A sit down with Stan Hixon
I recently had a chance to talk with Stan Hixon, the Redskins Receiver Coach, about the progression of the two talented wide receivers the Redskins selected in the second round of this year’s draft — Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly.
Thomas is 6-feet, 1-1/2-inches tall and weighs 216 pounds. He was the overall 34th selection in the draft and he played his collegiate ball at Michigan State.
Kelly is 6-feet, 3-inches tall. He was the 51st overall selection in the draft and he comes from the University of Oklahoma.
Prior to the draft ESPN posted the analysis of top prospects done by Scouts, Inc. This is what they said about Thomas:
Strengths: Possesses adequate-to-good height with a sturdy build for a wide receiver. … Displays outstanding hands. Can consistently catch over his head. Strong hands to pluck in traffic. Is a threat after the catch. Sees the entire field and shows the change-of-direction ability to make sharp cuts without losing speed. Is strong and will drag some defenders for extra yards after the catch. Has bulk and strength to sustain blocks when he’s in position.
Weaknesses: More dangerous after the catch than he is a vertical route runner. Still needs polishing as a route runner. Not crisp enough to consistently separate from tight man-to-man coverage. Needs to improve his array of release moves versus press coverage at the line of scrimmage. Doesn’t always sell routes on play-action runs.
Scout Inc. through ESPN wrote this about Kelly:
Strengths: Big, strong and smooth receiver prospect. Excellent combination of size and athleticism. Plays quicker than his measurables…. He has big, strong hands — strongest hands of any WR in this year’s class (in our opinion). Does an excellent job in securing the ball in traffic. Uses massive frame to shield defenders from the ball. Wins more jump balls than most receivers. Is a serious weapon inside the red zone. Will drag defenders and bounce off initial hits. Maintains balance after initial contact and will gain a lot of tough yards at the end of runs.
Weaknesses: Lacks elite top end speed. Rounds off too many of his breaks and still has room to improve with his overall footwork.
After some OTAs and unofficial workouts Coach Hixon evaluates both receivers this way:
“Their biggest adjustment is coming from their college system into the NFL. The biggest difference between college receivers and pro receivers is speed of the game. Defensive backs react faster than DBs in college.
Thomas’ and Kelly’s biggest issue now is creating separation from the defender in a one-on-one situation. Finding the right hole to get into and reading the coverage on the run. Coverages change in the NFL and teams disguise them very well.
We are working with them in the way they run their routes. We are showing them how we want them to run the routes. It’s different than what they did in college. And we are also working on their release at the line of scrimmage.
Thomas was taught a certain release at Michigan State. We don’t do that release here. He’s been doing the Michigan State release for two years. So he had to go through a transition.
In Kelly’s case, we are working on how to get out of routes. It’s different than what he did in college. You have to keep separation. You can’t slow down.”
The size of the receiver is an important factor when running the West Coast Offense, explained Hixon. “Size is an important thing for a receiver who maneuvers into a short area,” said Hixon. “You want a big receiver who can go over the middle and do underneath things in the middle area.”
Hixon believes that Thomas, who is 6-feet, 1-1/2-inches, offers an additional advantage with his speed. “He’s a big receiver with break away speed,” said Hixon. “Commonly, most big receivers are not as fast as Devin. He has both.
“Malcolm is pretty fast, but he’s not as fast as Devin or Santana (Moss). He can get in and out of breaks over the middle and do underneath things in the middle area. Malcolm is a little like Art Monk — of that frame — although I never coached Monk, I’ve only seen him in films”
For now, said Hixon, both Thomas and Kelly will learn one position or spot. But he is looking foreward to matching Thomas and Kelly on a fourth or fifth DB. “Because of Devin’s and Malcolm’s speed and size we have the advantage when a fourth or fifth DB is covering them.”
Hixon expects that packages will be created that can take advantage of a specific team’s weaknesses. These packages will be developed the week of a game based on the coach’s knowledge of the opposing team and the films.
Hixon explained that the West Coast Offense uses a lot of three and four wide out formations. “And we want to keep Chris Cooley on the field as much as possible,” he added. “So we can juggle things around like have three wide outs and a tight end.”
Finally, Hixon explained the differences between the Gibbs offense and the West Coast. A lot is based on terminology. In Gibbs’ system, the routes were designated by number. So, for example, the QB would call 585. That meant that one receiver did the 5 route, one did the 8 route and one did the 5 route. In the case of the West Coast Offense, Hixon said it is based on rote memory. So the call could be say “Double Comeback.” That means something specific to each guy. It works on a variation of the same routes.
So expect to see Thomas and Kelly at the wide receiver position and Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle-El will be playing wide out and in the slots.
You should also expect to see a lot of James Thrash. “The offense was made for him,” said Hixon. “He knows all the positions and he still has good speed. We can plug him in at any of the four spots. He knows what to do to be effective. The system should be good for James,” concluded Hixon.
Note: I’d like to take note that Don Breaux, an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins for a total of 17 seasons and a coach in the NFL for a total of 27, has retired. Breaux is a major reason why the Gibbs teams of the 1980s and 2000’s were successful. He served as the team’s running backs coach from 1981 and 1993 and as the offensive coordinator from 2004 - 2007. He was more than influential in getting the Redskins into four Super Bowls and winning three of them. He coached John Riggins, Timmy Smith and Ernest Byner who all played in the Super Bowl, as well as George Rogers and Reggie Brooks. Four different players achieved seven 1,000 yard rushing seasons under the watchful eye of Breaux — Riggins (1983-86), Rogers (1985-1986), Byner (1990 - 1991) and Reggie Brooks (1993). And Riggins was named the MVP of a Super Bowl and Timmy Smith still holds the record for the most yards rushing (204) in a Super Bowl.
Between his two stints with the Redskins he was the tight ends coach for the New York Jets (1994) and Carolina Panthers (1995-2002). He also played with the Denver Broncos (1963) and the San Diego Chargers (1964-1965). His first coaching job in the NFL was when he served as the running backs coach for the Houston Oilers in 1972.