As I did last year, I will once again be selecting one play each week through the 2014 season 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: Buccaneers at Falcons
Play: Devin Hester high-steps his way into the history books
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
With the trends from the 2013 season, I knew it was only a matter of time till we got our first phenomenal return touchdown of the year to stand alone on top of the Play of the Week ladder. Little did I know or predict that it would come in the form of a record setting performance from quite possibly the best to ever do it in the game.
On the first game of Week 3, former Chicago Bear returner and now Atlanta Falcon do everything player, Devin Hester, firmly wrote his name in the record books to become the all-time leader in return touchdowns when he housed a punt in the 2nd quarter of a rout of the division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As soon as I saw the return I knew that it was going to be tough for any other player to beat it out for this week’s Play of the Week nod and I stood correct through the weekend’s games. However, other guys attempted to break into the mix like Hester’s teammate Julio Jones when he made a tremendous turning acrobatic catch and Le’Veon Bell again showing that he is the most improved mover in the league in 2014. However, when all was said and done, there was Hester…doing what he has done so many times before.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
To start the play, Tampa Bay’s punter sent Hester, the most dangerous returner in the game for a long time, backpedaling for 13-15 yards before catching it. However, as soon as he caught it, with the 12-13 yards of green grass in front of him before the first Buccaneer defender, everyone in attendance had to know that he was going to take his best shot at making a visit to the end zone (no fair catches were gonna happen here!).
Once Hester gathers himself after the reception, you can see his head quickly scan the field in front of him even though he has the sideline limiting the options for the directions that he can go. Out of the crouched pseudo-staggered squat position, he elects to take a few steps to his right in order to tactically allow his blocking to set up nicely in front of him with enough of a crease to give him a chance.
#17 takes a few quick stutter steps right and then hits that previously mentioned crease with a sharp burst of acceleration to quickly get up and past about 5 of the Bucs cover team. In order to do so, Hester slams on the gas pedal and lays down some quick, efficient acceleration steps to move himself from around 38 to the 42 yard line.
Now, a few of these guys had a legitimate shot and catching him if he was a normal punt returner…but this is no normal returner…this is one of the craftiest to ever do it…so he literally ‘scoots through the first wave of defenders which did their very best to close the gap (but to no avail).
Because of his linear acceleration & speed movement mechanics, Hester has always been one of those guys who doesn’t really look like he’s moving all that fast when you see him by himself but when you put him in perspective next to the guys he’s up against you can see he is flat-out NFL-class fast. You can see this very point on display here once he is in the open field running from around the 50 yard line to the 40 yard line. A blink and a hiccup later and he has covered a whole lot of ground and changed the game in the process.
During these mid-range speed mechanics he uses a higher hip flexion angle than most NFL players do even in the open field running linearly. This is what allows for the relatively longer strides especially for a guy that is only 5’11”…but because of his great ankle mobility and quick dorsiflexion coil after turnover his ground contact time remains responsive with these longer strides.
After this point, there is actually very little shot of any Tampa Bay cover guys to track him down in any way, shape, or form….but you know the punter is going to try anyway (as they usually do but rarely succeed). Around the 40 yard line he begins to set this punter up to look silly (another trademark of any great, self-respecting return specialist).
He slows down ever-so-briefly…just enough to decelerate and control his body for an unsuspecting, harder-than-it-looks open field angular directional change and then turns the gas pedal back on to move himself swiftly past and away from the punter who thought he was going to have an angle on Hester at the 28/27 yard line (he was sadly mistaken).
At the 20 yard line, all that is left for Hester to do is give a quick look around…make sure that no one is gonna be close enough to break his spirits…and then pay homage to the man that many would consider to be neck and neck with Devin when speaking about the best returner ever…none other than Primetime, Deion Sanders, who happens to be a mentor to Hester. Because of all this, Hester elected to throw down Deion’s patented high-step for the last 20 yards to paydirt and earn the right to get the 15 yard excessive celebration penalty. Though the high-step probably wasn’t as pretty as Prime’s (haha) it was well-deserved after everything that Hester has been through and the feat that he had just set that is rather exceptional especially when you know and understand the sheer intensity & difficulty of returning punts in the league.
To see this truly awesome play of the week click on this link below: