According to Mountaineer receiver Stedman Bailey, one of the biggest differences in the slot and outside receivers in Dana Holgorsen's offense is the routes they run. Outside receivers, typically taller players with bigger reach and wingspans, will run more downfield and deep routes, while the slot receivers "catch balls and try to make something happen" underneath. So why would one of the fastest players on the team, Tavon Austin, slot on the inside, along with Bailey? One of the answers comes when examining the resulting match-ups and the desire to create mismatches that can be exploited.
"I am matched up with linebackers the majority of the time in the slot, so that's always a mismatch," Bailey explained. "As long as those happen, we are going to have a good day. With me and Tavon, those mismatches should be great. I don't think a linebacker can cover me, and I'm sure he feels the same, so we both feel very comfortable with playing in the slot."
Watch just a handful of plays at any practice, and the thinking behind this approach is clearly demonstrated. While slot receivers in the attack do run a number of short routes, one of the points of emphasis is getting them the ball at full speed. Even on short slants, the goal is to hit the receiver in stride, allowing him to get past defenders and into the open field. Clearly, if Austin or Bailey catch the ball in those situations, they are going to have chances to break a big gain – which is just what has happened on several occasions this spring.
The inside receivers aren't just limited to those sorts of routes, however. They will catch different versions of screens, but most of those have quicker development than some of the wide receiver screens run in years past. Those, too, depend on getting the ball out quickly to receivers on the run, allowing them to use their speed.
The final piece of the puzzle is the fact that the inside receivers aren't going to be totally limited to short routes. There will be chances to go deep for Austin, Bailey and company, and they'll certainly be able to use their speed in those instances. Again, this fits in with the idea of making the defense cover the entire field, and not allow them to settle in against a limited number of plays or options. Envision a scenario where the duo runs a few short routes, then, as the linebackers and safeties creep up, head deep for a big strike, and you'll have a good picture of one of the goals of the offense.
Those deep routes don't necessarily have to be called from the sidelines, either. In WVU's new offense, receivers make reads and tailor their routes according to what the defense does. Theoretically, that gives pass catchers a counter to any coverage or technique the defense can throw at them. So, while a receiver might go to the line with the idea that he's running a smash route, he might end up going deep if he has press coverage and no safety help over the top.
Add all of those factors together, and the logic behind putting those smaller, speedy players on the inside becomes clear. It also doesn't hurt that Bailey, after playing outside a year ago, is back in a position he grew up in.
"Slot is what I played in high school, so I am comfortable there. The first day we went through everything was kind of confusing, but the reps are what are important. The more we rep it, the better we will get at it. We've been doing that, and watching a whole lot of film As long as we can do that and get on the same page, we will be o.k."