Coach's Corner: Tom Radke 4/18

Tom Radke

By Tom Radke Head Coach St. James Academy
Posted: April 18, 2011 - 10:04 AM

What does it take to become a good wide receiver?


First of all, to be a good wide receiver you need to be quick, tough and fearless, and you must be willing to block. A touchdown block is just as important as a touchdown catch. You may not get your name in the paper for a TD block, but I guarantee your coach will see it and it will earn you more playing time, and more team victories.


Ed McCafery back in the day and now Hines Ward provide a perfect example of how receivers should play football. You see them making catches, but they are known for their commitment to blocking and their relentless style of play. I admire the way they play. It is how football should be played, and wide receivers are no exception to that rule.


Wide receivers must be fearless. They must attack the ball in the air and catch it at its highest point. Receivers must believe that every ball in the air is theirs and nothing is going to stop them from catching it.


Receivers must catch every catchable ball. There are no excuses for a dropped pass. It’s not your gloves (which you don’t need by the way), it’s not the sun, or the field conditions. If the ball hits your hands, it should and must be caught.


The primary objective of a receiver is to catch passes and advance the ball downfield. Here are a few keys to catching a pass. First, when the ball is in the air, catch the ball with your fingertips. If you focus on saying “catch the ball in your hands” athletes tend to also use their body to catch the pass. You never want the ball to touch your chest while receiving a pass.


Second, attack the ball in the air, never let the ball attack you and get into your body. Too many bad things can happen if the ball gets onto your body. Your hands are softer than your pads, so use them.


Next, watch the ball all the way into your hands with your eyes. Once you have caught the ball make sure to tuck it away, making at least three points of contact on the ball; hand, forearm, body. Finally, once the ball is secure, make only one move to make a defender miss, and score.


As I mentioned earlier, in order to be a valuable receiver you must be an outstanding blocker in the open field. There is much more to blocking that telling an athlete to “go block that guy.” The biggest advantage a receiver has is that he knows if it is a run or a pass play. It is imperative that the receiver takes three explosive steps off the snap of the ball on every play. Every play has to look the same on the first three steps or you lose the element of surprise.


The easiest way to teach open field blocking is to break it down to a smaller level. A proper aiming point is crucial to a good block. If an outside run play is called then the receiver should block the outside number of the defensive back, and force that number to the sideline. If it’s an inside run (between the tackles) the aiming point should be the inside number and force the defensive back inside. The key is to take the defensive back where he wants to go and make the back make his cut off of you. The receiver’s job is only to make sure that the DB he is blocking is not able to make the tackle. Emphasize that their hands must be inside the shoulders and , the block should only need to be made for three seconds, but remind them to always play through the whistle.


On every route and blocking play, be aggressive but under control. Wide receivers can dominate a game. Not always by catching touchdowns, but by working downfield on every play. A receiver’s pad level should always be down with their shoulders over their feet.


When approaching a defender or at the top of your route receivers should keep their shoulders over their feet, never leaning back while slamming on the brakes. Make sure to chop your feet because if you slip, it is your fault. If you don’t have proper body angles and control then you will slip, even on a dry field. Receivers should never make excuses, and they should play with a crazed mentality because you never know when you are going to make the block or catch the pass that wins the game.


This is a very small amount of information on wide receiver play but I think these are some of the basics that should be taught at every level. If you would like a more detailed explanation, please feel free to contact me at


Tom Radke was a three-year letter winner as a wide receiver for Iowa State University from 1995-1997 and is the coach at St. James Academy.