X's & O's: What can Cleveland Browns Fans Expect from New Wide Receiver Kenny Britt?

After posting career-best totals in both receptions and yards, wide receiver Kenny Britt elected to take his talents to Cleveland to the tune of a 4-year, $32 million dollar contract. What parts of the eight-year pro's game stand out on film and what will he bring to the Browns' offense this upcoming season? Join us in The OBR film room as we break down Britt's game.

With the departure of Terrelle Pryor, the former Ram will enter OTA's as the unquestionable leader of a young, but talented wide receiver corps.

With a bevy of pass catchers entering their second season - including '16 first round selection Corey Coleman - Britt's on-field production and off-field leadership could be the catalyst needed to improve a disappointing passing game. While the former first-round pick has had his share of legal troubles, particularly during his time with the Titans, the feeling within Berea is that Britt has put his troubled past behind him and is ready to step in as the teams' number one receiver.

So who is Kenny Britt the player? What skills and strengths will he bring to the 2017 Cleveland Browns' offense?

Let's jump right into the film to breakdown three areas of Britt's game that should pay dividends next season:

  1. Strength and power in pass routes
  2. Subtleties of route running
  3. No-nonsense YAC

Strength and Power in Pass Routes

Kenny Britt is a big man.

Listed at 6' 3", 223 pounds, the veteran pass catcher uses his strength and frame to both outmuscle smaller defenders at the line of scrimmage and outbox them at the catch point.

Let’s start with a clip of Britt running a slant route against one of the all-time greats, Darrelle Revis (although his play did fall off significantly last season).

This is straight press man coverage.

Revis wants to mirror Britt’s release and jam his upper body in order to force the receiver to “earn” his release while also disrupting the timing of the route. Keep in mind that the quarterback and his receivers operate via very specific timing.

When the quarterback hits the top of his 3, 5, or 7-step drop, he should be prepared to deliver the ball to the primary target as his back foot hits the dirt. If the receiver is not where he is supposed to be – NFL routes are extremely precise and oftentimes must be run at an exact depth, width, and angle – the quarterback will be forced to make a poor throw or hitch and work to his secondary and tertiary targets.

Anytime a quarterback is moved off his first read the defense is at an advantage as the primary is often the offense’s best receiver and the pass rush has more time to get home.

Let’s see how Britt does it against Revis

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NFL receivers must earn a free release using hands and feet as NFL cornerbacks are too quick and physical to beat with just one.

Start with Still’s feet.

The eight-year pro uses a “hop step” release in which he appears to commit the cardinal sin of a “false step” by stepping backward with his front foot (receivers are taught to explode off their front foot into most routes).

Britt steps backward because the hop step release requires both feet to be almost parallel at the LOS in order to hop off one of two feet based on the desired release. Keep in mind that receivers push off the foot opposite their intended break in order to create an explosive cut, sharp angle, and keep the center of gravity/balance.

On an outside release (towards the sideline) the receiver will push off the inside foot while on an inside release (towards the field of play) the receiver will push off the outside foot.

Britt modifies the release by going straight at Revis in order to deliver a strike to the press corner. We’ll get into that portion of the release next.

Move on to the hands.

Focus on the powerful left jab to the cornerback’s right shoulder. The strength of the strike is apparent as Revis is momentarily pushed off balance, allowing Britt to stem (cuts) across his face unimpeded.

From there, notice Britt’s strength as he runs through the Revis attempt to grab his jersey and wrap the left arm around his waist just before the ball arrives.

Even with a ‘handsy’ defender on his back, Britt is able to run through the hold while using his frame to shield the ball from the defender.

Our next route is the underutilized ‘burst corner’.

In many offenses, corner routes are run by slot receivers as the route needs space outside in which to break. Defenders know this and will play the slot accordingly. The burst corner flips the script on the defender by running a corner route with the outside receiver.

In order to create room for the corner stem, Britt must attain an inside release.

