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The Film Room: The Importance of Blocking by Skill Position Players

Las week we watched Julio Jones put on a clinic in wide receiver run blocking, and I wanted to expound upon that piece this week by looking at some film from the Ole Miss game.

Now, when we talk about the importance of blocking, everyone immediately thinks of the big uglies on the offensive line. They think of road-graders like Justin Smiley blowing up interior defensive linemen and linebackers to spring big runs, and athletic tackles like Andre Smith keeping that speedy edge rusher at bay to give their quarterback just enough time to throw the football down the field. Everyone generally knows that the skill position players at wide receiver and tailback are sometimes called on to block, but it often seems like the importance of those roles gets overlooked. Regardless of whatever the perception is, however, consistently successful execution of blocks by skill position players can be, and often are, just as important as the blocking done by the blocking specialists on the offensive line. To emphasize that point, let's look at three plays from the Ole Miss game:

First, let's look at the touchdown run by Mark Ingram near the end of the first half. Click play on the following clip to view the run:

(Editors Note: From the beginning, to address what 5026 asked yesterday, notice that this is an unusual formation here. We've taken right guard Barrett Jones and moved him to the left of center William Vlachos. Notice that McElroy takes the snap with only one lineman, Drew Davis, to the right of the center. We tried to outflank Ole Miss to the left with Jones at left guard, and then shifting the rest of the line out accordingly to the left. Hence, normal left guard Mike Johnson is lined up at left tackle here, and normal left tackle James Carpenter is lined up at tight end, while Colin Peek is lined up outside of Carpenter. It should be noted that this play isn't entirely new... we tried to run this same thing last year against LSU, and it looked very promising, but unfortunately we fumbled the toss and we had to fall on the fumble).

Now, when watching this play, I want you to pay close attention to Julio Jones and Darius Hanks, both lined up to the offensive left. The blocks from those two receivers are ultimately what turns this into a big play. At the snap, Julio Jones takes on Ole Miss cornerback Marshay Green and basically, well, goes all Julio Jones on him. The physical wide receiver takes full control of the Ole Miss cornerback, and makes a perfect block while turning him towards the sideline. Likewise, the 185 pound Darius Hanks is matched up on Ole Miss cornerback Marcus Temple. Hanks isn't anywhere near the physical beast that Jones is, but nevertheless he executes a perfect cut block to take Temple out of the play so that Ingram can race by untouched.

The end result? Mark Ingram takes the pitch to the left and practically walks into the end zone. Just look at the importance of run blocking here by the wide receivers. If these guys do not get their job done, Ingram only gets a couple of yards, and may very well not even get the first down. Instead, with two perfectly executed blocks on the outside, Ingram is off to the races and Alabama delivers the proverbial knockout blow as the half nears its end.

With that play in the books, let's turn next to see freshman tailback Trent Richardson in pass protection. The following play comes late in the first quarter, with the Tide leading 3-0, and facing a 3rd and 2 situation from the Ole Miss 17-yard line.

This one is a very big down, and notice immediately that we have a breakdown in pass protection up front. I don't know who is at fault, but either way right guard Barrett Jones goes over to help center William Vlachos, while right tackle Drew Davis goes to the outside to take on another blocker. Again, I don't know who is at fault here, but one way or the other the combined action of the two linemen allows the 6'0", 300+ pound defensive tackle Ted Laurent to come after McElroy untouched.

And this is where Trent Richardson steps up big. He sees the breakdown, quickly moves up into the hole, and executes a perfect cut block on the much bigger Laurent. (And making matters better, Richardson immediately hops back up and starts looking for a dump-off pass from McElroy). This huge block by Richardson not only averts a big sack that would have likely forced the Tide to try a 40+ yard field goal attempt, it also gives McElroy the time to throw the football downfield to Colin Peek, who makes a nice grab to set up a first and goal at the Ole Miss 3-yard line.

So, to review, how do you take a big sack on third down that sets up a 40+ yard field goal attempt, and turn it into a first and goal inside your opponent's 5-yard line? You have a true freshman tailback who knows how to pass block. How's that for a possible game-changing play? That is the kind of stuff from your tailback that doesn't win Heismans, but always wins games.

Finally, let's close by looking at a different kind of run blocking by the wide receivers. Everyone knows we've been throwing the football all over the place as of late, and one of the benefits of doing that is what you will see in the following clip. Watch closely at Julio Jones here:

Notice that he doesn't even need to block the cornerback here. Watch Julio come off the line and give the look that he is just running a crossing route. The Ole Miss cornerback just follows him, and by the time that he fully realizes what is going on, he has effectively overran Ingram. And also notice what it allows Julio to do instead of having to block the Ole Miss cornerback... it allows him to lay the wood to Ole Miss safety Kendrick Lewis. Unfortunately, Julio doesn't quite get the kill shot on Lewis that may have taken the Rebel safety out of the play to the point that he couldn't re-enter the picture later and bring Ingram down, but he did get enough of him to slow his progress to allow Ingram to get another 10-15 yards on the ground, thus setting up a first and goal at the Ole Miss 3-yard line.

Bottom line: While it may not get the recognition that the blocking done by the big uglies get, blocking by the skill position players is just as important.