiver really only needs to (if playside) keep the corner at bay for a few seconds. More than likely, the play will be called between the tackles for such a RB so it is crucial that the backside receiver gets the safety as quickly as possible to mitigate his presence. This does not give the receiver an excuse not to block. Instead, it emphasizes the receiver's need to simply keep his guy out of the play for a relatively short period of time and leads us to a concept known as "running the defender off". The backside receiver will need to come across the field and hit the safety to try to turn a short gain into a long(er) gain.
A shifty, quick back is extremely different. A guy like C.J. Spiller commands the receivers be on their toes at all times. Spiller is an elusive back who can shift directions at any time and has the potential to break a big one at any moment. For a guy like Spiller, it is critical that the receivers maintain their blocks and/or maintain good position for extended periods of time. For a Spiller-type back, you will see more zone blocking and more freedoms for the running back to make his own decisions and turn the "backside" into the "playside" in the middle of a play. Hence, all receivers may block the man in front of them and be expected to be in position to throw a great block for long periods of time simply because the offense really has no clue where the play will end up and is depending solely on the vision and skills of the RB to "make things happen." Receivers here will generally use a "stalk block" technique.
The final concept here is downfield blocking either after a back has broken the first/second layers of the defense or after a completed pass. This is where receiver blocking really is critical. Downfield blocking involves hustle, technique, and recognition. The receiver has to understand what is going on around him to assure that he finds someone to block and takes the correct angle to get to this defender. These are the really big ones that can turn a nice gain into a touchdown.
Look for a future technical discussion on several key topics, including stalk blocking, running off a defender, downfield blocking, and special blocks.