Maybe he’s born with it, maybe it can be developed. But at the same time... can it be undeveloped? Something you’ll notice about the best movers throughout this piece is that they were track guys in high school. Good track coaches, typically, can fix bad mechanics. The more you sprint at 100% intensity over short distances, the more likely your body is to figure it out, too. Land on your heel, you’ll feel the impact versus landing on the balls of your feet.
In my piece, “I like the way you move,” I hyped up the movement patterns of striker Gilbert Frierson, running back Don Chaney, and wide receiver Mike Harley. I couldn’t find data on Frierson, but Chaney and Harley were both track and field guys in high school. Sounds right. When they open up they fly. I’m impressed by Chaney’s speed at times because I saw him as a thumper coming out of high school, that’s a bad eval on my part.
And for the athletes I wasn’t high on their sprinting- they were no where to be found on the track databases for high school athletes. Bubba Bolden, Amari Carter and Zach McCloud weren’t out sprinting on a track with proper coaching, and it shows. This is why college coaches love the dual sport athletes, and especially love track and field guys- they have been coached.
While “Move” only focused on the athlete’s college tape, this piece will also look at clips taken from their high school highlight tapes. I couldn’t find anyone who ran poorly in high school who improved while at Miami. I did however find someone who ran better in high school but has since grown some bad habits in mechanics. Take it or leave it.
The good that stayed good
If you follow my Twitter feed (@IMFB_Blog) you’ll know that I’ve been really high on the sprinting mechanics (and some of his catches, too) of Mike Harley. The ‘Canes wide receiver averaged 14 yards per catch this season and scored seven touchdowns. Compared to the elite WR’s in 2020, 14ypc is about two yards short, and 13 TD’s shy of the Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith. However, in an offense that was just figuring each other out, it’s not bad!
Take a look at Harley in high school (top row) and in college (bottom row). Not much has changed for Harley after four years in Coral Gables and for his sprint mechanics, not much needed to change. If it ain’t broke, don’t jack it up! Everyone can take a coaching cue here or there (top right picture he has to fix his arm angles) but when it comes to sprint, cut, re-accel- he’s pretty damn good.
Another guy that I’ve been high on his sprinting form is Gil Frierson. Frierson doesn’t always make the prettiest tackles, but the dude can run. For all of the ‘Canes defenders that take bad angles, and run sloppy and get themselves out of position- he’s not one. Typically where Frierson struggles is in the finish- his tackling. He shoots high far too often and suffered through stiff arms against NCSU and UNC.
Chaney is only a freshman and hasn’t had much time to pick up bad habits or learn new good habits. At Miami, it’s probably the former and not the latter, per evidence. Chaney is one hell of a runner and will only grow from here, especially if he seems improved offensive line play. He’s a guy I wouldn’t mess with on his form.
Chaney just needs a little work on patience and vision on zone plays (was more of a gap scheme guy in HS) and the pivot and plant ability after catching a screen or swing and turning up field. He takes a rounded approach at times which will lead to allowing a defense time to gather and rally to the ball.
It wasn’t always this way, all the way
The first question I asked myself was has anyone improved in their running form since coming to Miami, and the answer is- I couldn’t find anyone (that doesn’t mean no, nitpickers). My second question was: has anyone gotten worse and the answer is I found one dude (that doesn’t mean he’s the only one, either).
Bolden had some mechanics flaws coming out of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas as a high school senior. As he shuffles from his safety position, his heels are clicking like he’s trying to get back home to Kansas. In the next image (top middle), Bolden has his spike back on a sprint with good shin angle and arms- so that one is where he was better in HS than college. The third image (top right) shows Bolden coming to balance at a ball carrier with the same over exaggerated sprint form and wild arms that have caused him to overrun ball carriers years later.
Above- you can see Bolden while at Miami. Bottom left, Bolden has his feet really close together. Middle left, he’s now sprinting worse than he had in high school. His arm angle is non-existent and his spikes are up to Jesus. The last image (bottom right), Bolden is off balance, arms flailing, and he’s about to heel strike. In “The Art of Tackling,” Bolden was a culprit of bad form and overrunning plays in pursuit.
It’s always been this bad
For some ‘Canes, their mechanical flaws were really evident in high school and there has been no development in four to five years on campus. If you want your athletes to excel, they have to move well. It’s a movement based game, not powerlifting or jogging.
McCloud has had two strength coaches, two linebacker coaches, and zero improvement to his mechanics. As you can see from high school- he runs wide legged and wide armed (top left). In the next image (top middle), he is scraping with his heels together. That’s not good, watch the best scrape to the football, they don’t click their heels. That is because it’s really damn hard to change directions on a misdirection with your heels together. The last image (top right) McCloud has his spikes up, arms wild and away from the body. You can see the flaws in a blurry five minute highlight tape off of Hudl.
