By Danny Freund
Wide Receivers Coach
University of North Dakota (ND)
A well thrown back-shoulder fade is a major weapon. We believe in throwing back-shoulder because it is hard to defend when executed, and usually gives the receiver a chance to make a play on the ball or draw a pass interference call. We throw a quick game back-shoulder route against press man in the open field and red zone. We also ask the quarterback to read the defender and throw back shoulder on go routes, wheel routes and fade routes from the slot.
This isn’t an easy throw or route. We practice it every day in some fashion because the concept depends heavily the tempo of the throw and speed/adjustment/separation of the receiver. These daily reps develop the confidence and timing it requires to execute on game day.
We threw more back shoulder balls last season because our wide receivers had good size and athleticism, but lacked the speed to consistently run past defensive backs in our league.
Types of Back-Shoulder Throws
We break this concept down into two types back-shoulder throws. The first is what I typically think of as a back-shoulder throw; a quick fade ball in the red zone or open field. The second version is where the quarterback and receiver making adjustments on certain deep routes based on the leverage and eyes of the defender.
This is a ball that is thrown versus tight or press man coverage. There are a lot of factors that go into making this work, but the most important being the placement and tempo of the throw. A perfect ball can potentially make up for a poor release by the receiver and good defense by the defensive back. As a general aiming point for the quarterback, we tell him a foot above and a foot behind the wide receiver’s back shoulder. It is really important this type of throw has some tempo to it. We want the receiver to flip his hips and adjust late to the throw, leaving the defender with little reaction time to make a play on the ball or receiver’s hands.
It is very difficult to complete this throw if the quarterback misses inside. It no longer becomes a “back-shoulder” if the ball is thrown to the front of the receiver! The ball is more likely to be caught if it is at shoulder level or above. If the throw is lower, then it should be a little more behind the receiver to clear the defender’s body.
More often than not, this is a ball thrown into the boundary. It is a higher percentage throw because the ball travels a shorter distance. It is a precise throw and the shorter distance allows for better accuracy. It is also typical to see more press man coverage into the boundary, which is the only coverage we attack with the three step-back shoulder.
- The wide receiver should work a release and get three to four steps vertically into the defender before looking. If he looks too early or doesn’t get vertical, he can get squeezed into the sideline and allow the defender a better angle to play the route and ball.
- The receiver should avoid leaving space between him and the defender. He must stay tight and vertical for as long as they can. He will also hold the line and leave room for the quarterback.
- The receiver will use his upper body at the top of the route. Bigger wide receivers usually have longer arms and they can use that length to create separation with a slight push off just before the ball arrives.
- The catch, tuck and finish of this route is the most important. Defenders are not looking for interceptions in man coverage. They want to break up the pass. They will play the ball aggressively and attempt to punch or rake it out. The receiver needs to execute a quick catch and tuck, and not leave the ball exposed for the defender. We coach them to catch, tuck and rip it away as we try to flip our hips completely.