"I feel like this position that I'm at now, which is the flex-y, is the position that I should be at," Thompson said. "I'm not a tight end but a smaller receiver playing the flex-y position. With this offense and the speed that they want, I think it was a great move to take a bigger receiver, as far as body type like myself, and make the move inside. It allows you to take on the physicality of the linebackers, but you can also use your speed to beat them in your routes. It's a great move I think."
The slot-h or flexed-y position, otherwise known as inside receiver, is being run by both receivers and tight ends alike. The inside receiver is covered by outside linebackers or safeties, and in the chess game that is football, Thompson sees this as a mismatch either way.
"I love it and it's a great opportunity," Thompson said with a smile. "It's a lot different than the outside because on the outside you worry a lot more about the cornerback and maybe the safety. Now on the inside you have to be able to read the linebackers and the safeties. It's just a great opportunity. I'm grateful that Coach Anae has the confidence in me to have me play there. It's a little bit of an adjustment but it's a great opportunity for me to play and show what I can do.
"Instead of going against the cornerbacks, I'm now going up against the linebackers. It's something that I like because it's more physical and fun for me. You know, that's football and I really like matching up against the skill sets of linebackers. I love the mismatch."
When one plays the outside receiver position, speed and crisp route running are needed to beat smaller, quicker cornerbacks. Now that he's an inside receiver facing larger linebackers that have less finesse, it's easy to see why Thompson loves the move.
"The linebackers just want to hit you as hard as they can," he said. "They're not quite as used to covering in space as much as cornerbacks who specialize in that sort of thing. You know, they want to get their hands on you and try and lock you up and be more physical with you. As an inside receiver, instead of trying to play their game and be physical, it's about getting their hands off of you and into your routes. It's not about throwing your body into them but beating their physicality with your speed and quickness."
A few examples of those that have effectively run out of the flexed-y position in the recent past are Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. George is now coaching inside receivers, and is now charged with teaching the tricks of the trade to players like Thompson.
"Coach George and Coach Anae just say, ‘Hey, get open,'" Thompson said with a smile. "Really what that means is you have to read the defense so you can find the hole to get open. Our routes adjust according to what the defense does, so really what it comes down to is having two things that allow you to be successful in getting open."
The first thing is obviously having a knowledge of what to do when specific defensive players, such as linebackers and safeties, adjust to the inside receiver's routes.
"It really comes down to having the knowledge to play the position," said Thompson. "It's all about having an understanding on what to do based on what a specific defender does.
"A typical progression from the inside receiver is to get off the ball, stem the linebacker, but at the same time be looking inside at the middle linebacker to see if he's going to fly out. That means I can either adjust my route behind the middle linebacker if he flies out, or I can sit in that hole if he stays and doesn't. It's about knowing how to adjust your routes within a play call based on what specific players do."
The other factor is being on the same page with the quarterback.
"When a defense reacts, like I said, you have to make adjustments in your routes," said Thompson. "The problem is you can't just stop and tell the quarterback what you're going to do, so there has to be a common understanding between you and the quarterback that when a linebacker or safety does this or that, then you both automatically know what you're going to do. That way there's an unspoken communication going on that puts you on the same page with the quarterback. Those things take time to develop."
Being able to run a good route is simpler than running a good, adjusted route while being on the same page as one's quarterback.
"Yeah, that side of the game comes with a lot of actual experience," said Thompson. "That part of the game comes with a lot of practice playing together. The plan is to know each other so well that when a linebacker does something, the quarterback automatically knows what I'm going to do and will throw the ball in the right spot. It can be tricky at times, but when you can develop that chemistry, then there will be some good things coming from the inside receiver position."
That means a lot of film study and position I.Q. Having Coach George on the staff has been most beneficial.
"It's been a lot of fun watching old film of Coach George and Dennis Pitta because they were so good at reading and adjusting their routes based on what specific players did," said Thompson. "They knew how to do those things really well and that's why they were so successful playing on the inside. It's been good having Coach George here with us to help us know the tricks of the trade. Like I said, I think good things are going to come out of the flex-y position."
Cougar fans are hoping players like Thompson can follow suit to make the flex-y position another potent weapon in Coach Anae's offense.