2014 Play of the Week – WK15

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: Raiders at Chiefs

Play: Running DAT Ball Back

DAT play pic 4

What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?

As usual, I will be quite honest here: week 15’s top plays were a little more lackluster than most weeks in the NFL…at least from a movement standpoint. The majority of the standout plays that occurred seemed to involve more routine-type skill execution or plays set-up because of tactical effectiveness level (either based on the play call or the lack of execution by the opponent). However, that all said, the play I ended up picking did exhibit some extraordinary display of movement when De’Anthony Thomas takes a punt the distance from 81 yards.

I should say; I have always been slightly impartial to the in-sport/on-field movement performance of Oregon Duck football players based on the respect I have for their longtime All-Star of a Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, Jimmy Radcliffe, who I personally know and have admired the work of for some time. However, truth be told, many Ducks who were supreme movers in college haven’t necessarily gone on to be phenomenal movers when they’ve played on Sundays (for whatever reason).

Coming into the season, I felt as though De’Anthony Thomas could be different from the likes of the other Ducks who came before him. The guy possesses blazing straight-line speed (which will be shown on the play below) from his time spent participating at a pretty high-level of qualification in Track & Field (PR of 10.31 in the 100m). However, it’s his open field instincts and respective suddenness/reactive ability that make him special. As Thomas showed during his Oregon days if he gets even the slightest of space and crease, he can hit a home run at any point. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened on his punt return that is this week’s movement Play of the Week.

What happened movement-wise on the play?

On the play, DAT settles in at his own 19/20 yard line to receive the punt. As soon as the ball is firmly secured in hand, I notice two things immediately: 1). His head/eyes quickly whip upward to scan upfield. 2). As soon as the visual processing has occurred, he quickly makes a decision and subsequent movement action to set up the Raider defenders quickly in pursuit on the coverage of the punt.

The latter (the movement action) involved an elastic-reactive plyo step with his left leg which allowed him to quickly lower his center of gravity and place himself into a more optimal power position for a rapid acceleration. In fact, his first two accelerative drive steps out of this position are as superb as you will witness on grass as you can note the horizontal line of force of his projection and the angles at his shins all the way up through his torso (pause the video as his 2nd step is straddling the 20 yard line).

DAT play pic 6

Overall, this position and corresponding mechanics allows him to get moving and quickly cover the first 6-7 yards in a blink till he has to make even a slight move. During this time, you can see the Track influence of his technical execution from those aforementioned angles to his non-ball hand in the proverbial/imaginary pocket position of his opposite hip while he is not only setting up a wall of red in front of him but also approaching the first major move/cut of the play.

DAT play pic 2

This move/cut, which takes place at the 28/29 yard line, doesn’t really look like a cut per se at first glance. However, at these types of movement velocities DAT needs to ensure that he doesn’t have a huge drop-off of overall body velocity or of the position he is maintaining that will allow him to turn this return into a house call. Thus, he strategically (well, his subconscious mind strategically set this pattern up anyway) executes this speed crossover cut which results in a very little energy dissipation and carries him into his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th gears down the sideline.

And…on that note…those 2nd-4th gears are something to behold! Though DAT’s 40 yard dash time was expected to rival Chris Johnson’s going into last year’s NFL Combine and this never materialized, the overall movement mastery of his linear speed & patterning is out of hand on the field as you can quickly see him covering green grass and passing potential Raider tacklers in the process.

Each and every step, his supreme technical execution is so evident yet again here and as he goes from his 30 yard line all the way to the 50 yard line he presents a case for football performance coaches everywhere for a more technical model of movement development! Rapid turnover and balanced step lengths with biomechanically-sound frontside and backside mechanics run rampant with DAT till he must start slowing down slightly to navigate himself around and through the two remaining Raiders that have a shot at spoiling his end zone dreams.

However, he also had a bit of Chiefs convoy and like he did too many times to count on highlight reels during college, he set up a punter with a subtle but fast feint & fake move like he’s going back inside (silly punter!) and then it was back outside to truly get back off to the races after the punter stood no shot. This move included higher speed angular running for just a short time. As I have mentioned in the past, this type of linear locomotion goes underappreciated and thus underdeveloped by the majority of football performance coaches but it can often make or break the energy utilization (and the outcome too!) on plays like this.

DAT play pic 1

Thus, for approximately the last 40 yards, we just get to sit back and enjoy the linear technical execution of DAT! I simply cannot think of another player in the League who is as close to the biodynamic structure and technical model of execution ‘attractors’ that we so often hear about in kinesiology and motor learning circles. Though his toes are pointed out slightly at these higher speeds (thus, leaking a bit of energy up the chain), his ground contact response is short and his energy restitution is efficient from front to back and symmetrical from side to side.

Thus, all in all, De’Anthony Thomas earned every right to somersault into the end zone and to bask in the glory of the tens of thousands of red-sporting Chief fans in Arrowhead.

To watch this truly explosive and fantastic play, click below right here:
http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000443133/De-Anthony-Thomas-returns-punt-for-80-yard-TD

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