Over his 10-year NFL career, Marques Colston made his living by getting open.
The former New Orleans Saints wide receiver had six seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 70 receptions. Not bad for a seventh-round pick out of Hofstra University. Though Colston never had burning speed, he was able to consistently fool defenders with his precise route-running technique.
STACK recently caught up with Colston, who offered up one of his most useful route-running tricks. If you can make the start of every route look exactly the same, you're going to put your opponent in a very tough position.
"First and foremost, the common misconception is that your 40 time correlates to your ability to run routes. That's not true," Colston said. "The secret to running great routes is to make every route look the same. Whether you run a 4.3 or a 4.7, if you can make the start of every route look the same, you're going to be able to run good routes and get open. If your curl looks like the beginning of your slant route and that looks like your go route, he has no idea which of the three you're going to run. That little bit of indecision is what helps to create separation."
So, what exactly does that mean?
For one, you should explode off the line on every route. Getting off the ball and taking your first few strides like you're trying to beat the DB downfield are critical for making every route look the same.
"My first NFL receiver coach, Curtis Johnson, engraved it in my brain to get off the ball and make everything look like a go route," Colston said. "Your arm action—you should look like you're getting out of the blocks on a 100-Meter Dash. Then he can't judge you based on your speed."
Second, your eyes should always be in the same place—staring right at the defender. If you're looking toward where you will be when you start your route, you'll be telegraphing the route to the defender. But if you come off the line looking at him on every play, he's got nothing to read.
"The ability to look a defensive back in his face while you're running gives you a distinct advantage," Colston said. "A lot of people look down and look at the point where they're going to break. These are all visual cues. If you can come off the ball and look a DB in the face, that takes one of his crutches away."
It takes thousands of reps to master this technique, but focusing on those two things can instantly make your routes harder to predict. "It's really just about making the defensive back guess instead of giving him clues on things that correspond to certain routes," Colston said.
Colston says that Lance Moore—a teammate of his in New Orleans—was the best route-runner he played with. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 187 pounds, Moore was never going to physically dominate his NFL opponents. But his route running was so clean and so precise that he consistently managed to get open. "Lance was a guy who could run every single route, every double move, every route you could think of—and he could go and make [the start of each route] look the same, perfect," said Colston.
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