Evolution: The gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.
The game of football has seen it's fair share of evolution. From the run game to the forward pass, from tight formations to spread, one thing is certain; the game of football will never stop evolving. Trends take over the NFL like wildfire and if you're not setting them, you better adapt to them or you get left behind. So how do you keep up? How do you stay ahead of the curve? Has Jay Gruden and company done just that?
At some point in the past, more recent than not, the NFL wide receiver position evolved. The receiver position became less about speed and quickness and more about height and catch radius. NFL teams began trying to put basketball teams together on the football field figuring it was easier to go up over the top of defenders than running away from them. This ended up paying big dividends. The fade/jump ball became a staple in the NFL and one of the more exciting plays in the game.
What have teams done to counteract this? Well, the blueprint and the hottest current trend in the NFL sits up in Seattle with a Super Bowl Trophy. For the last few years, the Seattle Seahawks and the "Legion of Boom" have been creating a reputation as a physical, in your face defense that is going to match height with your large receivers. Their domination of the #1 offense in the NFL on the grandest stage only further solidified their credibility. This has helped open a new door for many players.
In years past, college cornerbacks who stood over 6'0" were almost universally told that they need to either transition to safety or they weren't going to make it in the NFL. Why? Tall cornerbacks have a hard time with the flexibility in their hips to sit, turn, burst and accelerate out of breaks the way an NFL receiver does. Of course, that was before the receiver position evolved. The problem with following a blueprint like this is with only 7 rounds in the draft and a salary cap that evens the playing field, you're limited to the amount of players you can add each year to try and copy it. Usually, by the time you're done copying it, it has already faded away. Remember the "Wildcat?"
When Jay Gruden was hired to be the coach of the Washington Redskins, we thought we knew two things: A. He liked to pass the ball and B. He liked tall receivers. Well, he does like to pass the ball. Outside of bringing in Cody Hoffman as an undrafted free agent (no commitment), Gruden has brought in DeSean Jackson, Andre Roberts and drafted Ryan Grant to pair with current holdovers Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss, and Aldrick Robinson with Leonard Hankerson being the only one over 6'0 tall. Jordan Reed should be a large piece of the offense and he is also undersized for the TE position. We have joked about "The Smurfs 2.0" this off-season, but why in the age of the tall receiver would you collect so many short targets? Is it possible that it's because it's the counter to the tall CB? Is Jay Gruden not wasting time in defeating this trend while other teams are trying to duplicate it?
You don't need height to create separation. Our receivers can use the "old" method of speed, agility, acceleration, and route-running ability to create separation. The one advantage the "new-age CB" has is the ability to be physical, but as has been stated this past week, the referees will be taking a new approach to assure the "well they won't call defensive pass interference on every play" method of defending is a thing of the past. Where does that leave things? That leaves the Redskins with at least five solid route runners with good speed and YAC ability going up against many taller CBs who have a harder time cutting and only have a legitimate five yard cushion to be physical. Then, it's off to the races.
Master plan or not, it'll be fun to watch it unfold during the 2014 season.