By Steve Heck, Wide Receivers Coach, Kutztown University and
Matt Pirolli, Wide Receivers Coach, Central Bucks West High School (PA)
It is important to force the receiver to adjust to throws that are both high and behind him. These two-plane adjustment catches are very difficult, yet occur often. Focus on the ball. Feel the end line. A final coaching point with end zone receptions is the skill of “clearing” the ball away from the defender. Defenders are well schooled to knock the ball free after the receiver has secured the reception. Do not bring the ball down toward the defender. Clear the ball away from him to prevent him from dislodging the ball. We do not teach the receiver to tuck the ball away in the end zone. Moreover, we emphasize, “clearing” the football.
The Clemson Comeback Drill, which requires three doors (Diagram 5) is a variation on the previous drill. The purpose of this drill is to reinforce top end footwork with low pad level. The conclusion of the drill isolates some of the unique skills involved when adjusting back toward the ball on comeback routes adjacent to the sideline.
The receiver will execute three ninety-degree cuts in a five by five yard square drill space. On his last cut, he will run parallel to the near sideline and catch a ball that is thrown to a location that will force the receiver to contort his body over the boundary, while still keeping one foot in bounds. Receivers must lean out of bounds with their torso, yet keep a foot near the sideline to complete the catch. It is important to make throws that require the receiver to adjust both vertically by jumping, and horizontally, by leaning over the sideline. Coach them to keep their lower body quiet and stable as they adjust their torso and arms to the throw. “Focus on the ball, feel the sideline.”
Nearly every offensive system runs the traditional smash concept in their passing game. The hook and corner routes are staples of many playbooks. Unfortunately, the downside to the corner route occurs when your quarterback drops a perfect ball into the receiver’s arms, only to have it nullified because the receiver was ruled out of bounds.
The sideline 49er Drill (Diagram 6) looks to fix that problem. This drill requires three doors, a cone, two coaches or quarterbacks and four balls. The coach on the sideline will throw only the second ball. The coach close to the hash mark will throw balls one, three and four. The first three passes in the drill are designed to replicate curls and comeback type routes. The last throw forces the receiver to attack the sideline simulating the last phase of a corner routes. The receiver will get four balls thrown in under thirty seconds. Instruct the receiver to keep active hands through doors.
The most important coaching point for footwork of the drills that employ the doors is to make the receiver push through the door by a full yard. This will mandate a clean and precise top end exit, which eliminates rounded breaks and extra steps. If receivers are rubbing the sides of the doors as they exit, it generally means that they failed to carry speed through the door and began decelerating in the door. As teaching tools, WR doors are effective because they expose many common faults in route running like high pad level and sloppy top end footwork. Many of these drills originally began as cone based drills. So if your program does not have WR doors, you can substitute cones.
About the Authors:
Steve Heck is in his 9th year as the wide receiver coach at Kutztown University. In 2015, The Kutztown offense broke the school record for total offense. A coaching veteran of 20 years, Heck has also coached at Albright College and was a high school offensive coordinator for ten years. Heck Graduated from Lebanon Valley College in 1996 with a degree in English.
Matt Pirolli just completed his first season as the wide receivers coach at Central Bucks West High School (PA). Prior to joining the CB West staff he was the assistant wide receivers coach at Kutztown University. In 2011 Pirolli was a receiver on Kutztown’s historic PSAC conference championship team. Pirolli played three years for the Golden Bears and graduated in 2014 with a degree in History.