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Jakespeare And The Art Of Route Running

Disclaimer: Since many of us are Texans (the native resident, not part of the team), in some way or form, I know that any sort of "Football 101" post could potentially be a bit redundant. After all, Texans learn about football as they learn how to talk and walk. Simply put, Texas knows football. Calm down there, Dallas. I said Texas, not Southern Oklahoma.

As I read the comments to bfd's offensive roster predictions post, I noticed one repeating phrase: route-running. It's a phrase the gets used so often that I wonder how many people know what it actually means. I know I initially thought the phrase only applied to how a receiver actually ran routes, but, as some of you may know, it encompasses much more than that.

Given that the receiver depth chart is so unsettled and how often route-running was used in the debates, I thought I would do a write-up on the concept of route-running to educate, as well as continue, the receiver discussion. For those who know route running like Daryl Morey knows how to hustle and utilize the "tl;dr" philosophy, then skip beyond the picture below for some Texans receiver talk. 1, 2, 3.....JUMP!

Basic route-running has a wide receiver using his physical abilities to get by his defender or to turn his hips the wrong way, which can be pretty difficult to recover from. At the heart of route running is a simple concept:  Get open however and as quickly as you can.

However, there is more to route-running than just getting open. Let's break down how receivers go from good depth and intriguing potential to Pro Bowl yes I'm aware Pro Bowl doesn't equal great talent wide receiver, shall we?

1) Thou must honor thy offensive playbook and invite it into the depths of thy mind where it can fester for eternity.

The work to being a great route-runner starts before the game. A receiver knows his routes for every play, but a route-runner knows what every receiver is doing on a pass play. One has to grasp the bigger picture and know what a play's routes are designed to do. There must be a sense of where every other receiver will be so routes don't get crossed and multiple receivers are taken out of the play.

2) Watch thy rogues with a keen eye. Learn to the point where your souls become intertwined. Realize the perfect timing for the divine pass from the halfback

Watching and analyzing tape of the opposing defense is key.  Pre-snap, a good route-running receiver should be able to recognize the defensive alignment, whether he might see zone or man-to-man coverage, where the safety is inching to, which defender is responsible for him and his tendencies, and if that person is playing on or off the line. Good recognition skills will allow for some hot reads at the line to exploit some of those reads.

3) Always put in a valiant effort, o' cherished catcher of the football. Consistently run with vigor and determination as you seek to dominate your foes.

Obviously, a good route-runner will run every route crisply and hard in an effort to get open. The simple keys are to get inside position on the route, maintain your speed through any cuts or moves (what they call "breaking out of the route"), and find open space.

Take a curl route, for example. A receiver will run hard for 8-10 yards and quickly turn around to the ball. It's a safe throw IF the receiver drives his defender off the ball as if he were running a go-route (where the receiver runs straight downfield). If the receiver doesn't run it hard, then a veteran defender will not be fooled, and he'll jump the route for an interception. The same could be said for a slant route (traditionally about 2-5 yards, then a hard slant inside in the zone between linebackers and safeties). Running it lazily turns into a pick more often than not.

Not only does hard, crisp route-running get you open, but it can get other receivers open. If the play is designed for someone else, plodding or timid route-running is going to tip safeties and linebackers off that the ball is going elsewhere. It's high-energy, maximum effort every play that keeps the defense honest.

In the Texans' West Coast-style offense, running routes at a consistently high level will help keep the timing where it needs to be. Sloppy or slow route-running leads to misthrown balls or cornerbacks jumping the route. This is where receivers earn a quarterback's trust, because if the receiver cannot do his job, then the quarterback throws a pick and looks bad because ESPN gives quarterbacks all the attention as if they are the only position that matters.

4) The fabled route-runner must have an all-seeing eye, aware when his most trusted companion is in danger.

Even if a wide receiver is downfield, he needs to have enough post-snap awareness and field vision to know when the quarterback is scrambling or improvising. At that point, they need to find open field to give the quarterback a chance while also remembering to come back closer to the line of scrimmage or just avoid running too deep. A scrambling quarterback can't plant and doesn't get the velocity he normally does. An attempt to throw it deep on the scramble could lead to an underthrown and pickable ball.

5) The runner of routes must love, honor, and cherish thy time with the one-fourth back. Break open the lines of communication and feast on its delectable innards.

A good route-running wide receiver will have a good relationship and great communication with his quarterback. Quarterbacks and wide receivers who put in extra time post-practice and pre-game, while running route trees, will have a better understanding of how each other runs and throws.

