By Steve Heck, Wide Receivers Coach, Kutztown University and
Matt Pirolli, Wide Receivers Coach, Central Bucks West High School (PA)
Position coaches have sought various methods and teaching tools to help refine the specific fundamentals they emphasize during individual periods. Most programs have sleds for blocking and tackling. They have quarterback nets. They have blasters for running backs and weighted pop up dummies for lineman to hit. However, teaching tools for wide receiver coaches have been few and far between. But with the advent of items known as WR chutes or doors, the receiver coach finally has some props he can turn to at practice. Wide receiver doors are tubular frames that sit on the ground forcing the player to move through them with low pad level. They are available in football gear catalogs, or they can be custom made by using PVC materials. Simply put, the wide receiver doors are the best tool invented to teach low pad level, route expression, top end footwork and a variety of other key receiver fundamentals.
The most important aspect of offensive football is ball security. By using one WR door and three hand shields we created the Out Gauntlet Drill that is a simple, fast paced, easy to organize ball security drill that reinforces several key fundamentals (Diagram 1).
The WR door is placed near the top of the numbers and the sideline, five yards away from the coach who is throwing. Three other players with hand shields are deployed five yards apart, a yard from the sideline. The receiver executes a five-yard out cut, making a ninety degree cut and snapping his head, eyes and hands around to find the football. After he secures the catch in his sideline arm, he quickly turns upfield and attacks each of the three defenders one at a time. The receiver uses a dip and rip technique to create leverage as he blasts through the three defenders. The defenders are trying to squeeze the receiver out of bounds. The receiver is taught to use his inside arm as a weapon to get under each defender, while trying to get extra yards, without going out of bounds.
Young receivers may struggle with recognizing how to adapt to zone coverage. Teams that employ zone coverages force receivers to avoid re-routes after they release and to quickly recognize the voids within the zone. The Dig Window Drill (Diagram 2) helps receivers refine the fundamentals of avoiding reroutes and recognizing holes in coverages.
Four rubber/plastic trash cans are placed ten yards away from the receiver and coach. The four cans create three windows for the receiver to potentially explore. The last window is longer to simulate man coverage. Two defenders are assigned to occupy two of the three windows, thus leaving one window open. To avoid confusion, the defenders quickly communicate with each other to determine the windows they will occupy. A WR door is placed near the first trash can. A defender with a hand shield is stationed mid-way between the LOS and the WR door.
The receiver releases toward the defender with the hand shield who attempts to re-route him. To avoid the defender the receiver must attack half the defender, stay thin, and dip and rip through the potential reroute. After the receiver
deals with the re-route he must re-establish his vertical push toward the door. Once he gets and makes his ninety-degree dig break, he must get his eyes inside and scan his reception area. By this point the two defenders have moved into two of the three available windows. The receiver must recognize where the open window is and exploit that reception area. If either of the first two windows are left open the receiver sits in the window, showing hands and eyes to the coach who is throwing the ball. If the last window is open, the receiver stays on the move and the coach hits him while he is running, simulating man coverage. After the catch the receiver secures the ball and turns upfield.
Sideline and end line awareness are two skills that are sometimes hard to simulate in a drill setting. By using the doors to isolate top end footwork and pad level, we get the receiver moving early and force him in to make a confined space reception at the conclusion of the drill.
The Minnesota Drill (Diagram 3) requires two doors, a cone and several footballs. Since this is a single catch drill, we push the tempo to get maximum reps and create a competitive atmosphere. The receiver makes three cuts before exiting quickly toward the sideline. The coach puts the ball in challenging locations, forcing the receiver to adjust to the ball, yet still getting one foot down. Our coaching point is to focus on the ball and to “feel the sideline”. Ultimately, you must catch the ball first.
It’s amazing how many throws end up going toward the back corners of end zones. Again, end zone awareness can be a difficult skill to reinforce in practice. We use the Clemson End Zone Drill (Diagram 4) to work on learning how to navigate in the confined spaces of the end zone. The receiver starts at the back end line and makes two ninety-degree breaks before finishing in the back corner of the end zone. The coach stands out around the ten-yard line and delivers a variety of throws to challenge the receiver in confined space.
To be Continued: Part II will be posted Tomorrow March 3rd.
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.