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A Few Wide Receiver Blocking Techniques

Blocking, like running a pass route, begins with the stance and take off. It is imperative that a receiver get off the line fast to give the defender the impression that he is running a fade route and will not cheat to stop the run. If you have not reviewed our discussion on lining up, getting in a proper stance, and exploding off the line of scrimmage, it is recommended reading for all facets of the receiver position.

When throwing a block, remember the defender’s run support keys. If the defender is on the edge, he has to keep his outside shoulder free to eliminate getting sealed from the sideline. For our purposes here, you will need to remember three basic concepts for the defender (assume cornerback) in a run support role: Force the offensive player towards the middle of the field, go through the receiver to get to the ball carrier, and don’t miss a tackle.

Stalk Block:

The stalk block is an effective technique often used when a receiver is lined up on the play side of the offensive formation. The receiver will need to be alert and show awareness to throw this block, as the receiver will need to position himself to be able to successfully stalk block. A common example of this block is a WR blocking the cornerback who is lined up directly in front of the receiver.

The first item that the receiver will need to identify is the depth of the defender off the LOS. A defender’s depth will dictate the angle that the receiver will need to take to put himself in proper position. This will also dictate the aiming point for the receiver as he attempts to block the defender. A defender playing closer to the LOS is more likely to be able to rip through a receiver and get to the football. Hence, the receiver will want to run at the defender (he may even use the defender’s inside shoulder as an aiming point) to assure that he keeps his body between the football and the defender.

Rule of Thumb: The receiver will also want to identify the technique that the defender is playing, as a defender playing a slide step will be able to look into the backfield and make a run-read quicker than a defender dropping into a straight backpedal. Typically, a defender playing a backpedal technique will be focused on the receiver and is more likely playing man as opposed to a defender playing the slide step.

Rule of Thumb: Regardless of the attack point chosen (whether outside the defender’s numbers or the middle of his body), the receiver must assure that he gets himself in the best position to eliminate his defender from the play. His goal is to close the defender’s cushion quickly yet under control. When the receiver is within a yard or two, he will break down, squatting to put his hips at a lower elevation than the defender’s. Remember this, in football the low man ALWAYS wins, as the sport centers around basic leverage.

Once the receiver is close to the defender, he will assure that he is under control and will mirror the defender. By mirroring the defender (similar to the technique a basketball defender uses when guarding his offensive opponent), the receiver can maintain proper body control AND maintain his position between the defender and the ball carrier.  Often, a slide technique is used by the receiver to position and reposition himself based on the defender's movements.

As the defender approaches on a run-read, the receiver will maintain an optimal leverage position (keeping a low center of gravity) and will get into the defender’s body. The receiver will then “seal” his block by turning the defender either towards the sideline or towards the middle of the field. By sealing off the defender, the receiver creates a running alley for the ball carrier. Running backs are coached to watch the receiver, identify which direction the seal will occur, then cut off the blocker’s butt on the seal side.

The goal for the receiver is to engage the defender, get into his body, turn the defender, the drive, drive, drive. Once engaged, the receiver cannot be complacent to simply keep the defender at bay. He MUST show some leg drive and keep his legs moving to push the defender around.

Running off a Defender:

This technique is really straight forward. The receiver (through coverage recognition or through in-game experience) is 100% positive that the defender is focused on him (usually, this is a straight-man read). The receiver then fires off the LOS and runs a fade route, being sure to run his route at least 2 yards outside of the defender to the boundary side. Since the defender is focusing solely on the receiver, he will turn with the receiver and run with him down the field, effectively eliminating him from providing run support. The receiver should only try this if he absolutely knows the defender will turn and run with him. Otherwise, he should revert to the stalk block described above.

Crack Back Block:

A designed crack back by a receiver involves the receiver blocking a linebacker or a safety, from the outside-in, who usually doesnt see him coming until its too late. These blocks also usually involve an offensive play designed to go outside of the tackles. At the snap of the ball, the play quickly moves to the outside. The linebacker is reading the lateral run and tries to position himself outside to make the stop. The receiver runs something similar to a slant route, decleating the unsuspecting linebacker who is naturally drifting towards the boundary due to play design.

The receiver wants to get off the ball and immediately move towards the middle of the field. The receiver then needs to identify his target and put himself in the linebacker/defender’s path of movement. Immediately before contact, the receiver needs to be under control. He will lower his center of gravity and explode into (and through) the linebacker at impact. The result is the linebacker laying on his back, eliminating a playside tackler for the ball carrier. We should note that the execution of this block should be fairly rare. The corner should recognize the potential for a crack back as soon as he reads run and sees the receiver coming across the field. The defender will then warn his teammate of the crack back by screaming “Crack, Crack”. Trust me, a linebacker hearing these words will get his head on a swivel because being on the receiving end of one of these is painful.

To combat this, a defensive coach will teach OLBs to take a "crackback" alignment presnap. The LB is taught to line up close to the LOS and will square his body up facing the QB or the RBs. This basically takes the possibility of a crack block out of play because a) the WR would have to come behind the LOS to get in front of the LB and b) because you can't execute a block into his back. That WR has to turn the LB or wait for him to turn to face before he can block him, or it is a penalty.

Crack back blocks also occur downfield. Often a defender will be trailing a play or coming across the field to try to make a play. In such a scenario, the defender is solely focused on the ball carrier. The downfield receiver identifies this and throws a vicious block on the unsuspecting defender.

There have been rule changes on the legality of this block, but I see them as a gray area and will describe the block as though such changes do not exist. I will also note that this block is a potential KO shot and can involve a severe collision for the player receiving the block.

Other notes:

Often, a smart receiver can take his man out of the play without even making contact with the defender. If the receiver is the playside receiver and recognizes that the defender across from him is in man coverage, the receiver can run a fly route towards the defender’s outside shoulder to get the defender to turn away from the play and run with the receiver. This is also effective in some Cover 3 and Cover 4 looks as well, as the defender has to respect the receiver’s deep threat IF he cannot read a run play quickly enough.

If the defender is utilizing a backpedal technique, the receiver should attack the defender just outside of his jersey number. The defender here is more likely to turn with the receiver, thus putting his back to the LOS. If the receiver realizes the defender is playing hard man and can get him to open his hips, he may wish to utilize the “Running off a Defender” technique. If the defender is playing a slide technique, he will be watching what is going on in the backfield AND the receiver. In the case of a “soft corner”, the receiver should attack the middle to inside of the defender off the LOS. In the case of a “hard corner”, the receiver HAS TO attack the middle to inside of the defender off the LOS. If the defender is playing further (7 yards or more) off the ball, the receiver has more room to work and should attack--aiming point to which the receiver should try to initiate contact--the outside the defender’s jersey number, especially if the play is a wide run (i.e., toss sweep or something similar). Otherwise, the receiver cannot allow the defender to get inside and thus must attack the middle of the defender because he cannot chance the defender using speed/balance to get around the blocker.