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Let’s talk about the “extra step” Tyler Lockett mentioned

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett grabbed the attention of fans this past week when he spoke to the media during the team’s mandatory minicamp. In particular, he piqued the interest of fans with his comments on the offensive system of Shane Waldron granting more freedom to receivers when it comes to running routes.

In particular, fans have come to question what one particular portion of Lockett’s discussion of the new offense means, which as user Basil Ganglia asked about in the comments the other day is

the more you’re able to understand how to switch your feet, how not to switch your feet, how to add an extra step, how not to add an extra step, rather than always just having to get to a certain point in a certain amount of time

Multiple fans had questions about that, and at the end of the day it’s a fairly simple concept that is best illustrated with some visual examples that actually spell out what Lockett was trying to say.

The first example is a simple curl route to Josh Reynolds. The Los Angeles Rams have the ball on at their own 47 yard line and are facing 3rd & 1 with 12:17 left in the first quarter. Here’s a look at the full play.

To the casual observer it appears as though it’s nothing fancy - it’s a simple curl route that is past the first down marker and allows the Rams to move the chains. However, the beauty of this play is in it’s simplicity, and helps to explain what Lockett was talking about when it came to, “how to add an extra step, how not to add an extra step”.

Diving deeper into that subject, here is a close up on Reynolds with Tre Flowers in coverage on the play in slow motion.

The key to understanding what adding an extra step or not adding an extra step means understanding the implications of the rest of his statement as well. Specifically, “rather than always just having to get to a certain point in a certain amount of time”. The Schotty stans will take this as a knock on Schotty, but the simple fact of the matter is that his version of the Air Coryell offense is traditionally run with a very static route tree. Yes, there are option routes within the Air Coryell, but they are far more rigid and far more based on precision.

In contrast, as I touched on earlier in the offseason, that is not necessarily the case for a passing game based on the fundamentals off the West Coast Offense. To get right to the point, to quote a 2012 article by Alen Dumonjic on the West Coast Offense (Author’s note: Bolding added for emphasis):

These include the significant use of motion, ball-control passing game (see spread offenses), timing drop-backs executed by quarterbacks and option routes that have up to 20 different patterns built in based off of the leverage of the defender. These characteristics are being executed at a very high level in the place where they once reached their pinnacle, San Francisco.

The part that is bolded is the key, to help explain what Lockett meant, further emphasis on a specific portion is warranted.

BASED OFF OF THE LEVERAGE OF THE DEFENDER

This is the key for understand Lockett’s meaning. Specifically, the purpose of a route is to allow a receiver to get open in order to allow the quarterback to throw them the ball. Thus, the “how to add an extra step, how not to add an extra step” simply means running the route in the way that is going to allow the receiver to likely be most open. This is dictated not by the specific depth of the route or the precision with which the route is run, but rather by determining whether to take an extra step or to cut a route short based on what that will do to the defender.

Coming back to the example from above, watching the isolation of Reynolds against Flowers what immediately jumps out is that Reynolds is wide open. What doesn’t immediately jump out is that Reynolds is wide open because of the precise timing of when he plants to turn back to Jared Goff, which just so happens to be the exact moment when Flowers turns his head back to the quarterback and no longer has his eyes on Reynolds or any ability to see what Reynolds is doing.

Reynolds takes the outside release which makes it look like he’s running a deeper route, Flowers turns to run with him and then the first step Reynolds makes after Flowers turns his eyes back inside to look at the quarterback is when Reynolds plants to make his cut. It’s third and one, and he’s already five yards down the field, so there’s no need to take any further steps. Further, with Flowers having already turned his head, if Reynolds continues down the field to a specific location or to a specific depth, it’s entirely possible Flowers could turn back around and have his eyes on Reynolds and able to make a play.

In short, the depth to which Reynolds runs the route on this play is determined not by a specific depth from the line of scrimmage or by running to a specific yard line. Rather, he runs the route in the way which will get him the most open and able to catch the pass, which is determined not by the playcall or the route concept, but by what the defender is doing.

Basically, use what the defender is doing to the advantage of the offense. The goal of the offense is to move the ball, and if that goal can be best achieved by cutting a route short a step, then cut the route short by a step. If that goal can be best achieved by adding an extra step to set up a defender, then add an extra step. Boiling it all down, the receivers have more freedom to run their routes in the way that is going to best allow them to get open, instead of simply drawing a pattern on the field.