- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
When I was a skinny kid just out of high school in an east Texas town called Paris, I went to see a movie named Crazylegs five times. It was about Elroy Hirsch, who played end at the time for the Los Angeles Rams, and I decided then that the thing I wanted to do most in the world was to catch passes for a professional football team the way Hirsch did. I guess I haven't reached that goal completely. I play end for the Baltimore Colts, but I don't catch passes the way Elroy did. I've spent hours a day studying game movies of Hirsch and the other great offensive ends who have played in the league. But there are things you can't do—I should say I can't do—because I don't have the physical equipment necessary. Some of the moves they make I can copy to a T—all the fakes and feints, just the way I see them on the screen—but there are others I can't do at all for a number of reasons. I'm not as fast as some of these guys and not as big or as tall as others, and there's nothing I can do about that. You can't grow and you can't run faster than your physical equipment lets you. All you can do is squeeze the very most out of what you have.
The other thing you can do is study. And practice. When I played college ball for Southern Methodist, I had maybe three or four passes a game thrown toward me, most of the time not that many. You can't learn to use your hands that way. You are born with whatever it takes to have sure hands, but you've got to catch hundreds of passes to learn how to use them. With the Colts we use a screen like a batter's cage at practice so we don't have to waste time chasing the balls we miss. That way you get in lots more catches in the same amount of time. I work on every conceivable kind of catch—high, low, to either side and combinations (low and outside, high and outside, and so on). You have to practice so much that the mechanics of catching the ball—the position of your hands and body and feet—become instinctive so that you can do all your thinking about how to get loose.
I'm lucky in having a quarterback like Johnny Unitas to work with, too. Johnny'll stay out there and throw the ball as long as there's someone to catch it. He's an accommodating quarterback in other ways, too. It's important for an end and a quarterback to speak the same language. It's almost like a marriage. You got to make allowances and understand each other and get to where you know each other so well that you know instinctively what to expect in any situation. That's the way it is with Johnny and his offensive ends. One reason is because he's easy to talk to. Some quarterbacks are real cement heads, but not Johnny. We spend hours talking over the defenses of the team we're going to play each week. When I came up the first year to pro ball, I was pretty confused. When Johnny talked about defenses, I didn't know what he was saying. So I studied movies of the other teams' defenses all during the off season and I'm still studying them. Now when Johnny and I discuss a defense, I'm on the same page with him. I know what he's talking about.
Of course, that helped me in other ways, too. Now when I come up to the line of scrimmage and look over the defense, I recognize the pattern. I can tell pretty well if they're rotating to put two men on me, or if they are going to cover me with one man. You hear a lot about studying one defensive halfback or a linebacker to find out his habits and how you can beat him, but that never worked for me. I mean you can't depend on a guy like, say, Jim David, of Detroit, coming up fast all the time. Sure, he likes to. But when you start counting on him doing it, he lays back. So I play it by ear and by the way I know the team's defense as a whole reacts to a situation. It took a lot of hours of looking at movies to work it out, but it helps.
It's good to work out with Johnny in another way, too. He's a strong-arm passer. You work with a guy can't stick the ball out there for you, and you develop bad habits. You have to work with a passer who can overthrow you all the time, no matter how deep you go. You work with a weak-arm passer and you get in the habit of loafing after you've made your final break in your pattern. Since I'm not exceptionally fast, I've got to work at 100% of my speed all the time. Guys like Willie Galimore of the Bears or Del Shofner of the Rams got enough speed so that they can go at maybe 75% and do all right, but not me. The biggest bugaboo for a receiver is to have a pass overshoot him a couple of feet. All the way back to the huddle you're thinking about the little things you could have done to make up that couple of feet. Working out with Johnny, you're always stretching after that long one and you get the habit and you get the details down that help you get the extra feet. There's some guys, like Lenny Moore, got enough buzz in their feet they can outrun the ball if they're overthrown. I got to use every bit of speed I've got to stay even.
The details are important in pro ball. Things like wearing a strip of towel around your wrist on a hot day so the sweat won't run down into your hands and make them slippery. Or, when you catch a pass and run over the sideline, keep running so some eager beaver on defense won't make his letter on you when you slow down. I wear contact lenses when I play, but they're extra-big ones so that when I have to look over my shoulder and turn my eyes to the side as far as possible to see the ball, it stays in focus. I even have a safety belt in my car. I'm not a fast driver, but I fasten it every time I go anywhere. If I had to stop in a hurry, I'd hate to bang my knees on the dashboard and miss a game. You got to think about those things. You got to think and study and work all the time. I do, anyway.
You see, there's some answer to every good defensive move. Johnny and I have talked about it. We try to figure out the answer, and then we try to burn the defense a few times and then they come up with something else and we start all over again. A lot of things you learn by watching other guys. For instance, Billy Wilson of the 49ers is the best end in the league at getting away from a linebacker playing head-up on him. He's real good at a head-and-step fake, and the maneuvers shown here on evading a linebacker are Wilson's. Bill Howton of Cleveland is wonderful on faking a halfback, and these are some of his fakes, drawn on these pages. When you do everything right and the ball is on target, you get what I think is the biggest thrill in football: you get to run with the ball.
Getting away from the line of scrimmage
I feel I can start from scrimmage quicker if I use a three-point stance. The only variations come in the weight I put on my hand, and that's governed by whether I'm going straight ahead, cutting to the left or right or blocking.
The upright stance is good because you can see the defense better. I usually drop to three points with the set signal; if I do start upright, I use a jab step—dropping the right foot back a little to get extra drive in the first step.