THE IMPORTANCE OF ROUTE RUNNING
The art of running a precise route is one of the keys to becoming an elite wide receiver. It requires timing, patience and practice. Mastering this particular skill can separate the great receivers from the rest.
"The most important thing I do every day is work on my routes and make sure I'm consistent in what I'm doing," says Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver LARRY FITZGERALD. "Route running has been important to my success in the NFL. I work on it every single day because you want everything to look the same. You never want to give any indicators for defenders to know what route you're running."
Washington Redskins wide receivers coach KEENAN MC CARDELL, who ranks 14th in NFL history with 883 career receptions, practiced the skill during his playing days and now tries to pass along that knowledge to his players.
"The only way to be a perfect route runner is working on it each and every day in practice," says McCardell. "I went in day in and day out and worked on perfecting my routes. I wanted to make sure that I was getting my depths and being precise on my moves and routes. I constantly worked at each and every route over and over until I had a good feel for it. The perfection of a route is when you get your depth and you make the right move on a defensive back.
"I tell my receivers that you have to be disciplined. You have to go out and be at the right depth at the right time for the quarterback. That's one way to make the timing look perfect. You also have to be good in and out of breaks. And you have to be able to create separation. The way you do that is by having good feet. A route perfectionist gets to his depth, sticks his foot in the ground and gets out of his cuts."
According to New York Jets wide receivers coach HENRY ELLARD, the most important trait of being a good route runner is having patience.
"The No. 1 thing is that you have to have patience as a route runner," says Ellard, who ranks ninth all-time with 13,777 receiving yards. "You have to be able to set the defensive back up, know the depth of the route you need to get to, all with the timing of the quarterback. Talking yourself through the route allows you to work the details of the route to create separation at the top of the route and to get yourself open.
"I always remind my receivers to be patient. As a receiver, you always want to get open. The thing about it is that if you get open too soon, the quarterback is not going to be ready to throw the ball, and the play is dead – you allowed the defensive back to recover and you forced the ball to come out late from the quarterback's hand. I remind them that the No. 1 thing is patience as a route-runner and talking yourself through the route is a big part of that. I stress the importance of working details, mainly the little things at the top of the route that are going to allow you to get separation from the defensive back."
Arizona passing game coordinator MIKE MILLER points out that one of his keys to being successful is a receiver's take-off.
"You have to have balance and burst," says Miller. "You have to be able to come to balance in breaks and the ability to accelerate through without losing speed. You want to lose as little speed as possible going into a route and we always call it 'pressing' into your break. That means getting your shoulders out over your toes and bending your knees. You have to drive your arms through the break. It helps slow you down and then helps accelerate you out of the break and you're playing on your toes."
"Perfecting your routes is the first step in being an effective receiver in this league because if you can't get open based on your route running, or if you're giving away tips as to what route you're going to run at this level, these corners and safeties are going to use that to their advantage. You have to try and make everything look the same as much as you can. And you have to accelerate into breaks and be able to burst out of them."