Over the past offseason, Josh McDaniels admitted to several coaching mistakes he made in his first season.
One of his biggest regrets? Not utilizing Eddie Royal’s unique skills.
Broncos fans were told to expect something different in 2010. McDaniels committed Royal to the slot-receiver spot, which would allow him more immediate separation off the line of scrimmage. This additional space would allow Royal to utilize his superior quickness and get into his routes before a defender had time to jam him.
Royal, for his part, committed himself to getting stronger in the offseason.
Yesterday, against the Titans, we were able to see how it all came together.
Royal was on full display, and in a variety of different positions. In the first quarter, he ran a long out that was more reminiscent of his rookie year under Mike Shanahan. But he went perfectly to the soft spot in the zone coverage, right behind the cornerback, but in front of the safety. Orton hit him as the 3rd read on the play. Later, from his traditional slot, he caught several short passes over the middle, repeatedly using his quickness and inherent space of the slot to defeat linebackers and safeties. Still later, split to the outside, he took a bubble screen for a huge gain into the red zone. In the 2nd half, he took a slot receiver screen for 41 yards. Watch this play again if you get the chance. Royal actually stiff-arms a linebacker to the ground in the hole. In the 3rd quarter, he squats perfectly in the empty area of the middle zone on an option route that he and Orton read perfectly. The result was a nice 7-yard gain.
Royal was absolutely critical to yesterday’s win, and will continue to be critical in future games, and not just because he’s talented. It’s because the slot receiver is often called on to run short routes that serve as substitutes for the running game. Through four games, the running attack has struggled, and, in at least two games, McDaniels has shortened Orton’s drops and utilized quicker passes. The beneficiary of these types of passes has been and will continue to be Eddie Royal.
I’m not sure who Royal resembles to me. Some would say Wes Welker, but he’s faster than Welker. If I had to choose, and since we are approaching Halloween, I’d say he’s a monstrous combination of Welker and Steve Smith of the Panthers. He’s both quick and decisive, like Welker, but he’s got the speed and strength of Smith. Smith has always been able to break through arm tackles and deliver a shivering stiff arm. Royal is doing the same this year. Smith is clearly better at beating the jam, but that’s no longer Royal’s gig.
For the season, Royal has 25 receptions for 299 yards. For a slot receiver, his 12.0 yards per catch is rather hefty. If we are playing the projection game, this translates into 100 catches and almost 1,200 yards receiving.
Even if Royal only approaches three-fourths of those totals, it will have been a great comeback campaign.
No matter where the Broncos finish, the choice by McDaniels to move Royal to the slot was a great coaching decision. And the additional strength we see from Royal (take a look at those mini-pythons) has been a wonderful surprise.
The return yardage is just gravy.