One of the primary reasons burst corners are so effective is the “story” they tell the defender. An inside release by an outside receiver usually indicates an inside-breaking route like a post, drag, slant, etc. The defender will act accordingly, often overreacting to the inside release, which allows the receiver to get outside at the top of the break.

Britt’s release is simplified because the defender aligns over the former first round draft pick with slight “outside leverage”. This makes the inside release that much easier because the defender’s body is not in position to challenge the release at the LOS.  

The former Ram does not play around with a move at the snap as he decides to take an immediate inside release before pushing vertical on the fourth step. The receiver takes four more steps (these are carefully choreographed in order to put him in the right place at the right time) and stems to the corner at a 45-degree angle.

Explosive first steps and the stem to the vertical portion of the route create quick separation, which causes the defender to attempt a grab of Britt’s hips in order to plug the leak (In this situation defenders are taught to hold and take the PI penalty rather than give up a long touchdown). Britt’s explosive release, size, and strength prevent the corner from grabbing anything, which results in a 45-yard gain for an offense that managed to rank behind the Browns last season.  

Route Running Subtleties

When watching Britt's tape, the nuance and technical ability in his route running jumps off the screen.

Our first route should look very familiar to Browns’ fans, as the offense’s most effective route during the 2016 season was likely the intermediate “comeback”.

The comeback route requires the pass-catcher to push vertical for a certain number of yards (depth will vary team to team), before stemming outside and back towards the quarterback. When run correctly, the comeback is a TOUGH stop for all but the very best cornerbacks as the break, timing, and position of the target’s body force the defender to play through his back in order to get at the ball.

Let’s watch Britt do it.

Many offenses (including the Browns) will run comebacks as option routes. The rules are very simple:

  • If the receiver has beaten the defender early in the route he will run a go route.
  • If the receiver cannot “stack”, or get hip-to-hip on the defender by a certain depth (say 10 yards) he will run the comeback.

The comeback takes a large number of reps to run properly as the quarterback and receiver must be on the same page at all times as they read the defender.

In this case, it is likely that the play call added the “stutter” at six yards in an attempt to get the defender to break on what looks like a hitch route. Because the defender’s Cover 3 technique requires a fairly deep cushion, the double move is a no-go as the All-Big East selection still needs to break a three-yard cushion in order to reach the defender’s hips (Revis again).

Here’s what happens when a defender does bite on the stutter fake.

The comeback is on.

Scroll back up to watch how Britt subtly bends his route towards the sideline after the stutter. The purpose of this technique is to get in the Cover 3 cornerback’s blind spot, as he will drop to protect his deep third with his back towards the sideline.

The route appears to be stemmed correctly as Britt breaks back towards his quarterback in order to create more separation and protect the ball from a defender in position to make a play. The ball is secured and the receiver finishes his route with nice stutter steps to ensure he gets two feet down.

Our next route is an intermediate crossing route or “drag”.

Like the comeback, a well-run crossing route requires the receiver to be at a certain depth, in a certain place, at a certain time.

In order to create separation against man coverage, the veteran utilizes a technique known as “stair stepping”.

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Britt is located along the bottom of the GIF just past the 20-yard line.

Remember that inside –breaking routes require an inside release.

The crafty vet skips any opening moves as he immediately releases inside the defensive back (like the burst corner route). The nuance within the route occurs just before he stems the drag.

If you look closely, you will see Britt take a single vertical step as the corner attempts to “collision” the route. The vertical step causes the corner to open his hips perpendicular to the route’s direction because he is worried about defending a downfield route like a post.

The route is then flattened out as Britt crosses the field, creating more separation. Pay attention to Britt’s head as he breaks off the vertical portion of the drag route. You should see it “whip around” in anticipation of the ball coming his way.

Our next clip looks at another example of the “stair stepping” technique, but our focus moves to the end of the route as Britt uses his awareness to find open space and “throttle down” in the hole.

The defense is in Cover 3, a zone defense using three deep defenders and four underneath defenders to guard different areas of the field.

