Film Study: Why gifted Alabama WR Robert Foster will wreck the SEC
There are three things that are promised in life: death, taxes and the ability of University of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to find a wide receiver he will heavily lean on to near record-breaking seasons.
While he’s now closely associated with quarterback development after his Houdini-like transformation of former Crimson Tide QB Blake Sims — whom he took from a “glorified running back” to one of the most efficient passers in Tide history — and his development of former University of Southern California QB Matt Barkley, as well as University of Tennessee product Jonathan Crompton, he started out making a name for himself in this business by way of the WR.
He started off in 2002 at Southern Cal — as the WR coach — with “Big” Mike Williams, the 6’5″, 240-pound true freshman, who generated an astounding 1,265 yards on 81 catches with 14 touchdowns. He followed that up with 95 receptions for 1,314 yards and 16 TDs. And had he not challenged the NFL for early entry into the 2004 draft, which he ultimately lost and had to miss a season of football over, he would’ve easily broken the 100-catch barrier on a team with Reggie Bush and Lendale White racking up yardage on the ground.
From there, he did wonders with Southern Cal wideouts Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett — both of whom became second-round picks in the draft. And after an improbable stop in Oakland to coach the late Al Davis’ Raiders, who were devoid of actual NFL talent at the time, Kiffin landed in Knoxville and did an admirable job with Tennessee Volunteer receivers Gerald Jones (46 catches for 680 yards) and Denarius Moore (40 receptions, 540 yards).
But it was his time as the USC head coach which cemented his WR legacy.
It initially began in 2010 with true freshman Robert Woods accumulating 792 yards on 65 catches and apexed with a sophomore Woods and true freshman Marqise Lee generating 111 catches for 1,292 yards (15 TDs) and 73 catches for 1,143 yards (11 TDs), respectively. And somehow Lee exploded for 1,721 yards on 118 catches the following season despite the presence of Woods (76 catches for 846 yards).
So when former Alabama superstar Amari Cooper detached ankles and provided windburn to SEC corners to the tune of 124 catches for 1,727 yards, it was all but academic for a Kiffin-coached receiver.
Now many are wondering if Kiffin has it in him again to unearth another superstar from the Tide roster. Well, look no further than redshirt sophomore Robert Foster who looks every bit the part and will remind some of one of the most celebrated receivers in recent memory.
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What makes Kiffin the preeminent offensive mind, in my opinion, is his ability to oscillate between different offensive concepts depending on the personnel. If you were to go back and look at how he operated in Knoxville, along with former coordinator Jim Chaney, it was significantly different than his time with the Trojans as a head coach.
In Tennessee, he used more reduced splits, multi-tight sets and constricted defenses to the middle of the field. But in Southern Cal it was more about outside-the-numbers splits, “10” and “11 personnel” as well as stretching the field.
And, in a way, he blended both schemes in his first season in Tuscaloosa.
He took a program that had been predominantly piloted by a power-run game and morphed it into one with a truly receiver-centric approach.
And who could blame him?
Cooper, for my money, was the best receiver in the program’s history and a scheme-specific fit for an offense predicated on the quick game. He was a complete security blanket in the fact he understood how to get open extremely quick.
Kiffin deployed him on myriad screens, hitches, quick curls, drags and slants, and when he got the defense fixated on the quick game he was sent over the top on 9’s, posts, overs and corners.
The brilliant OC now has another receiver who is more than capable replicating that style.
Foster Scouting Report
As a composite 5-star athlete from Monaca Pa., Foster was rated the No. 2 receiver in the land — according to 247sports — right behind current University of Mississippi superstar Laquon Treadwell. The now 6’2″, 195-pound Foster had to take a redshirt year as the receiving corps was deep, but he also needed to fill out his slight frame under noted strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran.
And while many expected him to breakout as a redshirt freshman, especially after some of his work in the 2014 spring game, it wasn’t meant to be as Cooper was by far and away the focal point as the premier player in the nation.
But many yearned for the time that Foster would get some significant clock as his No. 8 jersey conjured up memories of the great Julio Jones. But the more I lab on Foster the more he reminds me of another No. 8, former University of Georgia superstar A.J. Green, with whom he shares an uncanny-like resemblance as far as playing style goes.
While Green, 6’4″, 207 pounds, is slightly bigger, both possess a linear frame with some serious body control and the ability to properly run routes.
Foster is aggressive at the bottom of his routes and, with his 4.4 40-yard dash speed, will drive defensive backs crazy with his change-of-direction skills (just like Green).
Here’s an example of Foster’s ability to gain separation on a simple Bang-8 route: He showed a sick double-jab move at the route’s onset; he flashed that 4.4 speed; he made the catch away from his body to further shield the defender.
Foster was undoubtedly paying attention to his former all-world teammate, Cooper, as his route-running ability mirrors his in plenty of instances. He will step right into the Z-receiver role and star on an island just like Kiffin provided for his predecessor; he will excel with crossers, slants and stops.
Foster’s start-and-stop ability will translate well in the quick game.
But make no mistake; Foster’s ability to stretch the field will be his meal ticket — especially if QB Jacob Coker wins the starting job. When you have the ability to win in the quick game, you will always be able to keep defensive backs on their heels because they don’t want to give up anything short and have you break a tackle.
But when you can combine the short with the ability to go vertical, you almost become indefensible. That type of skill set is what currently makes Cooper and Green so dangerous, and when Kiffin is your play-caller you know you will float throughout the entire route tree on the way to domination.
Case in point: Foster took the highly touted Tony Brown to school with his ability to win off the snap and adjust to the ball in flight.
Somehow, and I use that term loosely, Kiffin may have unearthed the SEC’s next great receiver one season after cultivating a generational talent in Cooper. Expect Foster to be targeted early and often in the quick game while threatening defenses vertically.
Just another case of the rich getting richer.