Good receivers play hard without the ball. Playing unselfishly is a big part of being a team player. A typical college football game has an average of 72 offensive plays. A good receiver will be lucky to get 8 to 10 passes thrown his way during the course of a game. That leaves 62 plays a game on which the wide receiver won’t get the football. This chapter is about how the receiver can still be a team player and help his team win even when the ball doesn’t come his way.
Playing with great effort when you don’t get the ball is difficult, but the ways that you can help your team are immense. Blocking is not natural for a wide receiver, but it is essential for offensive success. Blocking depends mostly on an attitude that has to be developed. When a player gets it, his effort stands out and is inspiring to his offensive teammates.
Blocking is a base fundamental that you must learn in order to play the game of football. Games are won and lost on blocking and tackling. You can’t truly love the game without appreciating a great block. Great wide receivers are more proud of the touchdown-springing blocks they make than the acrobatic catches.
Effort Areas for Wide Receivers
Consistently explode off the football on every snap. The defense should never be able to tell whether it’s a run or pass by the way the receiver comes off the ball. A good receiver comes off the football with speed and acceleration every time, whether it’s a run or a pass. If a player comes off at half speed on run plays, this makes the player and the offense very predictable for the defenders.
Get your man in the run game on every snap. On every running play, every offensive player is assigned to block a man. If everyone on offense makes his block and sustains it, the team should have a successful offensive play. The receiver usually has a corner or a safety on perimeter plays or a linebacker in the slot. The running back shouldn’t have to worry about getting hit by that guy. As a receiver, you must have great pride in not letting the running back get hit by your defensive man.
Pile up wide receiver knockdowns. In every game, we have an offensive goal of getting 100 knockdowns. That goal has become more difficult with the changed cut rules in the 2011 season. The breakdown is 20 knockdowns for the receivers, 20 for tight ends, 20 for running backs, and 40 for the offensive line. This is a gauge for our offensive team on how physically we are playing. A knockdown is when an offensive player knocks his defender down on a play. An offensive player is also awarded a knockdown when he knocks a defensive back off the playing field or out of bounds. When the offense gets inside the 5-yard line and an offensive player blocks his man into the end zone, that is also a knockdown. We have one more way that a skill guy can get a knockdown. An offensive skill player can get a knockdown by making a defender miss when the offensive player has the ball in his hands. Every defender whom a ballcarrier makes miss is a knockdown for the offense. Players will have equal opportunities to get knockdowns on run and pass plays. Things don’t happen on a football field by accident. Things happen because of intent. Offensive players have to be intentional about wanting to get knockdowns in any way they can.
Gain yards after the catch (YAC). Come alive with the ball in your hands! When the ball is in the air, the receiver wants to catch the ball, clutch it and put it away, and then come alive as a ballcarrier. Great wide receivers have the ability to make people miss in the open field. You have to practice making big plays in practice. When you catch the ball in practice, take it and run for a good 15 yards after the catch. When I was with the Oakland Raiders, we had Jerry Rice. When he caught the ball in practice, he used to score almost every time. He would catch a 5-yard pass, weave through the defense, and sprint another 60 yards to the end zone. We want to see a 15-yard sprint after every catch in practice. On Full-Finish Thursday, every ball caught goes to the house. It is something to see when guys score on every play! There’s nothing like seeing a guy get another gear when the ball is in his hands and blow the doors off the defense.
Make big-play blocks! The more I observe the great players, the more I’m convinced that great players work harder to do the little things better than anyone else. That’s what makes them great. Simple hard work making your block or hustling downfield to get on your man will create big-play blocks. There is nothing more unselfish than a receiver hustling from the backside to make the last big block to spring a ballcarrier for a touchdown downfield.
Go for double knockdowns (extra-effort blocks). A knockdown is great, but a double knockdown is even better. For a double knockdown, a player gets a knockdown then gets up and, instead of being satisfied, keeps playing and gets another knockdown on the same play. We have clips of guys getting three knockdown blocks on one play. That’s just playing as hard as you can to the whistle.
Make big hits on crack blocks. In some of our perimeter schemes, the receiver short motions down and cracks the end man on the line of scrimmage. Then we pitch the ball on the outside on the perimeter. A crack block on the outside can really create a big running lane for the back, and getting a big hit from a receiver can excite an offense.
Contribute to the special-teams effort. We tell receivers that they are football players first. That means we expect them to help on special teams. Great receivers can be great special-teams players as well. I love players who can return kickoffs or punts. I love recruiting players who can run the ball in open space. Our best receivers over the years were also some of our best cover guys on punts and kickoffs. Good athletes can do whatever the team needs them to do on a football field. When I recruit, I always look for guys who are multidimensional, guys who can do a lot of things well. They will always be able to help the football team in some way. Athletes who have great agility and quickness and are physical and aggressive can do a lot for a football team on offense, defense, and special teams.