Inside the playbook: the NFL route tree

Today, let’s take a step back from route combinations that we see on game tape and break it down in very basic terms by checking out the actual route tree. Because if you want to play receiver in this league, you have to be able to run every route in the game plan.

Check out the diagram below, and then we will get into some coaching points to discuss the NFL route tree

 

Where do routes break?

Before we get into the actual routes, we need to know when the WR is going to break. And outside of the 3-step game (Slant, Flat), every route breaks at a depth of 12-15 yards. Why is that important? Double moves. If you are playing defensive back and see the WR stutter his feet at a depth of 8-yards, expect him to get vertical up the field—because there isn’t a route that breaks at 8-yards. However, remember one very important detail: if the WR doesn’t break his route between a depth of 12-15 yards, you better open your hips and run. Because he is running straight down the field.

Making it simple…:

Flat (1) Think Slant-Flat, Curl-Flat, Flat-7. It is the one route that will show up consistently in combination concepts. You will get it out the backfield, plus from a No.1 WR with a reduced split and a No.2 aligned inside of the numbers.

Slant (2) You see it at the high school level on Friday nights and on Sunday in the NFL because it is the top 3-step concept in any playbook. Look for a wide split (outside of the numbers) and vs. a 3×1 formation. The ideal, quick Cover 1 (man-free) beater.

The elite receivers, such as Andre Johnson, can produce in the entire route tree.

Comeback (3) One of the tougher throws in the NFL when it is run at a deep depth (15-yards). We will see it vs. Cover 1 and it is the only route (outside of the fade or 9 route) where a WR aligns wide (outside of the numbers) with a hard outside vertical release.

Curl (4) The curl route is simple, yet it is essential for working vs. off-man coverage and zone based defenses. Stem hard up the field and break back downhill to the QB. There is a reason defenses have “curl to flat” zone players in Cover 3 and Cover 4—because you have to stop this route.

Out (5) Again, similar to the comeback, the deep out is route we use to judge NFL QBs. Can they make that throw? Look for the WR to align inside of the numbers or on top of the numbers at the widest. You need to create room to run this route.

Dig (6) The classic intermediate to deep inside breaking route in the NFL. Mike Martz made it big (sometimes at a depth of 20-plus yards) when he was the coach of the Rams with Isaac Bruce and we see it today in multiple combinations. Get a vertical stem up the numbers from the WR and break it across the middle vs. any coverage.

Corner (7) The top route puts stress on both the corner sinking and the deep half safety. And, just like the comeback and the out, you must create room to work for the WR. Can’t run the 7 route from outside of the numbers—because the WR will run out of bounds.

Post (8) We will see the “Skinny Post” (or “Bang 8”) on Sundays, but the basic post route is a concept that allows a WR to win vs. man-coverage as he works to the deep middle of the field. A big play waiting to happen when you work vs. a FS that doesn’t have disciple in his drop and depth.

Fade (9) The ultimate deep ball. The “go route” is in every NFL playbook when you want to win a one-on-one matchup down the field. And just like I said above, when you get an outside vertical release vs. a WR aligned outside of the numbers, you either get the comeback or a shot down the field.

Report: Arizona's Criner could miss entire 2011 season

The availability of Arizona star wide receiver Juron Criner for the 2011 season was first put into question by the Arizona Daily Star's Greg Hansen, who wrote in his Sunday column this past week that the 2010 All-Pac-10 receiver might not be available for training camp in August. Hansen described Criner's status for the season as uncertain because of undisclosed medical reasons.

Juron CrinerICONJuron Criner had 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 TDs in 2010.

However, this surprising news didn't really emerge until earlier Wednesday when the online edition of the story became available to readers nationwide.

Various rumors flooded multiple message boards throughout the day, with wide-ranging speculation surrounding Criner's status.

But an ESPN.com report late Wednesday, citing a source close to the Arizona program, states that Criner could miss the upcoming season due to an undisclosed personal issue.

Arizona's sports information office was unable to provide comment on the issue due to student privacy guidelines. Head coach Mike Stoops is currently out of town.

The second-team All-American Criner led the Wildcats with 82 receptions for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and is projected to be one of the first receivers taken in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

49ers center Eric Heitmann expected to miss entire season

Veteran San Francisco 49ers center Eric Heitmann will likely miss his second consecutive season after undergoing neck surgery.

Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reports that Heitmann, a mainstay for the 49ers since 2002, had surgery to repair a ruptured disc about a month ago. The rehabilitation time from the surgery is six months, meaning there is little chance he will play this season.

Heitmann missed the entire 2010 season when he suffered a stinger in training camp and then a broken left leg. After the leg healed, he was still dealing with neck issues and the team placed him on injured reserve. He has 114 career starts and his contract expires at the end of this coming season.

Complicating matters for the 49ers? David Baas, who replaced Heitmann last season, is not under contract. So when the lockout is resolved, the 49ers need to find a center — either on their roster or on the open market — and then get him up to speed with their new playbook. At least everyone will be starting on Page 1.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Are NFL writers too negative?

About 10 years ago, I sat on a panel called the “current state of sports” with the sports editor of the San Diego Union Tribune and a few other sports professionals. The subject matter of a pro athlete’s “duty of giving back” came up for debate. The sports editor then told the audience of 200 people that, “every pro athlete has a duty to be charitable and give back to their community because they’ve been blessed with talent and the ability to make lots of money”. He also said that it was his opinion that only 10% of all pro athletes actively give back.

I called “BS”! I said I strongly disagree and they are giving back in droves but sports editors don’t encourage their writers to spend time to find out about it and won’t print it because it doesn’t sell newspapers or garner traffic like a negative story does. I also said to the editor that, “you probably only see 10% of it because writers like you don’t dig to find out what’s going on off the field, unless of course it's something negative”.

I went on to tell the audience and the editor that it’s as much as a “duty to give” as it is “a sports writers duty to write about it”. What anyone does with their own money is very personal and just because an athlete doesn’t make a newsworthy splash with his money doesn’t mean he is not giving back in some way.

I know for a fact that every single one of my 20 plus clients, and the vast majority of my retired clients are and were doing something very positive with their time and/or money. However, most sports writers and bloggers don’t spend the time and energy to research and investigate what charitable activities NFL players are doing off the field.

I know that news about a DUI, an arrest, or a player’s domestic issue is popular. But I also know there is room for more effort towards positive reports as well. It just takes a few phones calls to the agents and/or marketing/PR people who work for the players to find out what’s going on.

Since there is no football or transactions to talk about, I will share a few of my clients’ favorite charitable stories.

Mat McBriarICONClient Mat McBriar started his annual charity, “Mat McBriar's Holiday Kicks for Kids” to benefit children with Muscular Dystrophy last year.

My number one has to be retired client and Eagles first round pick Jermane Mayberry. Jermane was diagnosed with Amblyopia, which has led to him being legally blind in his left eye. As a young adult Jermane always assumed that the blackboard was blurry if you sat anywhere but the first row in school. It wasn’t until he was 16 that he received his first eye exam and his lazy eye was caught, however, it was too late to be fixed. Had he been diagnosed at age six or seven, his symptoms would have been detected and the problem fixed.

The first day we arrived in Philly, the week after the 1996 draft, as a negotiating tactic, I turned the conversation to Jermane’s sincere willingness to pitch into any of the owners community efforts. The conversation quickly snowballed into a tangible idea called the Eagles Eye Mobile. The program quickly took shape and Jermane promised to commit a sum of one hundred thousand dollars before signing his first contract. Needless to say that sped up negotiations and a program developed that was born from Jermanes’s own idea of providing eye tests and even glasses to young children within the Philadelphia area.

To date the converted RV that is the Eagles Eye Mobile screens thousands of underprivileged kids per year and has prescribed about 70,000 pairs of glasses and led several sight saving operations. Just think, exponentially how many lives Jermane’s efforts have affected or will affect. The fact that 80% of learning is visual means that these kids have a better chance in succeeding in school and even going to college. If just one of these kids goes on to be a doctor or scientist, he or she will then positively affect the lives of thousands of more people.

Early in his career Jermane saw some tough times but he would tell me his favorites days were always those in which he'd see the kids come on the mobile eye clinic he funded to get their first pair of glasses.

Another one of my clients, WR/returner and Iowa fame, Tim Dwight, is a serial giver. He once heard that a young Hawkeye fan was terminally ill and wanted to meet him. Tim not only showed up to meet the young man but he brought with him a wad of cash and a Winnebago and told the parents of the boy to take the cash and the vehicle and show the young boy everything he wants to see.

