Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 210 pounds, A.J. Green has the type of size that any coach would dream of when imagining the perfect wide receiver. But the 6-time Pro Bowler doesn’t rely on his size alone. He’s learned a host of tricks from his years in the league that he says have made him a more complete player—and far tougher for defenders to cover. If you’re a receiver looking to improve, follow these tips from Green.
1. Attack Jump Balls
Green’s ability to win jump balls is second to none. What’s his secret? For one, he grew up playing basketball. “Going up for a jump ball is like going up for a rebound. Basketball was the first organized sport I played. Football came after. I think playing basketball all four years of high school really helped me [win jump balls],” Green says.
Green offers a simple but effective piece of advice that can help you win more jump balls: attack the ball. “I think the biggest thing is ‘see ball, go get ball.’ It doesn’t matter what’s going on around you, see the ball and go get it,” Green says. If you have access to a Vertimax, it’s a great training tool for increasing your vertical jump. The higher you can jump, the more jump balls you’ll win.
RELATED: 5 Ways to Get a Higher Vertical Jump
2. Strong Hands = More Catches
Defensive backs love to pry on Green’s long arms as he tries to secure a catch, but they rarely succeed in causing an incompletion. Green’s incredible grip and hand strength is the result of hundreds of hours of practice.
TRY THIS: “I do a lot of hand and grip strength drills and exercises,” Green says. “One of the best ones is when I get someone to throw me the ball while someone else has a towel wrapped around my forearm. When I’m trying to catch the ball, they tug on the towel. I really think that’s helped.”
3. Find an Edge on Film
Film is a huge weapon in a wide receiver’s arsenal. Understanding the concepts and players you’re likely to face can help you react quicker on game day and punish a defense.
“I prepare as hard off the field as I do on the field, [especially] in the film room,” Green says. “Reading different defenses, different concepts, how they’re going to play me or how I think they’re going to play me—it all really helps.” What should you look for while watching film? Tendencies. If you see a cornerback get burned, try to figure out why he got beat. Was he overly aggressive in press coverage? Make a mental note of that so you know what to expect on game day.
RELATED: 3 Drills to Become a Dominant Wide Receiver
4. Get Comfortable With Your Quarterback
If you watch a Bengals game, you’ll frequently see A.J. Green talking to quarterback Andy Dalton. Those conversations are a key reason the two have such great chemistry. But the main reason Green and Dalton click so well on game day is because they’re genuine friends.
“He and I have been together for six years now,” Green says. “We have that relationship on and off the field that allows us to communicate during the game. I can say, ‘Andy, here’s what I see.’ Or he can say, ‘AJ, this is what you need to do better. I feel like you can get him on this route.’ So we have that communication on the field, but we also have a special relationship off the field that really helps.”
5. Slow Down to Get Open
Elite receivers don’t come off the line and run every route at full speed from start to finish. It might sound counterintuitive, but changing speeds throughout a route can help you deceive defenders and get open.
Green says, “That’s something I’ve gotten better at over the years. I picked it up in year four, going to the Pro Bowl and talking with guys like Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, Andre Johnson about route-running. You don’t have to run every route like you’re running 100-mph off the ball. Sometimes you have to set them up for the next move. I think that’s something I learned talking to the older guys.”
6. Sell The Double-Move
Slower can be better when it comes to making defenders guess, too. Green used to struggle with his double-moves because he was in too much of a rush to sell the first move. Over time, he learned that really selling the first move before executing the second one is the key to getting open.
“I like to do everything fast, even from when I was younger,” Green says. “So coaches have always told me, ‘Sell the first move. Act like you’re just running that first route. Take your time.’ It’s something I’m getting better at, being patient. In the double-move, the first move is always the most important. That’s how you beat people.”
RELATED: 3 Route-Running Drills to Help You Get Open
7. Know How to Win Your Slants
Slant routes are a bread-and-butter play for many offenses. If a receiver can run it sharply and a quarterback can deliver the ball on time, the slant route can be very difficult to guard. A clean, quick release by the wide receiver can make or break the play.
“Sometimes I’m physical, sometimes I beat them with speed,” Green says. “It depends on what the defender’s doing. If he’s pressing you, you have to use a power move and get physical with him. If it’s a smaller guy, you can beat him [like that].”