Saturday, November 17, 2007
Football fans judge wide receivers based on whether they get open for passes, how often they drop the balls thrown to them and how many yards they run for after catches.
Football coaches' grades go deeper than that, and the Kansas University receivers are grading particularly high in one of the less-talked about areas.
For a hint as to where they are grading so well, take a look at all the big plays that started as small ones. On just about all of them, a wide receiver can be found holding a block long enough to make it happen.
"They have been really good blockers," tight end Derek Fine said of the wide receivers. "You look at a lot of the long runs, if you go back there is usually someone springing that long run, and it's one of the receivers staying on his block. That's one of the big keys for the long runs we've had, the little screen passes, plays like that. It makes a big difference. They've all worked hard at getting stronger on their blocking, and it's really paid off for the team this year."
To Kansas coach Mark Mangino, little things always have been big things.
"We feel to have a complete run game you have to be able to block on the perimeter, and some of our screen packages and things of that sort rely heavily on blocking on the perimeter," Mangino said. "They work at it every day in practice and take pride in it. We're much better at doing that than at any other time. We've really improved greatly in that area."
Slot receiver Dexton Fields, perhaps the best blocker among KU's receivers, has thrown key blocks in many of Brandon McAnderson's big runs this season.
"He thanks us for it all the time," Fields said. "Right after he makes a touchdown, and after the game."
Fields explained why he takes pride in blocking.
"It's part of our position," Fields said. "It's a part of the game. You can open up lanes for B-Mac to run in, they can't stop the run, then that opens up the pass because they have to put more people in the box to stop the run. It helps us out in both ways."
Blocking for fellow receivers on screen passes is an art form the KU players have down pat.
"Those blocks are more technique-oriented because you have to be patient on those blocks," Fields said. "You can't just go up there and whup 'em from the get-go because the plays take some time to develop."
Asked why he is well-suited to the slot receiver position, Fields smiled and said: "I can block. Getting off of there and battling with linebackers, the bigger, stronger people inside the box. That's what inside receivers do."
Fields also catches passes in reliable, consistent fashion. He seldom is among the top few stars of the game, but ranks second on the team with 508 receiving yards, behind only Marcus Henry (885 yards), and third with 13.7 yards per reception, behind Aqib Talib (22.8) and Henry (19.2).
A junior, Fields has at least two receptions in 20 of the past 21 games. For his career, he has just nine touchdown receptions, but two were as big as any the Jayhawks have had in recent years.
His lone catch of his redshirt freshman season was for a 15-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter against Iowa State, which pushed the game into overtime, where KU won it to secure a bowl bid.
In this season's 30-24 victory at Kansas State, Fields caught a slant from Todd Reesing and took it to the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter that stood up as the game-winner.
The big catches are easier to recall, but the big blocks are just as important.