Falcons DT Jonathan Babineaux is one of my most active clients in his communitiy. He has an active foundation, he has yearly fundraisers and he gives his time whenever asked. The City of Atlanta has actually declared June 20, 2011, “Jonathan Babineaux Day” to honor Jonathan for all of his off the field efforts.

Giants rookie client Tyler Sash, recently put together a fundraiser to aid a member of his hometown community who was diagnosed with lung cancer. Tyler and his efforts helped raise $22,000.

Eric Steinbach of the Browns, Pat Angerer of the Colts, rookie Ricky Stanzi of the Chiefs and all of my clients are always doing something on their own time to help make a positive difference in the world. I also know that 90% of NFL players are involved with donating money, time and or resources to a variety of charitable efforts.

I challenge all the NFL writers and bloggers to take this unique downtime in the NFL to dig, discover and share how some of our favorite and even not so well known players are making a difference.

Follow me on Twitter: @jackbechta

The new Kate Upton bikini video for SoBe

Kate Upton is pretty sexy.

But we all have known that for quite awhile, or at least since she was named Sports Illustrated’s 2011 Swimsuit Rookie of the Year. Now, Esquire’s Woman of Summer has teamed up with SoBe for a TV spot marketing its SoBe Lifewater Mango Melon flavored drink.

Mad props to the guyism website for posting the following video.

As for myself, I fell in love with Upton this past April when she peformed The Dougie at a Los Angeles Clippers game.

Follow Miller_Dave and the Daily_Jolt on Twitter.

The Daily Jolt is a section of the National Football Post that serves as a one-stop shop for all things football, sports, pop culture, everyday life and more.

The section’s editor, Dave Miller, also writes the Against the Grain college football column for the NFP. When he isn't putting coaches on the hot seat, he can often be found daydreaming of being the Season 2 winner of The Voice.

Major NFL news could be coming out of Minnesota

Maybe, just maybe there will be some major NFL news out of Minnesota today.

No, we’re not expecting a breakthrough in talks between commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith. But the hail mary the Vikings tossed up for a new stadium may turn into a completion. For a touchdown.

The Minneapolis Star Tribube reports an announcement could come later today on a finalized plan for a stadium in Arden Hills, a Twin Cities suburb. According to the report, the cost of the stadium has been dropped by about $200,000 and the team has increased its contribution from $407 million.

“You’re headed in the right direction,” said Sen. Doug Magnus, co-author of the stadium legislation, told the Star Tribune. Magnus however did not confirm specific figures, but said an announcement could come Wednesday.

Lester Bagley, a vice president for the Vikings who is leading the team’s stadium initiative, didn’t say anything conclusive other than idea are being swapped on a daily basis. Lawmakers are meeting to avoid a state government shutdown on Friday, a much more pressing issue for them. The Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome, which remains under construction for a new roof, expires at the end of this season.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Notre Dame WR Floyd gets 1 year probation for DUI

Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, who returned to school because he didn’t get the evaluation he thought he would from the NFL prior to the draft, was sentenced to one year probation after pleading guilty to misdemeanor drunken driving this morning.

Floyd picked up a one-year jail sentence that was suspended, according to the Associated Press. He is currently suspended by the Fighting Irish program. Floyd cannot drive for 90 days and he must have an ignition device installed to his vehicle after that for a six-month period to ensure he is not too impaired to drive. Floyd must also attend a victim impact panel and was fined $200.

The talented receiver declined to comment when he left court. He was arrested March 20 just a block from the main entrance to campus. Floyd will be permitted to participate in voluntary workouts with the team this summer. Coach Brian Kelly said there are steps Floyd must take before he is reinstated to the football team. Floyd has previously run into trouble for alcohol use.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

NFP Scouting Series: Illinois

For the rest of the summer, the National Football Post will be breaking down every team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to identify which players could warrant the most interest from NFL teams in the 2012 NFL draft.

Therefore, today we take a look at the senior class of the Illinois Fighting Illini

Offense

FordICONFord is a natrual runner, but needs to improve his burst.

