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The Evolution Of The Cornerback Position And The Passing Game: The Rams: The Long And The Short Of It

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Does size matter? In today's pass-happy NFL, the answer to that question is taking on added significance, particularly in relation to the wide receiver and cornerback positions. The St. Louis Rams, with the additions of 6'5" Jared Cook and 5'9" Tavon Austin, will be a focal point in the size discussion throughout training camp and the 2013 season. As will teams like the Seattle Seahawks, where the size of their cornerbacks may be indicative of a growing trend in the NFL.

This excerpt was from an article published on Sunday, May 5, 2013 by Dan Pompei, National Football Post. (Please click on link).

Something is going on with cornerbacks in the NFL. "There has been a lot of discussion about cornerbacks," said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who traded up in the first round to take Desmond Trufant, and then used a second round pick on another cornerback in Robert Alford. By my count, the Falcons are one of at least 18 teams have acquired one or more cornerbacks in the offseason, who they intend to start when the season opens. Fifteen of those teams have acquired a probable starting cornerback who can be listed at 6-0 or taller. For some of this, we can thank Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. The success the Seahawks had with tall, press and run corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner has forced a lot of teams to rethink the position. "There are a lot of defensive coordinators and head coaches and general managers who are tired of seeing their corners out jumped and outmuscled for balls by big receivers," Dimitroff said. "So there has been a wave of consideration for approaching it like Seattle does with bigger, athletic corners who can get up and jam and run and do the jump ball thing." It isn’t that teams still don’t want highly athletic, fluid cornerbacks with the ability to cover quick receivers all over the field in man to man. But there aren’t enough of those players out there. So rather than trying to play with a 5-10 corner who isn’t quick enough or big enough to do everything a game plan may call for, some teams are going with a different style of cornerback, and ultimately, a different style of coverage. It is easier to find big corners who can press and drop into zone than it is to find quick footed, loose hipped corners with the size and strength to muscle up against receivers like Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson. Sherman was a fifth round pick; Browner never was drafted, and the Seahawks picked him up after a stint in the CFL. Some cornerbacks who play a similar style that were chosen late in the draft include Tharold Simon (fifth round by the Seahawks), Micah Hyde (fifth round by the Packers) and Jeremy Harris (seventh round by the Jaguars). And more NFL cornerbacks might start to look like Richard Sherman. And some of those big press corners went early, too. The Vikings took Xavier Rhodes with the 25th overall pick. The Bucs chose Johnthan Banks with the 43rd selection. The Redskins went for David Amerson on pick 51. The Titans took Blidi Wreh-Wilson with the 70th pick.

The article focuses on an emerging trend in the NFL: taller, physical, press and run cornerbacks, in the mold of those that play the position for the Seattle Seahawks. These types of cornerbacks are becoming more prevalent in defensive schemes, with the intent of creating better match ups with the bigger receivers in the NFL. Listed below are 11 wide receivers: the first 6 were the top receivers (statistically) in the NFL for the 2012 season, Green and Jones are emerging elite receivers, Fitzgerald is considered among the elite receivers in the league, and Cook and Quick are the receivers on the Rams roster that best fit the physical profile of the others in this group.

Player Height Weight
Calvin Johnson 6'5" 236
Andre Johnson 6'3" 230
Brandon Marshall 6'4" 230
Demaryius Thomas 6'4" 229
Vincent Jackson 6'5" 230
Dez Bryant 6'2" 220
A.J. Green 6'4" 207
Julio Jones 6'3" 220
Larry Fitzgerald 6'3" 218
Brian Quick 6'3" 220
Jared Cook 6'5" 248

All of the receivers listed are among the taller, bigger wide-outs that teams like Seattle are trying to match up with defensively, using taller, bigger and more physical cornerbacks.

The chart below is a listing of the cornerbacks (and their sizes) that are on the rosters of both the Rams and the Seattle Seahawks. Included on the list are the first 8 cornerbacks chosen in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Team Player Height Weight
St. Louis Cortland Finnegan 5'10" 188
St. Louis Trumaine Johnson 6'2" 204
St. Louis Janoris Jenkins 5'10" 193
St. Louis Quinton Pointer 5'9" 186
St. Louis Brandon McGee 5'11" 193
Seattle Richard Sherman 6'3" 195
Seattle Brandon Browner 6'4" 221
Seattle Antoine Winfield 5'9" 180
Seattle Jeremy Lane 6'0" 190
Seattle Byron Maxwell 6'1" 207
Seattle Tharold Simon 6'2" 202
NY Jets Dee Milliner 6'0" 201
Oakland D.J. Hayden 5'11" 191
Atlanta Desmond Trufant 6'0" 190
Minnesota Xavier Rhodes 6'1" 210
Detroit Darius Slay 6'0" 192
Tampa Bay Johnthan Banks 6'2" 185
Tennessee Blidi Wreh-Wilson 6'1" 190
Washington David Amerson 6'1" 205

The differences in stature between the Rams cornerbacks and those of the Seahawks and 2013 draftees are evident. Only 1 of the 6 Seattle cornerbacks is under 6' tall. Of the first 8 cornerbacks taken in the 2013 draft, only 1 is under 6' tall. In contrast, Trumaine Johnson is the only Rams cornerback that is over 6' tall.

