How To Run Routes Like A Pro

In Football Content, Positional by vIQtoryLeave a Comment

If you’re a fast wide receiver and have superior catching ability, thats great! However, that’s only half the battle.

How does a wide receiver run good routes? Wide Receivers need to use both their speed and quickness to run routes. Two techniques that are commonly taught at the stem and stack techniques. Stemming allows receivers to neutralize leverage on a defensive back within the first 5 yards. Stacking helps receivers gain leverage in the vertical pass game.

Stem and Stack

Route Running. It’s an art…so is using the stem and stack.

The great receivers do it well, and the bad ones get exposed early and often.

Every step the wide receiver takes when they get off the line of scrimmage matters.

We often see players like Julio Jones or Larry Fitzgerald dominate on Sundays. The casual fan thinks because of their size, speed and natural talent alone is what’s setting them apart.

Players like Larry and Julio are technicians, and their craft is running routes.

Before and After Steps

The two route running terms we’re going to be studying are the stack and the stem.

As along as receivers have been running routes, they’ve been trying to gain leverage on a the defender. Using the stem and stack techniques against defensive backs are quite common, especially as offenses continue to innovate the spread system.

If you’re unfamiliar with the terms stem and stack, we’re going to walk through each phase to help you better understand.

The Stem

Why does a receiver want to stem?

A few reasons:

  1. Neutralize The Leverage
  2. Keep The Defender’s Hips Square

via myfootballmentor youtube

If your coach calls a “fade” route, or a “slant”, running as fast as you can down field is only half the battle. Running 3 steps and inward is again, only half the battle for the slant.

This is a common mistake by young athletes. One thing that we, at vIQtory, believe should be taught at an early age, is the ability to identify the routes to stem on and how to stack properly.

Besides stance and start, this is the second phase to getting open and creating more opportunities for your Quarterback.

Neutralize The Leverage

Stemming is often used to neutralize the leverage on a defensive back.

Defensive players will often start the play with inside leverage. This gives the defensive back an advantage to play between the quarterback and wide receiver. If the ball is thrown to the WR, it puts the cornerback in better position to break on the ball.

Receivers are able to neutralize this leverage within the first few steps of the route. Splitting the defender down the middle keeps the hips of the defensive back square.

Keeping The Defender’s Hips Square

As shown in the video above, the wide receiver needs to keep the defensive back’s hips facing him as long as possible. We do this for a few reasons:

  • Get to top speed in our route
  • To keep him guessing which way we’re running

Especially if the wide receiver is stretching the route vertically, we need to keep the defensive back from being able to turn his hips and run as fast as he can with us.

As the WR approaches, the defensive back has to eventually turn his hips (as shown in the video above). Closing this gap on a defensive back not only puts pressure on him but forces him to guess which way to open his hips. If we’re lucky, we can have him guess wrong and spin him.

The Stack

Now that the player has successfully been stemmed, we engage the stack. The stack is used to gain vertical leverage on a defensive back.


via my football mentor

Why do we stack?

Few Reasons:

  • Obtain vertical leverage on the defensive back
  • Make the throw easier for the Quarterback

Vertical leverage is beneficial because it puts the defensive back in a trail position. In the video above ,the receiver takes an inside release and immediately works back on top of the defensive back.

The stack is a great move to help slower receivers gain leverage down field. Once the receiver has successfully stacked the defensive back, he now controls the situation.

If the ball by chance is under thrown, the receiver can slow his route down (which creates a natural lean on the trailing defensive back), and then speed up to gain natural separation.

Helping The Quarterback

Stacking helps the quarterback by giving him a better angle to throw the football downfield.

For example – If the wide receiver just took an outside release an didn’t stack, the defensive back would naturally be between the receiver and the ball. This means the quarterback would have to throw an arcing pass which got over the defensive back. Very tough to do.

Now if the wide receiver stacks the defensive back, the quarterback can miss left, miss right, or over throw and the defensive back will have a hard time recovering because they are in a trail position.

The video above will give you a better visual on how the small receiver controls the situation using the stem and stack.

Do you have a different variation of the stem or stack? Do you teach it differently? We’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment in the comment section below and tell us how you do it!

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