Don’t Get Jumped in the Alley

No, this isn’t a post on self defense, but the skills outlined in this post do help our receivers protect their routes and allow proper route distribution in many of our pass concepts.  This is a basic skill that we drill with our receivers every day.  You can learn more on how this fits specifically into our system with the DVD “Keys to Successful QB & WR Play in the 4 Vertical Package.”

Before getting into the specific technique we teach our receivers, we need to define the specific terminology that is part of this skill.  In general, we talk about this skill as “releasing the alley.”  Many times the player must use this skill to defeat a player in the alley, or to better define it, in the area outside of the tackle box over or inside a slot receiver.  This technique also applies to any defender inside or over a receiver who is trying to collision or reroute the receiver.  That defender, especially when he is positioned inside of the receiver, will use one of two techniques.  We refer to the defender’s technique as either a “hard shoulder” or “soft shoulder.”

A “hard shoulder” refers to a defender who will open to the receiver attempting to block the stem of the receiver and force him upfield.  To our receiver, a hard shoulder looks like the following picture:

The receiver needs to get past the defender and across to a point behind the defender.  The defender opening now presents a challenge, and without proper strategy and technique by the receiver, he will disrupt the route.

A “soft shoulder” is one in which the defender stays square to the line of scrimmage and gets a late read or doesn’t open to disrupt the stem of the route:

As mentioned in the article “Methods for Teaching and Practicing Your System,” I believe in using still shot step-by-step illustrations with coaching points to give our players full understanding of the why and how of what we do.  These techniques and the following illustrations are part of our day one installation meetings.  We encourage our players to constantly review the teaching materials to solidify their development as a receiver.

The general coaching points for our release of the alley player are outlined below:

  1. Pre-snap – Identify the player who you will need to release.
  2. On the snap, close the distance – “Step on his toes.”
  3. If there is little or no movement from the defender onto your path, take what he gives (soft shoulder).
  4. Stay on the move and do not check your feet.
  5. Make yourself small as you near contact with the defender. (Contact is okay and will happen; collision must be avoided.)  Give him a 6″ target by turning your shoulder as you attack as opposed to staying square and giving him an 18″ surface to hit.
  6. Your first thought vs. a hard shoulder is to aim high and slip low.
  7. If done right, you will only use a one hand hit.  Having to use two hands means you have done something incorrectly and you are using two hands to win back the route space.
  8. Eyes:  After releasing your defender, your eyes should go to your next defender key if you have one, or get eyes to the QB looking for the ball.

The first frame-by-frame illustration shows what happens to a pass concept and distribution of routes if the release is done incorrectly.  In the example, the receiver does not use the correct technique and severely limits the quarterback’s options.  The plays being illustrated in all examples are variations in our 4-vertical package.

 Illustration 1:  Incorrect Release vs. hard shoulder

Video of the play in Illustration 1:

Illustration 2 shows how correct execution of the technique gives us correct receiver distribution on the play giving multiple one-on-one match-ups for the quarterback.

Illustration 2:  Correct execution of release vs. hard shoulder

Video of the play in Illustration 2:

The final illustration shows soft shoulder technique by the defender.  The receiver is given access to his landmark and looks to the the QB for the ball after clearing the defender.

Illustration 3:  Correct Technique vs. Soft Shoulder

Video of Illustration 3:

The release of hard and soft shoulder defenders is something we drill every day.  Initially, we will teach and drill the skill in isolation, but as the season moves on we incorporate drilling of this skill into other drills.  We no longer run routes on air, at least not in a pure sense.  We will incorporate defenders we must release into our “route timing” segment.  Our players are very good about studying the opponent and identifying the technique they will see and being sure that they give their teammates the correct look in drills.

Hopefully, the illustration of this technique is something which can make a difference for you in practice and games.


American Football Monthly Offense
Release and Separate – Wide Receiver Techniques That Will Gain an Advantage.
by: Sean Wilson

Wide Receivers Coach, Marian University
© April 2012

6 Rules for Beating Press Coverage – Are your receivers getting stuffed by the press? Here’s how to get them freed up.
by: Chris Metcalf
Former Wide Receivers Coach, John Carroll High School (AL)
© March 2012

American Football Monthly Defense
Linebacker Play – Knowing Your Assignment Pre-Snap
by: Terrol Dillon
Linebackers and Special Teams Coach, Texas State University
© January 2011

Gridiron Strategies – Offense
© February, 2012
Proper Development of Your Wide Receivers
by Cedric Shell
Wide Receivers Coach & Passing Game Coordinator, McPherson College

© April, 2012
Proper Development of Your Wide Receivers Part II, – 10 Everyday Drills You Can Use
by Cedric Shell
Wide Receivers Coach & Passing Game Coordinator, McPherson College

Gridiron Strategies – Defense
© August, 2008
Defensive Backs Drills -11 Drills to Improve Your Secondary
by Chris Booth
Former Head Coach • Peterstown, WV