Making the Catch
Catching the ball outside the framework of the body is an important skill (figure 5.6). One of the biggest benefits to executing the pat-and-go drill every day is that the quarterbacks and receivers learn to throw and catch the ball outside the framework of the body. If players understand this skill, they will finish more big plays down the field over the course of the year. This skill (or lack of it) shows up all the time when teams throw deep. When the quarterback can consistently place the ball away from the defender, more completions will be made. When the receiver learns how to consistently keep his body between the defender and the football, he will either make the big catch or draw a pass interference penalty on his attempt to finish the play.
The back-shoulder throw is one of the most underutilized throws in the game, but the quarterbacks who can throw it effectively can really hurt defenders because it is nearly impossible to defend when thrown properly. The reason the back-shoulder throw is so tough to cover is because it is thrown while the defender has his back turned; he can’t see the flight of the ball to defend it. The ball is thrown behind the defender so the offensive player can see it and adjust to it, but the defensive player is late to react. The fact that the defender can’t see the ball to react makes this pass almost impossible to cover when executed properly. The pat-and-go drill (page 70) gives quarterbacks and receivers an opportunity to work on these throws daily. Many people work this drill without indicating which specific throws to make. By practicing the specific throws, every player develops the more difficult aspects of the passing game and is able to function at a higher level of execution. The key is to practice the throws on a regular basis. Remember, you get what you emphasize.
Catching the ball on the back hip is my favorite catching skill to drill because it happens so often. Every pass is not perfect; on a crossing route, when the receiver is running across the field on a dead run, the ball is often thrown behind him on his back hip. That receiver has to open his shoulders and his front hip to be able to catch the ball softly in his hands (figure 5.7). This happens often on the football field, and a receiver has to learn how to bend his body to get his hands in position to catch the football.
Spatial awareness is a big part of being an effective receiver. Most complete pass offenses try to attack the whole field, both horizontally and vertically. Some pass patterns are out breaking cuts designed to have the receiver catch the ball on the sideline. These out cuts are timing patterns for the quarterback that are meant to be thrown before the receiver even snaps his head around. The quarterback often throws the ball right on the boundary where no one can make a play on the ball except the offensive receiver. This is where a receiver must become adept at seeing the ball and simultaneously getting his feet down. Working a sideline toe tap is difficult because the player is doing two things at the same time. The receiver is often trying to track a fast-moving ball while running to the sideline, and he must catch the ball while simultaneously making sure that he has his feet clearly in the field of play. In pro football, the receiver must get two feet clearly in the field of play. In college football, only one foot has to be in play when the ball is caught for it to be called a legal catch. When we drill this skill at the college level, we have the players work to get two feet inbounds, because if they can get two feet in, then getting one foot in should be even easier in the game.
The pat-and-go drill is usually done daily as a warm-up with the quarterbacks and the receivers. We typically do it before walk-through or stretch as a drill that enables the quarterbacks and skill players to loosen up. This drill helps the quarterbacks get their arms warm, and it helps the skill players get their legs warm.
Setup: Quarterbacks start in the middle of the field. One quarterback starts on the 5-yard line and works out; the other starts on the 35-yard line and works in toward the goal line. Skill players stand in two lines, one line on the right side of each quarterback. Each line of receivers starts a couple yards outside the hash. There are no defenders in this drill.
- The first receiver in line starts running when the quarterback pats the ball. The receiver runs the route, the quarterback throws the ball, and the receiver catches it. After catching the ball, the receiver runs down the field and gives the ball to the quarterback on the other end of the field. Then he joins the end of the receivers’ line on that side of the field.
- The receivers rotate through, running specific routes for the various rounds of the drill. The first round is quick slants.
- The next set of routes is go balls. The key to the go ball is that the quarterback wants to work on putting the ball up and over the receiver’s outside shoulder. In turn, the receiver wants to work on keeping his body inside the flight of the football and catching the ball on the outside framework of his body. On all go balls, this is where the quarterback wants to place the ball, and the receiver wants to get used to shielding the defender away from the ball with his body.
- The next throw in the drill is a vertical back-shoulder throw. This is used on go balls when the receiver isn’t beating his defender down the field. The quarterback throws the ball on a line right at the receiver’s outside shoulder. This pass forces the wide receiver to adjust to a ball that is purposely thrown short and away from the defender, who, with his back turned, will be helpless to react to the ball.
Coaching Points: When this drill is done properly, the receiver should always put his body in between the ball and the imaginary defender. This technique will show up later in practice for the quarterback and the receiver on all go balls. This is a critical technique for all downfield balls, and we practice it every day in pat-and-go.