We will move forward to understand how the receivers operate in the passing game. The first items that we will need to discuss are the basic fundamentals involved in playing the WR position. The most basic concept of the WR position is the stance that a receiver takes. The stance that a receiver takes has evolved over the years. Up until about 25-30 years ago, receivers generally lined up in a three point stance and exploded off of the football. With the evolution of the short passing game, receivers began utilizing a two point stance (what we all see today) to get off the ball and utilize more dynamic sets. Thus, we will begin with a stationary starting position.
The receiver should begin in a balanced position. This position should incorporate one foot behind the other with the receiver’s hips being square to the line of scrimmage. Some people coach that one foot should constantly be the lead foot. Other coaches teach the concept that the foot placement is a function of the route. For instance, a quick slant for some offenses is three steps then break. If your outside foot is in front, you will have a much more difficult time planting and cutting off of the inside foot to make this move. I personally see merit to both arguments, and can rationalize the pros of a consistent take-off as well as the need to get to one place in a certain number of steps. Personally, I like utilizing the outside foot (foot closest to the boundary) as the trailing foot. This creates one less thing to think about when lining up and will not tip off the defender to the route that you are running. Also, if the receiver practices this constantly, he should be able to successfully understand how to run his routes because (if he is a serious WR) he will practice these routes repeatedly and know exactly where he needs to be to make the play a success.
The receiver’s center of gravity should be over the balls of his front toe. The receiver’s posture should create a straight line from the helmet down to the lower part of the back. The pass catcher should be relaxed yet ready to explode into his route at the snap of the ball. There are also differing opinions about the hand and arm placement by the receiver in his stance. Originally in the 2-point stance, coaches liked their receivers relaxed yet poised. Hence, receivers were coached to let their arms sort of hang in a relaxed fashion. More recently, however, coaches want to get their receivers arms in more of a running position to try to get better acceleration off of the football. Either way, the receiver should be comfortable yet prepared to explode off the ball at the snap.
Once set, the receiver should look into the formation at the ball. Since the receiver is outside of the tackle box, he may not be able to hear the snap count. Hence, if he is looking at the ball, the snap count is irrelevant and he can break as soon as he sees the ball snapped. It is extremely important that the receiver is set and ready to roll at the snap of the ball. There is really no excuse for a receiver to prematurely move before the snap (he is looking at the ball) nor is there a reason for the receiver not to be moving at the snap (again, he is watching the center).
Once the receiver gets to his location in the formation, he will need to be conscious of his environment. First, the receiver should understand where he will need to go in the play. He will then need to identify where the defenders are located and what obstacles they may provide as the receiver attempts to complete his objective. While doing all of this, the WR should NOT stare or look too much at his final position. It is good practice to try to gain information from peripheral vision and when approaching the LOS. Please note that we will be focusing mostly on the passing game in this post. While this is our objective here, receivers are also a critical part of the running game and that blocking by the receivers can be critical in the success of a team’s running game.
At the snap of the ball, the receiver wants to push off of his front foot, exploding through the LOS and keeping his torso low. The receiver’s front foot should not leave the ground until it has completely thrusted the player’s body forward. The trailing leg should get a decent stride off of this acceleration. The receiver almost wants to think of himself as a sprinter who is trying to get the most explosion possible out of the blocks. That being said, it is important that the receiver maintain control of his body and overall balance. It is also important that the receiver makes every snap look the same regardless of the route. When the receiver gets lazy and doesn’t make his take-offs consistent, it gives the defensive back(s) an item to key on in anticipation of certain routes. Poor fundamentals and execution of any of the above listed items are merely laziness on the part of the receiver, as any of these items can be perfected by focused practice and by paying attention to what is going on (i.e., the snap of the football).
