As part of something I want to do for the blog throughout the NFL season, I will be selecting one play each week where I felt as though special movement was displayed. In the post I will then breakdown some things that I felt contributed to the movement performance. In my normal fashion, I will also be very likely to make note of things that maybe could’ve been done differently, as well.
Game: Giants vs. Chiefs
Play: McCluster breaking ankles and making guys look silly
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
This will be the 2nd time in the first 4 weeks of the season that a punt return for a house call earns the honors for the top play of the week. And boy is this one is a doozie! Personally, when I saw the play for the first time, I was left with my jaw dropped and my head being scratched in amazement. Sure; extraordinary movement usually gets me more than a little excited but to get me literally jumping out of my seat is a feat in itself (especially when it’s a player that I have no affiliation with).
That said, even though this play was absolutely unreal, there were a number of plays this week that stood out as can’t misses including a nasty, will-breaking run by Marshawn Lynch and a filthy little run by Reggie Bush. In order to help me select from the amazing moves of each of these players on Sunday, I enlisted the assistance of an absolutely lovely little helper, Randi Holley, who I was fortunate enough to have help me with this week’s difficult selection. Randi agreed that Lynch and Bush both would’ve been deserving selections but in the end Dexter McCluster’s dirty moves were too much to overlook. Thank you, Miss Holley, for your always-insightful feedback!
What happened movement-wise on the play?
As I mentioned 2 weeks ago when speaking about Trindon Holliday’s punt return (ironically also against the Giants), the environmental demands occurring during return situations elicit the most difficult of conditions for a football player. Because of the fight-or-flight response typically evoked when 11 guys have the singular purpose of taking one’s head-off; the entire biodynamic structure of the movement patterning in a punt return is of the most extreme nature. Thus, how guys like McCluster can put on a show during these types of conditional changes and still exhibit nearly optimal movement efficiency levels is simply marvelous. To say that Dexter put on a movement show on this play would still not do his performance justice. Honestly, I haven’t watched much of McCluster prior to this point so I have zero recollection of his normal movement tendencies and abilities but you can bet that I will be looking out for him now and into the future.
On this play, Dexter gets the ball at around his own 10 yard line. He takes a second (that’s just a figure of speech because he performs this act very quickly) to read and evaluate what is happening in front of and around him while simultaneously assuming an evenly balanced position to move in either direction. Once he processes the tactical situation and makes his decision he pushes off into super-clean initial acceleration mechanics (which he displayed throughout the remainder of the play). This mechanical execution was short-lived though because he was about to put on a change-of-direction clinic.
At the 13/14 yard line, he performs a sharp crossover and takes that into one of the best-executed spin moves you will see occur outside of a practice drill at the 14-15 yard line. What is maybe most impressive about this cut is that he executes a pseudo-jump-cut into the spin move which requires not only high neuromuscular coordination but also eccentric ability beyond belief to keep his body in a controlled position.
Once he comes out of the spin move he then has to re-evaluate and again set himself up based on his perception of where he needs to take the remainder of the play. Keep in mind; this skill is not an easy one because of how fast it is all occurring. There can be literally no second guessing at moments like this or you will get decapitated. However, McCluster wastes little time again once the decision is made and gets himself to the 17 where he hits a quick speed-crossover cut (at hip/knee angles of less amplitude and range of motion) in an attempt to keep a high amount of his velocity that he came into the cut with. Here however, he does lose some posture, balance, and stability where his braking foot gets a little in front of him and he loses slight trunk control which results in some negative shifting of his center-of-gravity. He quickly rebounds from this though and then covers ground rapidly to the left thinking he may be able to get the edge and house it from there. However, on a punt return, the coverage is always coming at you and it sometimes seems as though there are way more than 11 jerseys chasing. Thus at the 29 yard line he needs to cut himself back into the teeth of that pursuit and up the center of the field. Here he uses a simple re-directional speed-crossover cut. I say “simple” but that is one of the more difficult cutting actions imaginable because of the high torque demands placed on the knee which only increases when movement velocities become higher.
Once he gets up to the 35 yard line McCluster has essentially one guy to beat. Unfortunately that guy is #59 who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up getting posterized by McCluster and a power-jump cut that should probably be illegal it hurt so good to watch. This type of jump-cut is one that only a rare few can utilize in the open field in a game setting and be able to maintain control because of the high absorption demands (estimating close to 4-6 times one’s bodyweight being placed on that plant leg in less than 250 milliseconds). With each of McCluster’s cutting actions he assumes very sharp angles which in turn create sharp force vectors for reacceleration (which is what you optimally want to do if at all possible). He does this by driving his planting and cutting foot as far out as the situation will allow but not so far that he will lose his balance and stability. This is a learned art that comes from repetition as well as a very high degree of force absorption ability (i.e. eccentric strength and great body positioning).
Once he got out of the final cut, it was “good-bye-time.” Again, his displayed short distance acceleration mechanics (up to about 3rd gear) are a sight to behold with very little wasted motion. Even under these conditions, his early-step acceleration has no skater stride action and because of this he gets up to high speeds much more rapidly than most of his peers.
From there, 22 had nothing but pay-dirt awaiting him! I will say once he was in the open field at higher speeds and saw nothing but grass and paint; he may have gotten a little lax with his top-end mechanics. It’s hard to gauge just how much intention he had at that point as his arms started getting a little sloppy and there was some energy escape from the ground up the kinetic chain, as well. In his defense though, all of that is obviously a moot point because he had already beaten everyone guy in red, white, and blue and was also probably more than a little exhausted (try doing a spin move at max speeds among many other actions and tell me how you feel when you are just doing it even against just air).
In case you haven’t seen it yet, here are McCluster’s crazy, ankle-breaking moves from his PR-TD.