Still Struggling for Reception
By establishing Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie as the starting receivers, the Browns are relying on two second-year wide receivers.
The problem with that is there is growing evidence that a majority of wide receivers don’t adjust to the speed of the game and fully understand how to read defenses and run routes until their third season.
In his book, Take Your Eye off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, Pat Kirwan, a senior analyst on NFL.com and former coach and front office member, highlights what a receiver must do during a play:
“It’s on the post-snap read that a receiver gets the true indicator of what the defensive back is going to do. If the cornerback lines up 7 or 8 yards off the line of scrimmage and is aligned with the receiver’s outside shoulder, it might look like off and soft to the receiver. But the receiver can’t be sure until after the snap, when he’ll see the cornerback backpedal and reveal his deep coverage principles. The receiver then immediately must decide whether he’s going to run a post, a deep curl or something in front of the deep coverage. That decision will also depend on another factor – the drop his quarterback will be taking, something the receiver must always be aware of.”
Another area young receivers struggle with is getting release off the line of scrimmage. Kirwan explains:
“Some great college receivers can’t even get off the line of scrimmage in the NFL. They never faced big, strong cornerbacks, guys who are 6’0″, 200 pounds and can bench 400 pounds. Some great college receivers never even have a chance to think about reading coverages because they’re too busy trying to get out of their stance.”
Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar gave still another example of the learning curve required of NFL wide receivers in an article in The Plain Dealer:
“Those passes down the sidelines that guys can’t catch and stay in bounds,” said Kosar. “If you watch them, you see that the receivers are 1-2 yards away from the sidelines as they run down field. That’s too close. They should be 5-6 yards. You want to give the quarterback about 15 feet to throw the ball between the receiver and the sidelines.”
On their training camp tour for Sirius NFL Radio, Kirwan and his on-air partner Tim Ryan talked about how the Browns receivers did not have the extra gear needed to get separation on a defensive back and give the quarterback an opportunity to drop the ball in. Without that speed, Massaquoi and Robiskie have to find other ways to get open, and that will only come with time.
The more you read about what it takes to be a successful NFL wide receiver, the more you realize what a big project this is for the team. And these examples are just the start; it’s not even taking into account how responsibilities change if you are the X, Y or Z receiver on a given play.
Of course, the Browns find themselves in this conundrum of their own doing. Because they did not have the proper people in place for the 2009 NFL Draft, they drafted two wide receivers in the same year, hoping they would be able to contribute sooner rather than later. By throwing in with Massaquoi and Robiskie, for better or worse the team has to live with the mistakes, limitations and growing pains.
There were calls during the preseason for the Browns to get a veteran player to be the No. 1 receiver. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, there are really only a handful of true No. 1 receivers in the league: Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s pretty much it; everyone else is a notch (or further) behind that group.
So that leaves the team looking at two options, neither of which is very appealing:
- Sign an older receiver on the downward part of his career – T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Terrell Owens for example. But having someone like that who is not a long-term solution would just slow the development of the young receivers even more.
- Sign a problem player like Vincent Jackson. But if the Browns didn’t want to deal with Braylon Edwards or Kellen Winslow, why would they want to take a chance on someone who is only one more incident away from a year-long suspension?
Like most things, all this takes time and patience. The first Browns fans have; the second is continually being tested, but we haven’t hit the bottom of the well just yet.