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Football: Receivers and Tight Ends

Football: Receivers and Tight Ends

As mentioned in the Football: Offensive Backs lesson, running backs are often used to catch passes.  This lesson, though, will focus on the primary pass receivers of the offense: the tight end and wide receivers.  Great receivers have hands that are very good at catching the ball, have the ability to concentrate while feeling stressed by the defense, and must be able to withstand physical punishment.

Wide Receivers
Like all the offensive ball handlers, wide receivers must be skilled at catching and running with the ball.  Add to this quickness and flat out speed, and it becomes apparent that the wide receiver is the go-to guy for a big yardage gain.

Usually, an offense has two wide receivers on the field.  One lines up at the line of scrimmage nearer to the sideline (he is often referred to as the split end, the wideout, and the X-receiver).  The other, sometimes called the flanker (or Z-receiver), lines up about 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage on the same side of the field as the tight end.  Technically, he counts as a backfield player, so he's eligible to go in motion laterally or backward before the snap.

Sometimes, the offense employs three wide receivers.  The third player is called the slot receiver (or slotback) because he lines up a yard or so behind the line of scrimmage in the space between the offensive tackle and the split end.  In a long-yardage situation, an offense may even replace the tight end with a second slot receiver.

A Receiver’s Stance
When they use the proper stance, wide and slot receivers can create acceleration at the snap and also use their upper bodies to defend themselves from early contact with the defender.   In a stand-up, or two-point stance, the receiver’s feet are shoulder-width apart and are positioned with the left foot near the line of scrimmage and the right foot back 18 inches.  A good receiver uses the same stance on every play so as not to tip off the defense to whether the play is a run or a pass.

The Tight End
The tight end position requires the best of two worlds.  He must be skilled at handling the ball, and he must possess the blocking abilities of a lineman.  The tight end lines up next to the offensive tackle in a three-point stance.  On a running play, he is expected to block a defensive lineman or linebacker.  However, he can be used to deceive defenses by lining up as if he will help block for a quarterback or running back, but instead run downfield to catch a pass.

Since the tight end lacks the speed of a wide receiver, he typically catches passes for short yardage.  The larger body size of a tight end can be an advantage when running with the ball after the catch since it is sometimes the smaller defensive backs who have to tackle him.  The NFL’s Rob Gronkowski, who at 6’6” and 265 pounds is the premier example of a tight end who can bowl over defenders after catching a pass.

Catching the Ball
The best way to catch a football is with the hands while the arms are extended away from the body.  If a receiver tries to catch a football by cradling it against the body, the ball will often bounce off.  The best receivers place one thumb behind the other while turning the hands so that the fingers of both hands face each other. This creates a tunnel through which the ball will come.  When it does, he will trap it with his palms, thumbs, and fingers.  If the ball is thrown below a receiver’s waist, he will turn his thumbs out and his little fingers should overlap.

Often a wide receiver must catch a long pass over his shoulder while sprinting down the field.  This is not easy.  It takes concentration, coordination, and the ability to see the ball to predict its path.  Once the ball is sighted, a receiver should align himself so the ball will drop over his head.  He extends his arms with palms up as if holding a bowl letting the ball drop right into his hands.

After the catch, the receiver must be ready to absorb the physical contact which is sure to quickly come.  Often a receiver is tailed closely by a defender who will attempt to strip the ball from the receiver or tackle him.  If he is close to the sideline, he must be aware of his location and be sure to place his feet down in bounds otherwise the pass will be ruled incomplete.  In pro football, the receiver must have both feet in bounds, but in college football, the receiver need only have one foot in bounds for a completed pass.  The receiver must also be aware of the position of the first down marker so as to be sure to take the ball beyond the marker.  He also needs to know if he’s near the goal line, so he can make an effort to get the ball into the end zone.