FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla -- If you've watched wide receiver Van Jefferson strap it up for the Florida Gators over the past two years, you've probably been pretty impressed by his route-running ability.
While some will mock receivers who shuffle their feet all over in a confined area, sometimes getting tabbed as "ballerinas", Florida's wide receiver corps doesn't see it as a joke.
Rather, the ballerina steps could be considered as a critical aspect of Florida's passing game success in 2019.
When Kyle Trask entered at quarterback in Week 3, taking over the starting job following Feleipe Franks' season-ending ankle injury, Florida's offense appeared to shift towards more West Coast concepts. Trask, lacking the down-field arm strength of Franks, found comfort in trusting his receivers to get open on short-to-intermediate routes and go on to create yards after the catch.
"Kyle is more of a pocket passer that likes to throw different routes, and fit it in different spots," receiver Josh Hammond said at Orange Bowl media availability on Friday.
It appeared to work, too. Trask completed 67.6% of his regular season passing attempts in 2019, and per Pro Football Focus, 51.6% of Florida's passing yards came after the catch.
But when you go against the likes of SEC defensive backs like Kristian Fulton and Derek Stingley Jr. of LSU, Eric Stokes and D.J. Daniel of Georgia, Christian Tutt and Noah Igbinoghene of Auburn, and so on, getting open isn't an easy feat.
Enter the ballerina steps.
"Personally, me, I like the short stuff. I like the slants, I like the digs and the out-cuts and things like that," said Jefferson. "The reason I like it is just because, you know, I'm kind of like quick-twitch, I work my moves."
Though he didn't get up and physically demonstrate his moves, he walked the surrounding media through his moves and process.
"There's a guy down here [in South Florida], his name is Brandon. We call him Receiver Factory. I got with him a couple of years ago, and we've been working ever since... little toe-drags, it's like a release.
The toe-drag is just like a set-up. So I'm dragging, but I'm pausing so I'm slowing gaining my depth. Closing them. So once I drag my feet and I push up, I'm trying to get him to flip his hip, but at the same time he hesitating. So when he hesitates, I know that he thinks I'm going deep, so I'm just going to one-two, when I hit a one-two he will automatically go that way, so his hips are flipped and it's easy to break into a slant...
I like using the little slide, I like using the one-two, I like using the speed release. You've got to switch it up every time, if you keep it the same of course the DB is going to know what you are going to do."
Sounds complicated, right? But that's why the quick-twitch footwork isn't something to laugh at. It's an art, per se.
In the clip above, Jefferson does it all. The toe-drag and pause as he moves outside and vertically to begin selling a deep route. After two steps and planting his outside foot, Jefferson breaks inside - wide open on the slant, and with room to create about six yards after the catch.
"When I'm out there, I just try to think, whatever comes to my mind first to get open," said Hammond. "I watch a lot of film to see how my opponent plays. Depending on how my opponent plays, I don't know whether, if I need to shimmy-shake, or jig certain routes, and come out a little different and bring different things out."
Hammond said that Trask is vocal with the receivers and the coaches, establishing plenty of trust in order to make the passing game effective.
"The biggest thing is to let Kyle know, and prepare him for what we're going to do, so he knows timing-wise when the ball needs to come out and things of that nature... He's not afraid to come to us and ask us what we see, or tell us what we should tweak... we know that they have that trust in us, and we try to put ourselves in the best position to be successful."