Do you remember the episode of The Office when Ryan started the fire? While the Scranton branch waited for Lackawanna County Fire Department to arrive, they passed the time by playing Desert Island in the parking lot.
We’ve all played Desert Island at some point; either at summer camp, on a family road trip, maybe even on a first date. You pick a subject such as movies or food, and say the top 3-5 that you would bring onto a desert island with you.
It’s a simple game, but it’s one of my favorites because it can give you a pretty good glimpse of the other person’s thought process. So in that spirit I wanted to play a quick round of desert island with you all.
If you were stuck on a desert island, what would be the three traits you would look for in a cornerback?
Wow, what a question by the narrator. If I had to choose three traits that I want in a cornerback they would be: ball skills, height/wingspan, and instincts to play multiple defensive schemes.
In other words, I’d be bringing Patrice Rene with me onto the desert island.
Ball skills are a lot more than just how many interceptions you come down with — it has everything to do with timing, and locating the ball in the air. One coverage technique that corners will use is called trail technique, where you get the receiver get in front of you and stay in his hip pocket throughout the route. It’s easier to cover someone who you’re running with, instead of trying to react out of your back pedal. To be successful, however, you need size (we’ll discuss below) as well as near-perfect timing.
If you’re a corner and you’re playing trail technique and a receiver takes off, there’s a lot going through your head. First off, you have to be running full speed just to keep up with him. All the while you have to be locked in on his eyes. You have maybe a half second to have your hands up to deflect the ball, if you’re running with your arms up for too long you’re going to get burned.
Receivers run drills solely focused on honing their body language to not give any clues to the defensive back about how close the ball actually is. Receiver’s eye’s naturally get bigger and their instinct is to put their hands up earlier than needed and jump at the ball. What great receivers do is not change their facial expressions while letting the ball just fall into their hands at the last possible second.
That what makes being a cornerback so hard. If you turn your head too early, or put your hands up before the ball comes, you’re toast. Rene does a fantastic job of reading the wide receiver and waiting till the last possible second to make a play on the ball.
Coming in at a cool 6’2” 205 lbs, Rene is one of the biggest cornerbacks in college football. When NFL scouts are looking at corners anything over 6’ is big, 6’2 to 6’3 is huge. Rene’s wingspan isn’t available, but if you watch his film you can tell pretty quick that he plays long and has great size for the position.
Similar to how Dazz Newsome is following Tyreek Hill and other shorter receivers trend setters in the NFL, Rene should be thanking Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson, who are long, physical cornerbacks that showed the football world how valuable corners who can match the receiver in both size and speed can be.
Watching Rene’s playing style and physical attributes reminds me of former Washington Husky cornerback Kevin King, who was a second round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Another reason that Rene reminds me of Kevin King is that he’s athletic and instinctive enough to play in any scheme. New defensive coordinator Jay Bateman looks at positional roles as a mere suggestion more than anything else, meaning Carolina corners will be asked to do a bit of everything this fall.
Coach Bateman is a genius, he does a lot of different things to pretty much just put us in the best position to make plays. We’re playing a whole bunch of different stuff, different defenses. We’re bringing blitzes from each and every corner, you don’t really know who’s blitzing or when they’re blitzing, lots of different stunt packages for us. It’s incredible to have him as our defensive coordinator and be able to pick his brain.
From the get go this season you’re going to see Rene lined up all over the field. He has played meaningful snaps for Carolina every year that he’s been on campus, and he’s simply just seen more than the other guys in that defensive back room.
What stands out about watching Rene when he’s lined up in man defense is his confidence. Part of being able to play trail technique successfully is you have to know that you can recover after the receivers first move, you have no margin for error. His wing span and recovery speed absolutely play into that, but he also just has a really really good feel for reading the offensive player.
Another former player that Rene reminds me of in that regard is former Texas Longhorn and Jim Thorpe award winner Aaron Ross. Ross was a part of Mack Brown’s National Championship team at Texas, and won the Jim Thorpe award in 2006. What made Ross so fun to watch was that always seemed to know what the offense was going to run, as if the offensive coordinator was calling the plays into his helmet or something. (I apologize for the poor quality of the Aaron Ross highlight video.)
With a new coaching staff and a new defensive coordinator, Carolina is going to look a lot different on defense this year than they have the last few years. Jay Bateman’s defense is a perfect scheme for Rene’s skillset. His range, size, and football intelligence will be on full display this fall.