Separation is the key. Exhibit A: Steve Smith separates from Charles Woodson and makes the catch for a big gain.
As of late, the folks on CSR have been concentrated on Wide Receivers, both on the roster, and various prospects that will be available in the upcoming NFL Draft. Subsequently, Marty Hurney and the Coaching Staff have been looking at several players, which might give us an inkling towards their draft day preferences. Last season, Change swept Charlotte, with Ron Rivera and his coaching staff taking the reigns, and achieving a six win season, despite numerous injuries, and schematic hiccoughs. Running the offense is Rob Chudzinski, former Chargers TE Coach, and offensive guru. Chudzinski brought with him, the Air Coryell Offense.
By probing into the marrow of the Air Coryell, perhaps we can get a better feel for what the Panthers' Staff and Front Office are looking from the Wide Receiving Corps going forward.
The Origins and Mantra of the Air Coryell Offense
Founded by legendary coaching figure, Don Coryell, in the early sixties and seventies, the Air Coryell was designed to compensate for Coryell's team's lack of talent. In an era where most teams found success running the ball and stacking the front on defense, Coryell sought to manipulate this predisposition by airing out the ball, and stretching the field, rather than pounding the ball and playing right into the hands of the opposition. In Coryell's system, the QB would be targeting his flanking WR's on deep routes, designed to stretch the coverage beyond its comfort zone, often leaving the WR's in man coverage against a single CB. Coryell was wildly successful at San Diego State, finishing 55-5, before moving onto the NFL and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974. The Cardinals finished 7-7 in 1976, and despite winning two division championships, the Cardinals owner axed Coryell. Two season later Coryell was hired to take over the San Diego Chargers midseason. Coryell would find success at San Diego, and with the QB-WR-TE tandem of Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow, the Chargers would become one of the most puissant offenses in NFL History
In the Air Coryell Offense, the Offense is always attacking the Defense. Wide Receivers' routes are designed to stretch the defense, targeting the weakest spots of the opposition. Routes in the Air Coryell are based off of the traditional 'Route Tree' being numbered 1-9.
1 Route: An Out route; the Receiver takes a predetermined number of steps forward, before cutting outwards towards the sideline. The Quarterback and Receiver have to be in sync on this route, as the ball will likely already be thrown before the receiver makes his cut.
2 Route: A slant route; typically a few steps before making a hard turn and accelerating. The QB will more than likely already have the ball out within a few seconds.
6 Route: A curl route; the WR will run straight down the field before stopping, and turning back towards the QB. This route also requires a certain amount of trust between the receiver and quarterback.
8 Route: A post route; the receiver will run deep down the field before making a hard cut towards the goalpost (hence why it's called a post route). This route requires a certain amount of time inside the pocket for the QB.
9 Route: A Go Route; The Wide Receiver goes deep.
Note: These routes can all be modified by the team running them, i.e. adding more steps, elongating the route. The other routes are just modifications of the aforementioned routes.
Receivers in the Air Coryell need to possess a certain combination of speed and softness of the hands. Timing is crucial in the Coryell, as the Offensive Line can only stave off a blitz for a matter of time before the QB is overwhelmed by the pressure. Receivers need to execute their route with immediacy, and be looking for the ball. Another key element is spacing; one aim of the Air Coryell is to widen the defense out, so as to alleviate the pressure from a blitz, as well as hide the true target of a route. The WR's need to know their route assignments, and keep to their route, so as not to bunch multiple targets, and thus defenders into a single area.
However, the key principle of the receiver's craft in the Coryell Offense is separation. With the emphasis on timing and spacing, receivers are mandated to run their route in as short as time possible, while separating from the DB. If a WR is unable to separate from his man, than the QB is going to have a hard time getting him the ball.
Quarterbacks in the Air Coryell are told to make their reads from deep to short, progressing from deep routes, to checkdowns; something we saw frequently last season. Moreover, it is instilled into the QB that he should never pass over an open receiver, no matter what. Another decree is placed on incompletions; QB's shouldn't be afraid to take risks, i.e. firing the ball into double coverage towards Steve Smith on a 3rd Down and 12. As such, the deep ball is highly revered in the Air Coryell; it keeps defenses honest, and it opens up the run as well as shorter passes.