The communication factors in between offensive series. The receiver needs to be able to describe what he sees so the quarterback can make adjustments and exploit what the defense is giving him. "I'm open, gimme the ball" doesn't often work Keyshawn Johnson Terrell Owens Randy Moss, compared to "I'm constantly getting behind the defensive backs, and they can't keep up" or "The corner's always shadowing me to my right and fighting hard against the slant, so an out-route to the left could be open." The receiver cannot change his routes and expect the quarterback to know what he's doing. If the receiver does not have good communication skills, then there will be mistakes and missed opportunities.

In summation, a good route-runner goes beyond running a post route or flag route. He understands what the offense is trying to do, anticipates what the defense wants to do, and finds the open space on the field. As he is with most things receiver, Jerry Rice is the epitome of route-running. Not only did he run sharp routes, but he was able to recognize what was going on around him and exploited those open spaces without being the biggest or fastest receiver (although those qualities can certainly help).

The idea that the slot receiver needs to be Welkah-like and run crisp routes is a mistake. As long as the receivers are different (strong possession, speed demon, etc), you can move them around to create as many advantages as possible. However, any receiver could be an excellent route-runner and good slot receiver in the right offensive scheme. Now, let's turn to the Texans...

As we apply that concept to your Houston Texans, I believe we'll find out early if Jacoby Jones has improved a weakness in his game--route-running.

That's not to say that he isn't effective at getting open. Jacoby is aware that he can use his speed to get behind a lot of cornerbacks and safeties. I know some people have called him "just a deep threat," but if you're fast enough to get downfield, then what's the issue with that? You'll either get the deep ball or begin to demand safety help to open things up for other receivers underneath. 

The problem is that Jacoby is capable of more. Jones has the size and speed that David Anderson doesn't have, and is more of a game-breaking player than steady Kevin Walter. Even with improvement, he's still a bit slow, relatively speaking, coming out of his breaks. In a recent interview with the Mothership, Jacoby talked about what he's working on this offseason. Part of what he's been doing is cone drills and running with resistance. Both of these workouts will help him on the field as he tries to maintain his speed when he comes out of a break.  

If you've been paying attention and haven't fallen asleep while reading this, then you know a lot of route-running comes from hard work, film study, and dedication. It takes a good deal of maturity and professionalism in order become a top-notch route runner. As of now, it appears Jacoby is looking to make that jump from athletic receiver with potential to great route runner and starting receiver.

Maturity is what Jacoby has been praised for constantly this offseason. He's in the weight room adding muscle to his long frame, giving rookies advice and tips, in the film room studying, and putting a lot of effort on the practice field. Jacoby will probably get work with the first and second teams, so if his work has paid off, then there should be a notable difference. 

Like I said, I think Jakespeare could be great. If he prepares properly and puts in the effort on a consistent basis then there's no reason why he can't easily overtake Kevin Walter for the WR2 position and even blossom into a Pro Bowl wide receiver. 

Personally, I don't think Jacoby will start in 2010. I think it's a motivational ploy by Kubiak to continue to push Jacoby, but he's not a starter - yet. If I'm putting my name on it: I believe in Jacoby's hard work and that he'll keep it up. Jones will up his offensive snap count from 26% (277 out of 1,086 plays in 2009; 4th most of Texans WRs) to about 45% (that would've been 488 snaps last season), with the Texans eventually moving him outside and bringing Kevin Walter into the slot, which would be highly effective and potentially discussed in another write-up or in the Comments.

I won't venture into statistical predictions, but Jacoby creates mismatches due to his size and speed. If he adds the mental and physical tools of a route-runner, then he's going to create a lot more mismatches and put up some pretty big numbers. With all due respect to All-Galaxy WR Andre Johnson, Jacoby Jones is the Texans receiver to watch in 2010.

As for the others, I think Andre' Davis and Glenn Martinez are gone for reasons I've said too much to repeat. I think hope Dorin Dickerson will see the field in red-zone situations given his size, leaping ability, and red-zone prowess at Pitt perhaps on a fade routeTrindon Holliday's speed and cheap price will earn him a roster spot and the chance to run a lot of screens and end-arounds reverses end-arounds.

What say you lovely people? Was I right in guessing that Texans don't need a "Football 101" post or are there other subjects you'd like to see covered? Former receivers, did I miss anything on route running? Which WRs make the roster and what's the depth chart order? What kind of performance and snap count do you expect from Jacoby? Will he still be a Tw-oet during the season? Have at it in the Comments.