Learning at the feet (and from the feet) of the masters: Isaac Bruce under the microscope

Isaac Bruce at the height of the Greatest Show Era

One of the best new reads on the interwebs right now for hardcore film study is from Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman on Twitter). His new website, http://mattwaldmanrsp.com, offers Grantland-length features, but with none of the snark, fluff, or self-importance. Instead, you get the attention to football detail that you might expect from a seasoned NFL analyst like Ron Jaworski or Pat Kirwan.

His latest offering is a must-read for all those who talk about the Rams’ receivers and their ability to “get separation.” Most of us who trout out that line stopped being competitive at the varsity level, when raw speed or height were plenty enough to create mismatches all over the field. Hence we look at the current crop of Rams receivers and note a lack of height (except for DX), lack of speed (except for Donnie Avery), and think “these bums don’t have a chance.”

Waldman tells us otherwise. Or rather, he shows us the story of a receiver named Isaac Bruce who stood only 6 feet tall and was never known for his 40 time, but whose physical and technical mastery of the position allowed him to achieve staggering results.

Here’s Waldman, dissecting the 77-yard Warner-to-Bruce touchdown that started the fireworks in the Rams’ 1999 NFC Championship blowout of the Vikings (emphasis mine):

Bruce sets up this break with a sharp dip outside, getting his head, shoulders, knees, and toes pointed diagonal to the sideline long enough to force the shallow coverage to turn outside as well as the safety over top.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice a lot of star receivers in the college game that don’t create this alignment with these four body parts when they try to set up a break. Maybe you’ll see a head fake, a shoulder fake, or a jab step. However, a complete sale of a seam route that forces the safety to widen his zone isn’t common. It requires patience, confidence, and attention to detail.

There’s plenty more gold where that nugget came from. The entire article is well worth a read, as Waldman gives us examples from such luminaries as Tim Brown and Sterling Sharpe. But the importance of the lessons to the Rams’ current crop of receivers cannot be overstated, especially with as much emphasis as the McDaniels offense places on the slot receiver position, and stressing the entire field.

Correction: I had listed Waldman as a scout and writer for the National Football Post. This apparently couldn’t be more wrong. Waldman writes for FootballGuys.com, and is the author of The Rookie Scouting Portfolio.