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Coordinated effort needed for running pass routes

By Tom Bass


Every wide receiver must understand the importance of running each pass pattern at the proper depth each and every time. If the receiver and the quarterback are going to coordinate the passing game, the receiver has to take care of his part. On every pass play, the wide receiver is responsible for running the route at the proper depth and in the correct manner and then catching the ball. The quarterback is responsible for getting the ball to the receiver where the receiver can make the catch. The offensive line and, on occasion, the offensive backs assume the responsibility of blocking the defensive players long enough to give the quarterback time to make the pass. It is a coordinated effort that must occur in order for the pass to be thrown and caught; for success, everyone must do his job.

First, the receiver needs to learn the different depths at which to run the pass patterns. Three actions determine the distance he runs down the field:


  1. The number of steps the quarterback takes in his drop.
  2. The time the offensive line needs to protect the quarterback.
  3. The type of blocking used by the offensive line.



Running the pattern at the proper depth helps ensure correct timing of the pass. Think of the field as being divided into three separate depths or zones: short, medium, and deep.

The short zone extends from the line of scrimmage up the field for 6 yards. Patterns run in this zone are quick. The quarterback drops only three steps before delivering the ball. The timing in this area must be exact. The wide receiver must run quickly up the field, break sharply into his pattern, and immediately look for the ball.

The medium zone starts at 7 yards and goes up to 15 yards. In this zone, the receiver can use all his moves to get open. Medium patterns are often continuous-movement routes in which the receiver keeps running before he gets the ball. In this zone, the quarterback uses a five-step drop and the offensive line knows that they must protect for a longer time.

The deep zone extends from the far edge of the medium zone all the way to the opponent’s goal line. The patterns run in this zone require more time and often the receiver has to run under the ball. The quarterback tries to give the receiver the opportunity to separate from the defender and make the reception.

It is important for a receiver to be able to recognize the different zones when on the move. One way to get a feel for the different depths is to take time every day to run up the field calling out the zone or mentally saying, “Short, short, short,” “Medium, medium, medium,” and “Deep, deep, deep” while traveling up the field. Once the receiver has an understanding of the depths for each zone, he is ready to learn the different pass routes he will run in each zone.

This is an excerpt from Football Skills & Drills.




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