RB Jason Ford: No. 21 (5-10, 236)
A compact, physically put together back who carries a lot of girth/weight on his 5-10, fame. Does a good job keeping his pad level down, churning his legs through contact and is a tough guy to get a clean lick on. Runs from both the gun and behind the I and looks comfortable picking his way through traffic. Displays good balance and lateral quickness in tight areas. However, doesn’t have a real explosive first step when pressing the hole and has only one gear once he gets into space. Is patient setting up blocks, slashing his way through traffic and getting up the field with a good forward lean. Displays natural coordination when asked to make a jump cut and find a cut back lane, using both legs well to explode off of and side step defenders. Absorbs contact well and breaks his fair share of tackles. However, has a tendency to slow his feet at times when their isn’t any place for him to run and goes down far too easily on contact instead of just trying to burry his head and grind out tough yards. Nevertheless, is just very “Blah” as an athlete and is going to have a tough time averaging 4.0 yards per carry in the NFL.

Showcases natural savvy in blitz pick up. Recognizance’s the blitz quickly, slides well laterally and is patient into contact. Has the natural base to anchor on contact as well.. Also, is comfortable catching the football out of the backfield. Adjust to the pass well and has the short area quickness/power to side step a defender and make the first man miss.

Impression: Might be better suited to cut a little weight in order to improve his overall burst. Reminds me some of Dimitri Nance coming out of Arizona State a couple years ago. Seems to “blah” with his initial burst to make an NFL roster.

WR A.J. Jenkins: No. 8 (6-0, 187)
Possesses average height for the position with a thin frame. However, displays a real savvy about his game when asked to find soft spots in coverage. Works his back toward the quarterback, understands angles and is always finding himself open vs. zone. Is also very coordinated when asked to adjust to the throw. Does a nice job extending his arms, plucking the football away from his frame and coming down wit the catch. Displays good body control along the sideline as well, knowing where he’s located, maintaining concentration and keeping his feet in bounds. Possesses only slightly above-average straight-line speed. Looks like a high 4.4 guy and isn’t a big time vertical threat, but accelerates well underneath on crossing patterns and can run away from defenders at times.

Does a nice job stemming his route off the line, doesn’t tip his hand early. Has an average initial explosion when asked to eat up the cushion and has a slight burst when asked to change directions. However, gets leggy out of his routes. Rounds off his breaks consistently and isn’t real clean when trying to change directions on sharply breaking routes. Possesses only an average burst down the field out of his break on vertical routes, but does a nice job being patient setting up his breaks. Hasn’t been asked to handle much press coverage and/or even man coverage for that matter playing in the Illinois spread offense. Is going to need time to get use to seeing defenders up in his grill. Doesn’t seem overly physical or quick in order to handle press however.

Impression: Has a nice feel to the game and plucks the football well, but isn’t a dynamic athlete in any area of the game. Looks more like a free agent to me.

OT Jeff Allen: No. 71 (6-4, 315)
A thick, girthy offensive lineman who has experience at both right and left tackle. Doesn’t possess a real athletic looking frame, most of his weight is right through the midsection and looks a bit sloppy. Possesses inconsistent bend in pass protection as he’s much more comfortable from a three point stance and struggles to keep his base down anytime he’s asked to play with his hand on the ground, getting upright off the football. Possesses natural coordination and heavy hands through contact when asked to shuffle and slide. However, is inconsistent with his hand placement and because he gets upright lacks the ability to cleanly re-direct and change directions in space as a tackle. Would be better suited in tighter areas as a guard. His natural girth gives him decent anchor strength, but is more of a catcher, doesn’t do a great job extending his arm and jolting defenders on contact. Needs to do a better job sitting into his base better and gain leverage when trying to handle the bull rush.

Does a better job keeping his base down in the run game. Looks more comfortable from a two-point stance getting downhill and coming off the football. Works hard to stick through contact, extends his arms well, generates a slight pop and can turn defenders away from the play. However, still allows himself to get upright and doesn’t create the leverage needed to consistently overwhelm. More of a sticky player than explosive power/in-line guy. Can be overwhelmed at times on contact when a smaller defender can get under him and will set the edge. Isn’t a great athlete either, lacks the ability to get around on reach blocks, stands upright when trying to get out to the second level and lacks range on the move.

Impression: Needs to play as a guard at the next level to have a chance, but doesn’t strike me as a guy who can consistently get a push off the ball in the run game and/or anchor vs. power inside vs. the pass in the NFL

Defense

HenryICONHenry takes good angles in the pass game.