Notice how Britt pops his feet as he clears the MIKE (starts the play on the 45-yard line directly on the offense’s left hash). Britt slows his route in this part of the field because he can see an open throwing window for his quarterback to exploit.

Britt and his quarterback are not on the same page as the throw is made as if Britt was not going to “throttle down” when he found green grass. Still, the receiver does a good job extending his arms to make the catch and instantly turn upfield to gain 14ish yards after the catch.

Our next route looks at the importance of hand-fighting throughout a route.

Before getting into the film, it is well worth your time to read this outstanding piece by Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman.

Per Sherman:

“There’s an art to hand-fighting. When receivers and corners get into it, especially in press coverage, hands fly. People can talk about pass interference or illegal contact all they want, but inside of a route, both the receiver’s and the corner’s hands are constantly moving. Each will push and pull — whatever the situation dictates — within those motions to gain position. To the casual observer (and even to referees at times) all this action goes mostly unnoticed. But the great receivers will always be able to get away with it, and the great corners will always be able to combat it. It’s only a split second, but it can be the difference between a pass completion, an interception or a pass breakup. Part of it is strength, but there’s also a fluidity to it — on both sides of the ball — to where you don’t get flagged.”

Our final two clips look at good examples of Britt using his hands within the route past the five-yard no contact zone in order to create separation.

The first clip is a great example of a hand fighting technique known as “wiping off” the defender.

Britt is running a nine, “Go”, or fly route.

He wants to release outside the defender, get hip-to-hip ASAP, and stack (get overtop) the defensive back in order to prevent himself from being “pinned” to the sideline.

Although Britt has Revis beat ten yards into the route, the defender can get back “in phase” with some clever use of the hands to interrupt Britt’s momentum, which will result in a slowdown of the route.

Watch Revis lock Britt’s right arm with his left in order to break his stride by pulling down on his elbow.

Britt is not having it as moves his arm over the defender’s and slaps backward to wipe his hand off. The move prevents Revis from playing the ball, resulting in an explosive play from a non-explosive offense.

Our final example looks at another example of wiping the hand at the top of a red zone comeback.

Going into the play Britt knows that he will need to create separation at the top of the route because the defender is playing off-man coverage near the goal line. This puts the corner in position to collision the route just as it breaks, throwing off both timing and spacing.

 

The strike to the defender’s right shoulder pad in conjunction with his backward momentum creates enough separation for Britt to make an uncontested touchdown reception near the front pylon.

While the receiver should attempt to make the push less obvious by getting closer to the defender before striking, an offensive PI is rarely getting called here.

Britt probably knows this and adds the push off because he knows the off-man coverage will put the defender in a good spot to disrupt the route as it stems.

No-Nonsense YAC

The third and final area of Britt’s game that the author expects Browns’ fans to take the most pride in is his no-nonsense approach to gaining yards after the catch. Britt is a prototypical “North-South” runner that will waste little time pushing up-field after securing the catch. In addition, he will make the defender earn the tackle due to his size and ability to take a hit. His toughness in the open field cannot be questioned.

Our first play demonstrates Britt understanding of the importance to push vertical as quickly as possible.

The offense is running the Air Raid-favorite “Mesh” concept in which two receivers run crossing routes from opposite sides of the field in order to create a “rub” against a man defense as they should cross close enough to “slap hands”.

Situational awareness is vital here as the offense faces a 3rd and 6. A completed shallow cross will likely need YAC to gain the full six yards. Britt is not going to outrun most defenders across the field, so it is vital to push upfield ASAP after securing the ball.

The first down marker is just past the 44-yard line. Britt makes the catch on the 42-yard line. Do the math to arrive at the conclusion that some YAC will be necessary to gain the first down.

Many wide receivers will continue running towards the sideline as they try to turn the corner on the nickel and cornerback.

Not Britt.

As soon as the catch is secured Britt plant his outside foot in the ground and pushes HARD to gain the necessary yardage the offense needs to keep the chains moving. There is nothing fancy about this run. Britt knows he needs two yards, so he drops his center of gravity, leans forward to lead with his pads, and covers the ball with two hands in anticipation of the collision.

