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: Rams at Colts
Play: Austin showing the excitement I promised during Camp
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
This week there was a diverse group of potential plays of the week to choose from. This group included several receivers making big-time catches (props to Golden Tate, Andre Johnson, AJ Green, and DeSean Jackson) as well as a couple of rockstar running back plays from guys like Marshawn Lynch and Reggie Bush. In addition, I was even close to pulling the trigger on giving it to an offensive lineman when Donald Penn scored last night and levitated his 360lb body to dunk it home over the goal post. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Instead, I knew that I needed to give credit where credit was due and award the Play of the Week for Week 10 to Tavon Austin. If you will remember correctly, I actually did a breakdown of Austin’s movement patterns back during Rams Training Camp in August. At that point, I believed that Austin would end up being one of the NFL’s most prolific playmakers fairly early in his NFL career due to his special movement proficiency displayed throughout college. Though he has had limited opportunities thus far this season, he proved Sunday that my prediction may end up being on-point as he not only scored 3 times but did so in numerous fashions (both as a receiver and a returner). In fact, 2 of his 3 scores from Sunday could’ve likely been deserving of play of the week as he not only had the 98 yard return that I will be breaking down but also a 81 yard reception in which he showed off the breakaway speed that made him one of the fastest performers at February’s NFL combine.
In case you missed it or just want to re-read it, here is the movement analysis I put together on him in August. On today’s play, you will definitely see some of the movement tendencies that I highlighted then showing themselves in the now.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
On numerous occasions we have discussed the chaotic environment presented to the return man in punt return situations. In summary, it is the most hectic pandemonium that can take place on a football field and it changes the display of all movement patterns due to the fight-or-flight nature of having a ball in the air and 11 angry gentlemen running at you at full-speed. This is also why in most cases, the most naturally-reactive and efficient movers are put in the valuable role to be placed back there. Tavon Austin definitely fits that billing. In fact, if we go back to my Player Evaluation of him, I claimed that I thought he was going to make people look silly at times…and on this particular return, he did just that! Now…onto the movement!
With the ball in the air, you can see Austin (like any returner must do and do quickly!) scanning the field while cognitively determining what his best plan of attack is going to be based on what he is reading between the punt coverage and the flight of the ball itself. Initially Austin waves off his guys as he felt that it was too risky to attempt a return on a ball that far backed up to this own endzone. Of course, either that or he was setting up the Colts punt cover unit for disaster…one of the two!
Somewhere along the way though, Austin’s supreme instincts takeover and he goes into full-out backyard football mode. This is a quality that the best of the best movers all have which I alluded to back in August when I highlighted his ability to move so quickly with very little deliberate thought. This is particularly evident by what was about to occur in the next 20ish yards. In most punting situations, the punting team is at a definite advantage as their cover unit has an enhanced ability to dictate the flow of the play (hence the return average on punts is very low across the league). However, with Austin in this mode, the Rams are sitting pretty.
When Tavon makes the decision to actually grab the football, there is a great deal of real estate in front of him that is clear and clean from any guys in bright blue. The one defender who could’ve made a play on either the ball or Austin had already passed and was off-balance and out of control. Thus, Austin grabs the ball and almost immediately decides to put the pedal to the floor hard. He catches the bouncing ball around the 2 yard line and immediately places himself into a very balanced and stable athletic-ready position to accelerate out of. In this position you can see his movement tendencies of how he almost always uses great leverage into the ground to position his body in a biomechanically-sound fashion to get himself moving rapidly. This is one of the things that I noticed in Austin’s college film that he has the unique ability to do in nearly every situation.
Once he gets turned around the 90 degrees out of that initial position, he begins to look up-field and survey what his movement options are. One thing you should find interesting here is his body position in his first few steps and the accompanying lines of force (particularly his whole body lean): it is NOT an extreme one. Yet, nearly every training specialist will spend a great deal of time working on linear acceleration with a drastic forward lean (out of both a 2 point and 3 point stance). However, this isn’t the lean angle that is either going to be optimal or even effective in this case as he has to pay close attention to what’s going on around him rather than immediately going all-out in the acceleration phase. This is why step frequency easily trumps step length on a football field and why track speed doesn’t always translate to football movement speed! NOTE: If you train NFL football players, I suggest you spend more time actually working on acceleration mechanics and force development at these more upright angles as well. OK; rant over!
Because of his positioning, he is able to take short, choppy steps that at first glance may appear to be inefficient. However, because of the circumstances this is exactly what he needs to do tactically in order to suck up the cover guys while still keeping him not only moving but also balanced. This allows him the opportunity to lay on the acceleration once he sees 6 inches of daylight open up which he does at around the 9 or 10 yard line. He has to make a short/sharp cut at around the 15 yard line which in live time appears to be very subtle. However, because of the movement velocity that he has the ability to attain in just a few mere steps, this cut was actually much more difficult than it looks at first glance. The thing is though; Austin has tremendous body control and eccentric strength/stability when at higher speeds to be able to make these very sharp turns look relatively easy.
From the 15 on then, rapid turnover becomes his best friend and he gains ground rather quickly to get more than early separation from all pursuers. As he approaches the sideline, at around the 24 yard line, he almost gets taken out of bounds by his own teammate who doesn’t quite have the same body control as he does. Fortunately for #11 and the Rams though, they didn’t quite meet at the same spot at the same time and Austin was able to quickly navigate himself around and through the traffic with a very sharp unilateral speed cut off of his right foot which (landed very close to the sideline). From the front view, here you can see the toe-out action that I spoke off in August. Though one would think that this slight toe-out action isn’t a big deal, I believe it is robbing him of some efficiency as this can greatly affect both kinematics (i.e. joint positioning up the chain) and kinetics (i.e. force development at the ground). Because there is still more of this occurring on the right leg versus the left, it can also negatively affect his symmetry and allow some compensation to happen on the left side, as well.
As one could imagine, once he gets into the open field sh*t gets embarrassing for all other players on the field as #11 gets a chance to really open up the throttle and run through the gears. At this point, it’s simply off to the races and there aren’t many guys in the 1,696 in the NFL who are gonna win this race over #11. At higher speeds, Austin displays nearly perfect mechanics on both front and back sides. His ankle quickly flips up underneath him and towards his glutes on every step while his knee drives forward with his foot cocked in solid dorsiflexed position on the front side. Yes, he has relatively short strides but his extraordinary reactive ability allows his foot to snap off the ground rapidly each and every time that it touches. Thus, he is propelled him down the field at clips that few can match.
If you have seen any Tavon Austin touchdowns prior to this point in his career, it should come as no surprise that he was going to bust a move once he reached paydirt. Not the greatest of moves were had here, but really who am I to judge? The guy should housed a ball on a play that most others wouldn’t have even attempted to run back. All in all, I believe that there are probably only 8-10 other players in the NFL who could’ve displayed what he did here on this play all-around.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is the play in its entirety: