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Sports

Timing Is Key If The Route Is On

melliott@tampatrib.com
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 05:32 PM
TAMPA -

Down and out.

It is football's most elementary pass route, executed in games played in back yards, sand lots, high school fields and the Super Bowl. A wide receiver fires straight off the line, runs 10 yards downfield, plants his inside foot and cuts hard for the sideline.

The ball, released by the quarterback while the route is still under way, is thrown to a spot on the sideline, where ball and receiver are to arrive simultaneously.

When the clock is running and time is of the utmost importance, it is the play that every offense must make work. It can chew up nice chunks of yardage and quickly stop the clock by going out of bounds.

But as basic as the play is, it might be the game's most rehearsed. In the NFL, a receiver's task is not just catching the football but getting two feet in bounds. Working the sideline has become an art form.

Armed with veteran quarterback Kurt Warner and a receiving corps highlighted by Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, the Arizona Cardinals are capable of providing quite an exhibition.

"We practice it every day," Boldin said. "It's about repetition, the timing between the quarterback and a receiver."

The challenge of the route is that it requires more than just catching the ball.

"The sideline catch is one of the hardest to make in the NFL because you have to get both feet in," Cardinals receiver Early Doucet said. "In college it was only one foot. But you definitely want to concentrate on catching the ball first. Some guys worry so much about getting their feet down they don't concentrate on catching the ball."

If a sideline reception is not the game's most artistic play, then it certainly is the most replayed and studied. That's because inches and split-seconds typically make it a success or failure.

"Being a good sideline receiver, one, is body control and two, field awareness," Arizona wideout Jerheme Urban said. "The first thing is to make the catch; it does no good to drag two feet if you don't make the catch.

"But I think some guys have the innate ability to feel the sidelines. For us, the route is run on steps. If it's off-coverage, you will take six full steps and on the sixth one you have to go. For me, that step is right around 91/2 to 10 yards. The quarterback is going to put it on the sideline at 12 yards. So you have to flatten out and run through it because the quarterback is going to be throwing it just before my foot hits the ground on the sixth step. I have to race to the sideline because the ball is going to be there."

There are many things that can go wrong, beginning with the receiver lining up a bit off the spot. Because it is a timing pattern and the quarterback is throwing to a spot, lining up too far outside or too far inside will change the target area.

"We work on it every day at practice," Doucet said. "You never know when that time will come where you have to make the sideline catch. You don't want to have to think about it. The more you practice, the more it becomes second nature. You just know when going to the sidelines, drag that second foot and make sure you catch the ball first."


Reporter Mick Elliott can be reached at (813) 281-2534.

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