The nickel back is forced to ankle bite as a result of the size/strength mismatch, allowing Britt’s momentum to carry the contact-friendly receiver past the first down marker.

Our next clip shows Britt “big banking” three defenders on his way to a red zone touchdown off a rub concept.

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Nothing fancy to see here. This is all grit, toughness, and will.

Britt’s natural forward lean eliminates his largest target areas (parts of his body where he can be hit, clutched, grabbed, etc.) and reduces contact points to the helmet, shoulder pads, elbows, and knees.

An offensive player with natural body lean will run through ALOT of tackles because his target areas are small, strong, and forward-driven. If the would-be tackler comes with less than perfect form, they will likely bounce off the lean or get dragged for more yards after the hit.

Britt’s natural strength prevents the corner from grabbing him just before/during the catch and allows him to bounce off tackles from a linebacker and safety.

When a fourth defender finally secures Britt’s legs, the momentum created by his size allows him to fall forward another two yards to break the goal line.

Our final example of Britt’s playing style showcases both his ability to gain YAC,  his route-running ability, and his understanding of space.

The offensive is running a “Flood” concept off play action that is schemed to create a vertical (up and down the field) and horizontal (side-to-side) stretch on the defense by overloading one side of the field with potential pass catchers.

Britt’s is tapped to run a backside drag route that often comes open late because the outside-breaking routes pull defenders away from the middle of the field towards the sideline, in addition to the fact it is tough for a defensive back to run with a wide receiver all the way across the field. This route is not the primary read, but it will often be thrown due to the factors just discussed.

The defense appears to be in a modified Cover 3 shell based on the cornerback’s zone turn (back to the sideline) and single deep safety. Notice that the defense is running a five-man blitz that loops the SAM around the left tackle.

Because Britt is the only receiver to his side of the field, the free safety will abandon his MOF zone to jump any weak side drag route like we see here. The Cover 3 cornerback will rotate to the middle of the field in order to replace the free safety, and the strong safety will replace the cornerback to protect the deep third.

Focus on the right cornerback, free safety, and strong safety first. The triangle rotation is seamlessly handled by the secondary as soon as they recognize the drag route. That’s pretty football right there.

Next, move to Britt and watch his head just after he crosses the right hash mark.

You have to really pay attention to see it, but if you focus in you will see Britt quickly peek back to see where the deep defender is located. Based on the angle of the free safety’s break, Britt “sits the route down” in open space. If he had continued on his path he would have run himself right into the defender, essentially covering himself.

Britt takes the route one step further by altering his path to move inside of the underneath curl/flat defender (just above the 10 yard number as the ball is thrown). This movement creates a clear throwing window for his quarterback, enabling a high percentage pass and extending the drive to first and goal.

Britt does his best work next.

The big body receiver secures the ball, immediately turns upfield, easily steps through the first tackle attempt, and runs through the second at the 2 yard line to get the six points as he breaks the goal line with plenty of room to spare.

Again, big bank takes little bank as Britt simply has more length and mass than most NFL secondaries and is not afraid to use it.

While the Browns have been burned by free agent wide receiver signings in the past (looking at you Dwayne Bowe), the author believes that Browns’ fans will see a fiery, gritty player that adds an element of toughness to the offense on display next season.

The value and importance of this signing cannot be overstated, as Britt will enter the locker room as one of the few veteran wide receivers on the roster. If he comes in motivated and ready to lead, his role as a mentor will accelerate the development of the young guns, particularly Corey Coleman.

With a full season to play and an offseason to learn the subtleties of running an NFL route tree, fans expect Coleman to make the jump necessary to prove his worth as a first-round-selection. In Coleman’s defense, keep in mind that an individual close to Coleman has told the OBR that Coleman did not have a true route tree at Baylor and freely admits that he was often overwhelmed by the pace of learning last season as he was starting from scratch.

If Britt stays true to form, Browns’ fans will quickly fall in love with the receiver as his tenacious style of play and toughness embody the city of Cleveland.


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