SS Trulon Henry: No. 9 (6-1, 215)
A former junior college All-American with a thick trunk and good overall size for the position. Possesses a surprisingly natural feel for the pass game with only limited experience at the I-A level. Can bend and keep his base down, but at times gets a bit fidgety and upright in his drop forcing him to collect himself before he’s asked to click and close. His backpedal improved as the year went on, but at times would revert to a side shuffle drop which got him in trouble out of his breaks. However, displays a good feel of routes developing around him and has an impressive initial burst when asked to close on the throw. Takes good angles toward the play, displays some natural ball skills and can adjust and make a play. Does a nice job deciphering whether to attack the ball or man in space and routinely makes the solid decision. Possesses natural coordination when asked to open up his hips, displaying good enough fluidity to turn and run and average straight-line speed vertically, but plays faster because of his initial burst.

Showcases a good feel vs. the run as well. Consistently carries out his responsibilities, will set the edge, force plays back inside and is a solid wrap-up tackler. Will lay the wood in the deep half as well and has
the ability to separate ball from man. Doesn’t generate the same type of pop in the run game when attacking downhill, but breaks down well, wraps and routinely gets his man to the ground.

Was convicted of a felony at the age of 19, but seems to have turned his life around since then. However, will be 27 by the time the 2012 NFL draft rolls around.

Impression: This is a pretty good football player. He has a natural feel for the game, a good burst and will click and close on the football. Character and age concerns hurt his chances of getting drafted. However, if he continues to tighten up his technique this guy can make and contribute to an NFL roster at worst as a special teams guy.

SS Tavon Wilson: No. 3 (6-0, 215)
A thickly put together safety prospect with a compact frame and natural girth through the mid section. However, looks heavy-footed when trying to re-direct and isn’t real sudden/explosive in space. Tries to sit into his drop off the line and does a decent job keeping his base down and feet under him. However, gets upright when asked to turn and run, is stiff in the hips and lacks the range to get off the top as a centerfielder. Struggles in tight areas as well, doesn’t feel routes develop around him quickly and lacks the fluidity to open up his hips laterally and close. Gets very grabby and is uncomfortable in space and doesn’t possesses the short area quickness/range to hold up in man. Possesses questionable instincts as well, rarely getting early jumps on the football and struggles to recognize his run/pass keys at times.

Displays a slight burst attacking downhill and running the alley. Locates the football quickly and has the tenacity needed to work his way toward the ball carrier. However, lacks that second gear to routinely make the play. Sees his fair share of angles outpaced toward daylight and isn’t the mot effective when asked to breakdown one-on-one. Lowers his shoulder into contact and generates some pop into contact when in a phone booth. But, is inconsistent wrapping up at times, as he will slip off backs and allow ball carriers to create through contact.

Impression: A thick framed kid with some natural power, but his lacking closing gear shows up in both the run and pass game.

Follow me on twitter: @WesBunting

Robison finds win-win for himself, Ray Edwards

Brian Robison sees a win-win for everybody.

Or for himself and Ray Edwards, at least.

Edwards is the free agent defensive end who has been clamoring for a new contract and making it known he can’t wait to get out of Minnesota. Robison is the swing tackle from the last couple seasons that signed a $14.1 million, three-year extension in March, not the kind of money teams typically bless backups with at that position.

So Edwards – who has started the last two seasons while being credited with 16

Franchise tag has made lockout easier for Chad Greenway

It’s refreshing to find a player from time to time who embraces the idea of the franchise tag.

Typically, all you hear is complaints as players kick and scream when they have been tagged, a mechanism that keeps them off the free market.

But the franchise tag the Minnesota Vikings placed on linebacker Chad Greenway before the NFL’s lockout began has made him happy.

I was excited (to receive the franchise tag), knowing the lockout was coming,” Greenway said, according to Luke Hagen of the Daily Republic. “To be a free agent right now wouldn't be a good situation to be in. Being the franchise player makes me know the Vikings want me and they want me to be here. I want to be in Minnesota, so it goes hand-in-hand.”

It also guarantees he’ll be among the five-highest paid players at his position for the 2011 season. The Vikings had a tough choice to make between Greenway, one of the main cogs in their defense, and wide receiver Sidney Rice. They obviously chose Greenway and he’s grateful for that.

“I love to play the game, and I'm in a good position because they've taken care of me and never lied to me,” Greenway said, “so I shouldn't play hardball with them. If someone's been good to me, I should be good to them back.”

The Vikings are going to try to bring Rice back but they’ll face some competition for his services, no question about that. Rice had hip surgery last summer and really only produced one big season in four years with the club. In that respect, Greenway was the shrewd choice to get the tag.

Follow me on Twitter: @BradBiggs

Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune