Fundamentals: Wide Receivers

Our summer series on some of the basics and fundamentals of play at each position on the Mountaineer football team continues with a look at the side receivers, courtesy of position coach Tony Dews.

Dews, who returned to WVU earlier this year after previously serving as a graduate assistant for the Mountaineers, hasn't coached the position for long, but it didn't take him much time to identify some of the key items that he emphasizes at every practice. Just like his counterpart Tony Gibson, who mentors the defensive backs opposite his charges, Dews finds a pre-snap item at the top of his list of importance.

"I think the first thing – and I know it sounds elementary -- is the stance," Dews said. " Getting in a good stance is key to everything else. You have to make everything look the same so that a defensive back or a coach watching film doesn't know by a lazy stance that it's a run, or by a really tense stance that it's a pass."

That sounds simple, but it can be a difficult thing to overcome. The natural emotions of knowing that the ball might be coming can make a player more tense in his stance, or release a little more quickly off the line. The eyes, too, can be a giveaway, as a receiver might zero in on a blocking target inside rather than focusing downfield on a route. All sorts of tendencies can be giveaways, so Dews strives to get receivers to make their initial stance and release off the line identical no matter what the play call.

"We work on that constantly. We want to make the stance and start and release off the ball so that the first five to seven yards of a release look the same," he said. "That way, they can't tell whether it's a run or a pass."

It should be noted that the mistakes of West Virginia's receivers in this area aren't ones of laziness or disinterest, such as those exhibited by Randy Moss when the ball isn't coming his way. The effort is certainly there, as Dews can attest. It's more a matter of achieving consistency, of doing things the same each time, and of not tipping off foes as a result of doing something different.

Of course, no overview of the fundamentals of West Virginia wide receiver play would be complete without some discussion of blocking. It's become almost cliché to say that West Virginia emphasizes blocking with its receivers on running plays, but it could also be said that the average fan still doesn't give it enough importance. With so many running plays breaking the line of scrimmage, blocking on the perimeter and downfield turns three-yard gains into seven-yard advances, fifteen-yarders into twenty-five, and forties into touchdowns. That doesn't happen magically, however, as tough, consistent effort is required on each running play.

Also, as Dews describes, there's more to blocking than just running downfield and crashing into someone. Just as with offensive linemen, there is a good bit of technique involved.

"Getting a good knee bend, and good power angles with your ankles, hips and knees is very important," Dews explained. "If you get those angles, you have a good chance to use leverage and [get the block]. To do that, you have to understand your release, and know whether you are gaining inside or outside leverage on a defender. You have to get your body into a leverage position so that you have a base to move and change direction. That allows you to get in between the defender and the ball carrier and execute a successful block."

There's a lot to consider in just that one brief paragraph, which illustrates how much goes into just the fundamentals of the position. Receivers executing a block need to understand the angle at which they are blocking, whether they are trying to block the defender toward the sideline or toward the middle of the field, have to get their body in a position to react to the defender (he's not going to stand there like a tackling dummy), and get into a good position (another extension of the stance factor, although this one comes during the play), to execute the block. That's a lot to remember and execute, but it is items such as that that often make the difference between winning and losing.

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