Above- in the bottom row you can see McCloud in college as a 5th year senior. McCloud still moves with his feet close together, his hands in fists, and his arms away from his body. In five years no one has fixed a single mechanical issue which has led to his career mostly being him under performing- which is sad. If you can get some of this right, he could be a hell of a player in the box.
Mr. Carter’s reputation is for head hunting. Even on his high school highlight tape, you could see two to three shots with him putting his head into the defenders. Not good. That’s a bad habit that’ll take years to break, it was probably taught to him by Friday Night Tykes level of tackling coaches at the youth levels, and didn’t get corrected by high school coaches.
When it comes to running mechanics, Carter has been plagued by issues since high school that have gone unresolved. Carter runs spikes up, he’s a heel striker with bad shin angles, and his arms get wildly away from his body when he changes direction. His pelvic tilt is all over the place.
The recruits, don’t ruin the recruits!
I chose three random recruits to break down their running form of. I am so impressed by Elijah Arroyo I’m scared to type this. He is one hell of a football player. Like, I’m not sure what determines a four star from a five star on these sites like 247 Sports, but what is he missing?!
Arroyo plays defense, that’s a plus for me for an offensive player. It shows knowledge of the opponent, toughness, and teamwork. He’s blocking a dude on his tape all the way into the back wall through the bench. He’s sprinting like a track star. He’s on kick return pancaking TWO GUYS on one clip, he shows that he knows how to catch a damn football by getting his chest and eyes back, and high pointing the thing.
I hope I’m not jinxing this young fella but I sent his tape to a college and a high school assistant and we just talked about how awesome this kid is for 10 minutes.
The five-star safety slash wide receiver James Williams is a good six-foot-four or six-foot-five and 200 pounds. For his size, he moves exceptionally well. I like that he plays both ways, because either way at Miami, that’s a positive trait. With his length and vertical ability, he would be a great guy on punt block as a freshman sent up the middle against a shield punt team.
Williams sprints really well, great mechanics. Spikes back, arms in tight, good arm angle (90 degrees cutting or sprinting).
The Miami-Northwestern wide receiver is also a track star, go figure. Brinson sprints like a million bucks. He looks a lot like Mike Harley when he gets out in space but I like his technique when he catches the ball more than Harley’s. Brinson is an eyes and chest back, hands and eyes type of receiver. He can high point a ball and when he jumps he keeps control, not falling back like other ‘Canes WR’s on the roster.
I personally wouldn’t recruit or sign someone with abysmal sprinting mechanics. Typically they won’t move well enough, or bend enough on tape to be worth your time anyway. But if they are a man amongst boys like McCloud was on his high school tape- you have to examine it really closely.
This is where taking the “perfect” recruit’s tape and keeping it on file would come in handy. If you were bringing McCloud in as a coverage linebacker, how does he stack up against Darrin Smith? If you want an inside linebacker how does he stack up against Ray Lewis or Jon Vilma from their high school days?
What the best look like
So, what does the best look like? Here are some screenshots from guys I randomly looked up that played in the NFL. I chose different positions, and even a former Hurricane mostly because I wanted to watch Reggie Wayne’s highlights and saw how awesome he ran and said screw it, why not?
The top rack from left to right: Lamar Jackson, Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Wayne, Travis Kelce. There’s something familiar to the running styles of the best football players. They all have their eyes up looking at their target. Great football players are thinking a step ahead of their competition, it’s how great cutbacks are executed. They all have their arms tight to the body, no wild swinging in the arms. They are all toe strikers, and their spikes go back, not up to Jesus.
The bottom rack left to right: Quenton Nelson, JJ Watt, Bobby Wagner, Tyrann Mathieu. Again, there are similarities in their style. Even the big offensive lineman, Nelson, has his elbows in, arms at 90 degrees, he’s a toe striker, spikes back. Watt looks the same, as does Wagner and Mathieu.
So what should the recruiters do?
Keeping some older tapes will serve a great purpose. Find your comparison recruit/s so that you have an idea of what your “best” looks like, and what your “cut off point” looks like. If so and so can’t bend as well as X, I don’t want him. If he can’t move as well as Y, we can’t take him- that’s the cut off point. Then, if he moves like Z or bends like L then we MUST HAVE HIM- that’s the perfect recruit point.
If you see a player with one flaw on tape, that’s just out there making plays- OK let’s grab him. But do you know the drills and programming to fix said flaw? Do you know how to make someone run with better movement efficiency so that they can:
1- Run faster (speed) and with more power (power)
2- Cut sooner, and more precisely (misdirection)
3- Be less tired in the 4th quarter (conditioning)
4- and Stay healthy?
If you don’t, you shouldn’t be overseeing the movement program at an ACC school. Let’s hope some changes are made so guys like Bolden, Carter and McCloud are no longer done the disservice of being coached or allowed to move poorly. It’s time to get right.