Ideal Intangibles for a Wide Receiver in the Air Coryell include, speed, size, vertical leaping ability, as well good hands, and route running. Speed and Size equate to separation, placing them at the zenith of the Air Coryell Offense, whilst Vertical Ability, sublime route running, and good hands are also important, but they don't out weigh separation.
The Panthers WR's
Steve Smith: Smitty is gold at WR. Left in single coverage, he can wreak havoc on opposing defenses. Steve separates, has pretty good hands, possesses speed, route running, and vertical abilities, the whole nine yards. However, during the second half of the season, defenses began doubling up on Smitty; the team could be looking for a true #2 WR to alleviate the pressure allotted towards Steve.
Brandon Lafell: Lafell has good size for a receiver in the Coryell Offense, however, he is not adept at separating from DB's. Case and point, during the final five games of the 2011 season, Lafell garnered 10 catches, despite starting across from Smitty. Lafell does encumber great hands, and is an above average route runner.
David Gettis: After a solid 2010 season, Gettis tore his ACL in training camp, ending his season before it began. Gettis has great straight line speed, and good size, and has the ability to separate from coverage. If Gettis can return to form, he could be cogent weapon in the Air Coryell.
Armanti Edwards/ Kealoha Pilares: Armanti despite all the venom he receives, does posses speed. Due to the lack of playing time he has received, we don't have any idea of his other attributes. However, in the preseason, Edwards didn't exhibit soft hands, although, he did separate well. Many of the same things can be said for Pilares,yet I think both of them would be better served as slot receivers.
Draft Eligible WR's:
Justin Blackmon: 6'1 207 lbs. 4.45 40 yard dash/ 35 inch vertical
Blackmon is a very talented WR. He is strong, he has vertical ability, he separates well, and he makes plays. However, he only possesses average size and speed, and he'll likely be gone by the Panthers are on the clock.
Michael Floyd: 6'3 220 lbs. 4.47 40 yard dash/ 36.5 inch vertical
Floyd has the talent to fit into almost any offensive scheme. He's bulky, has great speed for his stature, and reach the ball at its highest point. Floyd can separate from DB's, and his route running is solid, and can be coached into perfection. Floyd can run any route on the 'tree,' stretching the field, or moving the chains, and his hands are superb. Floyd's size makes it harder for a single DB to make a tackle, especially when he's moving at full speed.
Michael Floyd vs Michigan 2011 (via JmpasqDraftjedi)
Kendall Wright: 5'11 196 lbs. 4.61 40 yard dash/ 38.5 inch vertical
Wright, despite his pedestrian forty yard dash, plays with excellent speed. His route running isn't amazing, yet with some seasoning he could improve this facet of his game. Wright excels at separating from DB's, using his speed and elusiveness to blow past the coverage. However, Wright does not consistently fight for the ball, or go up for jump balls, leading to a number of incompletions. Wright could be lethal in the slot from Day 1.
Kendall Wright vs Oklahoma 2011 (via JMPasq)
Stephen Hill: 6'4 215 lbs. unofficial 4.29 40 yard dash/ 39.5 inch vertical
Hill has a deadly combination of speed and size, as well as athleticism that would make him deadly in the Air Coryell. Hill's route running, and inconsistent hands drop his draft grade towards the bottom of round one. However, Hill has the potential to become one of the top WR's in the NFL, operating out of the Air Coryell Offense. With another legitimate deep threat, defenses wouldn't be able to double cover Smitty or Greg Olsen, as well as any of the other offensive targets, for fear of a Stephen Hill 9 Route.
Stephen Hill vs UNC 2011 (via JMPasq)
Tommy Streeter: 6'5 219 lbs. 4.40 40 yard dash/ 33 inch vertical
Streeter is extremely raw as a WR, however he possesses intangibles that would translate very well to the Air Coryell. Similar to Hill, Streeter is very tall and strong, as well as deceptively quick. Streeter drops the occasional pass, and his route running is mediocre as of now, but Streeter is capable of out running coverage, and catching the jump ball. For the price of a fourth round pick, Streeter could become a number one receiver within the next three years.
Tommy Streeter vs Virginia 2011 (via JMPasq)
Which WR do you think would have the most success in a Panthers Uniform?
Michael Floyd (226 votes)
Kendall Wright (67 votes)
Stephen Hill (172 votes)
Alshon Jeffery (95 votes)
Rueben Randle (37 votes)
597 total votes