Listed below are some of the more prominent smaller receivers in the NFL and their sizes. Included in the list are the two receivers drafted by the Rams in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Player Height Weight
Randall Cobb 5'10" 192
Steve Smith 5'9" 185
T.Y. Hilton 5'9" 183
DeSean Jackson 5'10" 175
Percy Harvin 5'11" 184
Tavon Austin 5'9" 174
Stedman Bailey 5'10" 195

The sizes of these players are in direct contrast to the taller, bigger receivers mentioned earlier in this article. These smaller receivers create mismatch problems for defenses in a different manner than the taller, bigger wide receivers. Which brings us back to an article I wrote in April about wide receivers, focusing on Greg Cosell and "The Cosell Doctrine". (please click on link). The predominance of the passing game in today's NFL has led to offensive and defensive strategists working feverishly to stay a step ahead of one another, with new schemes, coverage's, and specific (yet versatile) types of players (on both sides of the football). The passing game in the NFL has turned into a form of chess match: the creation of mismatches by offenses, and defenses attempting to counter those mismatches with innovative schemes and different types/usage of personnel.

From Greg Cosell:

The overriding, and superseding point is that they are all movable chess pieces, all "Jokers", to use the term that I’ve used before and I think is aptly descriptive. That’s the "Cosell Doctrine", and that’s the direction I see the NFL game trending. It’s about passing, and how you can create, and ultimately dictate favorable matchups. You do that with players that are amorphous and fluid in their ability to be utilized in ways both multiple and expansive, yet somewhat unstructured based on conventional definitions.

The common thread with all the wide receivers I’ve touched on: size. It’s a fascinating dichotomy that is now crystallizing in the NFL. Smaller receivers have increased value due to the expansion of the multi-dimensional "Joker", the player who can align anywhere in the formation. On the other hand, bigger wideouts provide matchup problems for smaller corners on the outside. The NFL has always been cyclical. Is the offense a step of the defense right now? Defensive coaches think so.

The new look Rams passing attack

The Rams last two off seasons have been devoted to building a receiving corps (both through the draft and free agency) that exhibits elements of the Cosell Doctrine. In addition, the Rams have put together a group of wide receivers of all sizes, from the smaller Tavon Austin to the bigger Jared Cook and Brian Quick. Cosell's "dichotomy" on one team.

From ESPN's Matt Williamson:

Expect a fast-paced attack with highly skilled players all over the formation. This group can really run, and with Cook, Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, the Rams have a unique big-to-small electric mix of options to best attack a defense's weakness. Pinpointing where the production will come from might prove difficult, but matching up against this group of young receivers will be tough for every defensive coordinator St. Louis faces.

From Danny Kelly, lead writer for Field Gulls, a Seattle Seahawks blog:

With Tavon Austin,Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Chris Givens, Jared Cook, and a few others, the Rams have some serious, serious speed. It's going to be a real pain in the ass for Seattle to match up with, because historically, they match up better with 'power' teams as opposed to 'speed teams'. Typically, the small, shifty guys give Seattle problems, and a part of that is because the Hawks' secondary is built around being physical with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Brandon Browner.

A small glimpse of what to look for from the Rams wide receivers this year. From Bleacher Report, June 10:

All other indicators for success are there. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Quick has the size to be a top-tier outside target. His ability to get off the line against press should help quarterback Sam Bradford in 2013 as well.

In reality, Quick is a perfect complement to Jared Cook and Tavon Austin in the passing game. Look for a stud season from the talented youngster

The Rams cornerbacks

Fifteen teams acquiring probable starting cornerbacks in the off season that are 6' and taller. Seven out of the first eight cornerbacks drafted in 2013 standing 6' and taller. The Seattle Seahawks successful secondary, with 5 out of their 6 cornerbacks 6' or more in height. Yet the Rams have only one cornerback on the roster (Trumaine Johnson) that is taller than 5'11". The Rams, quite obviously, have not followed the approach of the Seattle Seahawks (nor the many other teams mentioned) or the growing trend towards taller, bigger, press and run cornerbacks. The Rams cornerbacks tend towards being speedy, athletic, and fluid, with the ability to cover smaller receivers in man-to-man schemes, and having enough size and strength to be competitive with the taller, bigger wide receivers noted in this article.

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via underthecode.com

Since Jeff Fisher was hired by the Rams in January, 2012, considerable resources have been devoted to upgrading the cornerback unit and the wide receiver corps. In 2012, the Rams selected WR's Brian Quick and Chris Givens (in the second and fourth rounds), added CB Cortland Finnegan as a free agent, and drafted CB's Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson (in the second and third rounds). In 2013, the Rams added TE/WR Jared Cook through free agency, and selected WR's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey (in the first and third rounds). CB Brandon McGee was selected in the fifth round. As a result, both the cornerback and wide receiver units have undergone complete makeovers during Fisher's tenure. A speedy, athletic, diverse array of talent that comes in all sizes. In addition, Brian Schottenheimer is now in his second year as the Rams offensive coordinator, and Tim Walton was hired in 2013 to fill the void as the defensive coordinator.

Do the Rams now have the offensive weapons in place that can wreak havoc on opposing defenses?? Can they create mismatches all over the field, with both smaller, speedy, elusive receivers (Tavon Austin, Chris Givens) and taller, bigger receivers (Jared Cook and Brian Quick)?? Can they exploit and expose the "Seattle Approach" to the cornerback position?? Although they had a fine season as a group last year, can the Rams cornerbacks take the next step up to elite status as a unit?? Do the Rams have the type of cornerbacks and defensive schemes that are best suited to defend against today's multidimensional passing attacks??

The answers to these questions may very well hold the key to the Rams playoff aspirations for the 2013 season.

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