WR Abilities to Create "Open Space" Paramount

BYU's last major practice scrimmage stats do not provide sufficient information to ascertain which wide receivers will start. For the sake of discussion, let's assume last Tuesday's final full-pads practice scrimmage stats was representative of spring/fall camp production for each receiver.

BYU head coach Gary Crowton recently noted the first and second team receivers will be picked based on "productivity." He did not indicate whether he would go with a 6, 8 or 10-man rotation. What exactly does "productivity" encompass for a BYU receiver?

If you only review raw stats from this scrimmage, the names and numbers would be inaccurately skewed. Some of the receivers only played against second and third team defensive units.

Against the expected defensive line blitzes from Notre Dame, USC and other teams attempting to exploit any BYU offensive line weaknesses, a specially designed quick Cougar passing attack should become an integral part of the offense. Look for more short 5-10 yard outs from the quarterback to receivers and running backs and allow them to create some substantial yards-after-catches. If opposing defenses tighten up, then hit them with 20-50 yard pass completions with our far more talented corps of receivers.

That's why average yards per catch needs to be factored in. BYU's ace receiver Todd Watkins will be a constant threat for a long gainer in virtually any play. Other new true freshman playmakers like Antwaun Harris, B.J. Mathis and Austin Collie would be among the Cougars four most lethal receivers if they catch passes in open space.

If Crowton uses eight guys in the wide receiver rotation, he'll want to bring in eight different players who can each hurt the defense, one way or another. Catching passes and getting tackled for no more than 4 or 5 yards is not lethal enough.

With Watkins, Harris and Collie considered deep threats along with Rod Wilkerson, the Cougars other receivers should be able to get open and do some damage underneath. How will that damage show up?

- in total catches
- in total yards
- in average yards per catch

For the Cougars to be really successful this season, that must be accompanied by far fewer dropped balls on catchable throws and no fumbles after catches.

There's no question that Crowton did not show much of his revised offensive playbook in public access practices this fall. He obviously kept things simple for obvious reasons and to allow the new players more of an even playing field to show and strut their stuff.

Byu has good experienced receivers returning in Wilkerson, Chris Hale, Jason Kukahiko, Matt Allen and Matthew Smith, but if they don't get the job done early and often, their playing time will be gobbled up by the new receivers. BYU track sprinter Cody Fonnesbeck learned that pure speed is not enough and left the team. The new, more effective and efficient BYU receiver must be able to escape coverage and get open downfield. The "easy cover" receivers will undoubtedly be watching from the sideline this fall.

With expected double coverage on Watkins, the remaining receivers in the rotation must establish themselves on the field as "tough covers." If opposing teams playing variations of zone coverage, the new Cougar receivers must be able to find the seam in the zone downfield – and not just for small 5-yard gains. There's nothing wrong with 5-yard gains, especially when they move the chains. But the overriding goal of the quick passes is to suck the defense in tighter so the Cougars can burn them on longer ones.

If BYU is successful in hurting the defense short and long, it will eventually affect the confidence of opposing teams and put them back on their heels. It's time again for the Cougars' offense to dictate the action to other teams, make them react to what they want to do.

More importantly, when defenses react to a more successful short, intermediate and long BYU passing game, it will immeasurably help open up an equally lethal running game. When Cougar receivers start getting better-than-average "yards-per-catch" or "yards-after-catch," the "yards-per-run" by running backs will hopefully surpass 4.0 yards per carry.

If that happens, it means the Cougars have successfully stretched opposing defenses and created more open space – and open space is very good.

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