WR Play: The Art of Route Running

By Taylor Kolste

Clemson Head Football Coach, Dabo Swinney, once said that wide receiver was the worst coached position in all of football. This is because of how technical the position can be, yet how little coached some receivers are. Although route running isn’t the only component of WR Play, I believe it is the aspect that is most technical and should be coached the most. There is an art to route running, great receivers are intentional with their technique throughout the entirety of the route. This article will aim at creating a system for route running that will create a common language between coaches and players and help walk coaches and receivers through route running versus different defensive techniques. There are plenty of different terms out there for the techniques discussed in this article, but the important thing is that they are defined by the coach so that the players and coaches are operating under the same language.

We will breakdown route running into 4 phases:

  1. Stance
  2. Release/Start
  3. Stem
  4. Breakpoint

First of all, the receiver must understand the coverage and defender they are attacking. The receiver must always have a plan of attack that will be determined by the route and the defender that they are attacking. We will start by defining 5 different types of defenders:

  • Press
  • Soft-Press
  • Squat Defender
  • Off Defender
  • Bail Defender

Receivers must understand how to recognize these techniques because that will determine how each route is run. Even though the route might be the same, it will always be ran slightly different depending upon the defensive coverage. Once in season, understanding the opponent’s defensive tendencies and coverages will give the players a better idea of the technique to expect out of the defender they are attacking; this is why film study is critical to success.


  • Defender is aligned tight to the receiver and is expected to jam the receiver off the ball.


  • A variation of press coverage in which the DB aligns even tighter and is expected to lunge forward to jam the receiver.


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