Now that we know the correct positioning technique, we should investigate how to line up. Receivers will be lined up in one of two locations; on the line of scrimmage or off the line of scrimmage. Why does this line position matter? Offensive game rules dictate that seven men must be on the LOS at the snap of the football. Of these seven men on the LOS, only the outside two are eligible to go out for a pass or touch a forward pass. Thus, if there aren’t seven men on the LOS, the offense gets penalized for an illegal formation. If a player is lined up on the LOS at the snap of the ball, but is not one of the outside men on the LOS he is not an eligible receiver (if he goes downfield, the offense will be flagged for ineligible man downfield…if a forward pass touches an ineligible receiver, the offense is flagged for illegal touching). Please note that all players who are not lined up on the LOS (obviously lined up behind the LOS on the offensive side of the ball), no matter their location are eligible receivers and thus can run downfield and catch forward passes.
When lining up on the LOS, the receiver cannot break the plane of the football. As a general rule, receivers will try to line up in the same plane as the offensive linemen who are also on the LOS. When a receiver splits out to line up on the LOS, he should ALWAYS look at the closest official or line judge and see his hand signals. If the official has an arm out pointing towards the defensive side of the LOS, the receiver is on the LOS. If the official has an arm out pointing towards the offensive side of the LOS, the receiver is not on the LOS. If an official has both arms out pointing in both directions, at least one receiver is off the LOS and one on the LOS. Note that the official on one side of the field will only signal the position(s) of receivers on his side of the field, not the entire formation. Receivers can often tell the official that he is on and the official usually confirms that he is correctly positioned or tells the receiver that he will need to move one way or another to be correctly positioned.
When lining up off the LOS, the receiver should be behind the plane created by the butt of the offensive linemen on the LOS. It is a good rule of thumb that receivers off the LOS should try to center their bodies with the legs of the quarterback if the he is under center. The rules about using the officials (as stated above) should be followed for receivers who are not on the LOS.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I do not understand why teams cannot line up correctly. As a WR, you need to know whether you are on the LOS or not. You then check with the official to determine if you are properly aligned or not. You then look into the formation. If you are on the LOS and see another WR who is also on the LOS, one of you is wrong. Conversely, if you are lined up off the LOS and look in and don’t see an eligible receiver lined up on the LOS, something is wrong. Please also remember that a TE is considered an eligible receiver and should not be covered up (covered up means having someone outside of you on the LOS) if he is on the LOS.
One other item to highlight. A team may have only one (1) player moving at the snap of the football. This player must be moving laterally (cannot be moving forward at all). All other players must be set for two seconds before the snap of the football. Thus, if there is any shifting at all, players must reset and be static before the ball is snapped.
The last item that I would like to discuss in the pre-snap is the use of motion. Teams often like to put receivers in motion and move them laterally across the formation. When a player goes in motion, he is usually off the LOS until he resets on the LOS. It is important that everyone is aware of the status of the motion man to ensure that the offense has a legal formation before the ball is snapped.
A player is often motioned by the QB as a predetermined part of the play, as a ploy to uncover the defenses coverage, or as a technique to create a favorable match up for the offense. The QB usually uses a leg movement to signal motion. Upon receiving the signal, the receiver turns and typically jogs/lightly sprints across the formation. There are a couple of key items to address when a player is placed in motion. First, the player must maintain complete control and balance when placed in motion. He must be able to move freely and should pace himself so that he is in the correct position/spot at the snap of the ball. The player will want to turn his head back towards his own goal line when listening for the cadence. The reason a player does so instead of turning his head towards the LOS is because we have a tendency of moving in the direction that our head is turning without consciously knowing that we are moving in that direction. If the receiver is even slightly drifting towards the line of scrimmage, the offense incurs and illegal motion penalty. Thus, timing, control, and formation awareness are the biggest items involved in successfully performing a motion (or zoom) offensive move.
As we continue to evolve the position of the WR, we will investigate route running, how to catch the ball, and how to get into good position against a defender. You should remember, though, that lining up and getting off the football is a critical skill that must be mastered to become a good WR.