Playing the fade

A big receiver's favorite play makes for a three-man game

It is a play that all but eliminates 19 of the 22 players on a football field, leaving quarterback, receiver and cornerback.

When a team nears the goal line, and turns to the fade route, three players are all that matters.

"It's 2-on-1 and the receiver knows where he's going, the quarterback knows where the receiver is going," Wisconsin cornerback Scott Starks said. "The only person out on the island is the cornerback."

That is the idea after all. Touchdowns are tough to come by and passing in the red zone is a precise art. The fade is an offense's ace.

Just ask Darrin Charles. Wisconsin's 6-foot-6, 216-pound senior receiver has a significant size advantage on every corner he faces. More discouragement for defensive backs: Charles was a two-time state high jump champion in his days at Oshkosh North.

Charles has caught two touchdown passes this season, on fades against UNLV and Ohio State. Conversely, last week Minnesota receiver Ernie Wheelwright beat UW corner Brett Bell on a fade for a score.

This week, Charles will face Michigan State corners that stand 5-9 (Jaren Hayes) and 5-10 (Roderick Maples), respectively.

Meanwhile, the Spartans' leading receiver is 6-6, 217-pound Matt Trannon, a tremendous athlete who is also a member of the MSU basketball team. Starks stands 5-9, Bell 6-0.

Given the opportunity, UW quarterback John Stocco would have to like his chances lofting a fade to Charles. Ditto for Spartan signal-caller Damon Dowdell and Trannon.

"Usually the quarterback tries to put it to the outside shoulder of the receiver where either the receiver is going to catch it or no one is going to catch it," Starks said.

The play is not simply a case of who can reach higher into the air. If that were true, the Badgers would have sent plenty more fades Charles' way in his four-year career.

It is a chess match, with the receiver trying to get to a spot the corner wants desperately to take away.

"I just look at basically where [the corner's] position is on my body pre-snap. Just really how I think his technique is going to be, considering the entire defensive coverage," Charles said. "If he's going to be head up on my body, if he's going to be inside technique or outside technique and just what I need to do to move him so I can get to his outside shoulder."

If Charles sees the defense in a ‘cover 2', all bets are off. That scheme allows the corner to shade far to the outside and guard the sideline, or get right up in Charles' face to disrupt the route, with a safety ready to cover up downfield.

"You just fight your butt off to basically get outside in a situation like that," Charles said. "For the most part it is really just running up on the DBs' feet and just planting your foot and trying to break outside."

If the corner is in press coverage, beating the jam takes first priority.

"You have to kind of pre-think, how you are going to work this guy, how you are going to position your feet, how you are going to position your shoulders," Charles said. "What hand is he going to try to put on you to slow you down?

"You've got to try to keep that hand off your body. That can take away from your route, the speed through your route, the timing with the quarterback. It can just take you out of position all together.

"Sometimes you can run up and hit a guy like you are going to block him, grab him and throw him by, and keep running. You can get up and wiggle him inside out. There's lots of variations."

The closer an offense gets to the goal line, however, the more difficult it is for safeties to help on the outside and the less likely a corner is to risk getting beat at the line of scrimmage.

"When we go into a single receiver set on the goal line the corner will play me about five to seven yards off and outside maybe three yards," Charles said. "They will maybe cheat a safety over a little bit to take away a slant across to the middle."

At that point, the fade becomes a man-on-man contest to determine who has the better technique and the ability to get to the ball.

"The thing is to try to wedge them against the sideline and get your head back at the same time and still trying to play the ball," Starks said. "That's why it is so difficult."

If the receiver can get position, a touchdown can look as simple as playing catch.

"We try to knock it down, do whatever we can, scratch and claw so he won't catch it," Starks said.

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