Play of the Week – Week 13

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: Broncos at Chiefs

Play: Knile Davis making a record-setting splash for his first TD

Davis kick return 4

What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?

This Thanksgiving holiday weekend of football featured some big-time cumulative performances from a number of guys. First, Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery had huge days statistically. And AD-28 put up yet another milestone when he became the third fastest to eclipse 10,000 yards rushing. On top of that, some guys threw down some spectacular movement plays that stood out and were definitely in the running for this week’s movement play of the week. The previously-mentioned Jeffery had what may be one of the top 3-5 catches of the season while Vernon Davis was out there leap-frogging not only one guy but two! I know, I know…one would think Dr. Jump would select the play that involved an athlete hurdling people but not this time! However, the movement on a different play in particular was left standing when the Thanksgiving dust settled. This play was from Kansas City rookie, Knile Davis, who set a new Chief franchise record for the longest play in their history when he returned a kick back a whomping 108 yards.

Davis combine

Knile Davis is an intriguing guy that I really liked from a very talented 2013 rookie running back class that included Davis (in the 3rd round) as well as guys like Montee Ball, Le’Veon Bell, and Gio Bernard who if you remember correctly has been awarded a movement play of the week this season already. While at Arkansas, he did have some freak injury issues but based on his running style and his physical features I felt as though he could still be a very reliable back in today’s NFL. However, being that Knile Davis plays RB on a depth chart that includes one of the game’s very best in Jamaal Charles, he simply doesn’t get a whole lot of touches at the RB position. Thus, it’s good to see him able to make his impact in other ways for the Chiefs.

What happened movement-wise on the play?

Now, let’s be clear here: Knile Davis is a man and a half. Though he’s under 6 feet tall, he does clock in at nearly 230lb (227lb at the combine last year), which is nothing to scoff at. Though his size and muscularity is all fine and dandy, it’s not what allows him to do what he does on this play. Yes, he is a load to bring down but more importantly he uses his leverage very well especially in traffic to maintain his balance and stay stable to continue to be on his feet while manipulating himself through the crazy-ass chaotic environment that is involved when returning kicks in the NFL. Plus, though he is relatively jacked physically, he has the ability to move rather fluidly for his size. Just last February while watching the combine, I remember being rather impressed by his movement patterning in drills (which is really what matters to me) as well as some of his measurables such as his 4.37 40yd and good horizontal explosiveness.

On this return, Davis gets pinned back deep (2 yards away from being out of the field of play in fact) to a place where one will usually kneel it down. Very few special team coordinators will actually give the go to bring a ball out from this place regardless of how things are playing out strategically with the blocking in front of the returner. Davis catches the ball while already in a very efficient sport lunge position. This is a position that will actually save him a step and the time that goes along with it (which on a football field is precious). It’s also one that I spend a great deal of time attempting to develop comfort in with the players I advise as it is one that can lead to great movement optimization on-field. This is especially true in this case where he doesn’t have to concern himself with going in multiple directions with his first three steps. Thus, he can focus on accelerating hard off of both feet in this more advantageous lunge position to get him moving more rapidly.

His acceleration phase, which in this case will last for approximately the first 10 yards (remember that will always change depending on the environmental circumstances), is super clean and efficient. Note the very quick and responsive steps each time his foot strikes the ground as he is looking to find an optimal balance between step frequency and step length here especially in order to be able to keep himself open to even slight directional changes which must start happening around the 2 yard line. Due to the great blocking being executed in front of him, he already has a tremendous deal of speed built up at this point as he looks to take himself and the ball up through the relatively large hole that has been formed in the middle of the field. Just because this hole is large doesn’t make this movement any easier though due to the movement velocity that Davis has already attained.

Davis kick return 6

At the 12-14 yard line Davis performs a speed lunge cut where he may have gotten his center of mass a little high and his base of support a little too long (i.e. his feet are too far apart front-to-back). This higher COM position can sometimes lead to a drastic reduction in speed due to the strong heel strike on the front leg and the decelerating forces that go along with it. However, #34 is able to maintain a relatively high amount of speed as well as his balance and immediately take himself back into a sound reacceleration position and corresponding mechanics. In this traffic at the 15 yard line and on (till he clears it all), you can begin to see how accustomed/comfortable he is to running both hard and fast in rapidly-moving on-coming traffic from all of his years playing in the college speed playground of the SEC. Of course, you usually won’t see larger guys returning kicks because in this setting the returner typically has to be able to fit through tight quarters while being able to keep high movement speeds. This is probably the most impressive feat of this Davis return in that he is able to maintain his speeds with high efficiency (mostly based on his intention but also because of his movement mechanics as well).

Davis kick return 2

Even with this speed ability the balance and stability I mentioned earlier was about to prove its worth between the 25 and 30 yard line where he gets tripped up by a Broncos defender and ends up airborne to landing unilaterally (with one leg extended well out in front of him). Somehow he is able to maintain his balance and keep his bearings about him (in the field we call this kinesthetic sense/awareness or sometimes just luck!). In order to prop himself back up he also had some slight inadvertent assistance from his teammate who was blocking the kicker. This was enough to regain movement control and position and get his body prepared for the remaining distance he had to cover.

Davis kick return 5

After he gets his control back, he quickly gets into a solid reacceleration position which was imperative in this case as if he didn’t display these mechanics here, or didn’t have the extraordinary horizontal power that he possesses, he would have surely been caught from behind at this point by guys who already had a head of steam. Even though he now has a good number of Broncos quickly pursuing, his fantastic short distance acceleration (especially for a big dude) is the thing that broke this play open and obviously allowed him to cover a great deal of ground very quickly. This is good too because down the stretch a guy with Davis’s anthropometric features isn’t meant to be a maximum speed burner and this started to show as his mechanics start to slip around Broncos 30-35 yard line.

Davis kick return 3

At this point, because of the distance covered and the energy utilized, some slight fatigue started to take its toll, as well. You can see his overall coordination begin to suffer slightly (check his arm action) and the elastic energy start to dissipate at a time when reflexive energy should be one’s best friend. You can see #34’s shoulders begin to rock back and forth and his ground contact begins more labored where his knee is not flexing nearly as quickly on the backside and instead is striding out behind him further as he gets down the stretch. However, Davis was simply not going to be denied and he had one intention at this point; to gut-check and will himself to paydirt especially when he was this close to his very first taste of it in the NFL. Luckily, the last Broncos defender also had been forced to run a great distance and had a disadvantageous angle of pursuit too.

Anytime a return goes the distance you know that there was some extraordinary movement that had taken place. It becomes even more impressive when a guy nearly 230 pounds does it with this kind of pizzazz and fluidity.

Here is the jaw-dropping play in case you missed it.
http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap2000000290794/WK-13-Can-t-Miss-Play-In-De-Knile

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