Route-running is about telling lies with your body language. In order for receivers to get open against elite defenders, they have to master the art of lying. Great defensive backs pride themselves on recognizing body language to tell them when a receiver is going to accelerate, decelerate, or make a break left or right. A better receiver is able to use a DB’s “intuition” against them by giving false tells.
One technique that is used to give false tells is the punch / drive step. Coach Emmett Jones, who is the receivers coach for Texas Tech, the number one passing offense in the NCAA in 2016, talked about this technique in depth with Inside the Pylon and provided the clips below. He explains, “The punch / drive step gives an illusion of bursting, and it naturally creates separation. We want the defensive back to feel threatened when we use it.”
The “drive” step is a hard step that makes it look like the receiver is about to burst in one direction, which should cause the defensive back to accelerate or tun his hips that way. Meanwhile, the “punch” step is a short step in the opposite direction and gets the receiver running away from the DB. Coach Jones said, “We use it to get off the line of scrimmage or at the top of certain routes to create separation.”
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In the first part of the clip, the receiver is working on an upfield drive step to create the illusion that he is going to run a fade and then takes a punch step inside so he can break that way.
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The same receiver uses the same drive / punch step to create separation in a crucial moment of the game. He gets the defensive back to open upfield slightly and then takes advantage by cutting inside to get open for the touchdown.
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The receiver here is using the drive / punch technique on comeback routes. Again, the elongated step is with the inside foot and creates the illusion of upfield burst before he takes a couple of short steps to redirect his body outside.
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The technique could also be used on deep routes as well. The receiver in this clip does a nice job of taking an inside release and then taking an outside drive step at the top of his route to create the illusion of a possible outside break before breaking inside on the post route. The DB leans outside slightly and stumbles, creating more separation for the receiver.