On Friday, July 26th, hundreds of football players from all across the country will train under the lights of Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In its ninth iteration, Friday Night Lights has become a premiere event, drawing talent from nearly every state and featuring some of the best talent in the country in each of those years.
Friday Night Lights is not a new concept; it is simply a glorified football camp. The only real differences are: a dark sky, illuminated lights, blaring hip-hop music, and Gator highlight videos that loop on the jumbotron for hours.
The camp, in practice, is not much different than your normal football camp. They begin with coordinated stretching, split into position groups for specific drills, break into pass skeleton, and then wrap up with a motivational huddle at the end.
If you are attending Friday Night Lights, here a few tips on what to look for and how to watch the event, as it’s not solely about who makes the catch or who deflects the ball. A keen observer will be looking for the following things:
1. Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
When watching the receivers at Friday Night Lights, you need to focus on a few things. Primarily, you need to look at their routes. While you will see a lot of “go” routes or post routes, it is important to look at how crisp their lines are and how sharp their cuts are. In a camp that does not require complex routes, you want to focus on the small things about their route running. A lazy route runner at Friday Night Lights is concerning, because you begin to question their route running in more complex schemes. Further, you are going to want to watch their hand placement and their ability to break off of the press coverage. You want to see quick hand movements that push high into the chest with a clean break. Their ability to break off this initial “bump,” separates good receivers from great receivers. Finally, you are going to want to watch how they catch the ball. Do they catch with their hands, or do they catch with their chest? Are the staying grounded and in-stride, or are they leaping for every catch?
Cornerbacks at Friday Night Lights are likely going to play all “bump” coverage, in most cases, there will not be a need to play zone, except in pass skeleton. You are looking for the cornerback, primarily, to have a good two-point stance and for them to disturb the route the receiver is going to run. The cornerback is responsible for throwing the receiver off his line and to disrupt his timing with the quarterback. This initial half-second is just as important as the next five seconds. After this initial press, you want to see a cornerback stay on the inside of the receiver in order to make a play on the ball. Should the cornerback be playing off the line, you want to see a strong backpedal, and then when the ball is thrown, you want to see a very quick burst in his change of direction.
Safeties will play the cornerbacks for most of the evening. You are looking for a lot of the same things out of safeties, as you would out of the cornerbacks. They are not usually coverage players, so you may see them struggle with the speed, but you want to see a good stance, good hip movement and, particularly, you want to look at their feet – what does their backpedal look like? Are they just as comfortable running backward or side-to-side as they are running forward?
Playing quarterback at a football camp is about three things: being accurate, throwing a quality spiral, and understanding direction. Most quarterbacks in high school have worked with their receivers for years and have perfected the timing of each route. At Friday Night Lights, however, quarterbacks are throwing to new receivers and may misjudge the speed of the wide receiver and be slightly off. With that in mind, you are looking for quarterbacks to be accurate on the pattern, even though it could be slightly off with the receiver. Further, you want to see them put the ball where it needs to be with a crisp spiral, whether it is a lofted pass or a zip across the middle. Finally, the need to listen to instruction and make the necessary changes on the fly. They will be coached up a lot and told to do a lot of things, much more than the cornerbacks, safeties, or receivers. A great quarterback is one that can make the necessary adjustments and you can see a noticeable change throughout the practice.
5. Offensive/Defensive Linemen
The linemen will be on the opposite side of the field, in their own world, for most of the practice. With offensive linemen, you are looking for proper hand placement, stance technique and footwork. You want to see an offensive lineman have his hands on the chest of the defensive lineman and punching at the numbers. Anything outside of the numbers is not allowed and a sign of poor technique. His stance needs to be grounded and he needs to continue to chop his feet. The proper technique for an offensive lineman is: feet shoulder-width apart, bent knees, and sitting down nearly to a point of his hamstrings being parallel to the playing field. This is the most balanced stance and allows for the most power to be exerted.
With defensive linemen, you are looking for explosion and good hand placement. Defensive linemen can play from a variety of stances, so you are looking for a particular player to explode out of his stance into a quick first and second step. This quick movement and having good hand placement, does not allow the defender to engage his block. You are going to want to see defensive linemen use a variety of swim moves, rip moves, and spin moves to get past the offensive linemen. There will not be many plays to run, so you will see a lot of very fast pass rushing and “bull rushing” from the defensive linemen at Friday Night Lights.
It will be easy to get caught up on a great play, catch or pancake. However, try to watch at least some of Friday Night Lights with a coaches mind – Look at their footwork, their technique, and most importantly, their attitude.