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Green's ballet takes practice

Posted Nov 30, 2017

Wide receivers coach James Urban works on defying logic daily.

James Urban, the Bengals wide receivers coach, catalogues as well as coaches. But he’s pretty discerning. It has to be great to make his teaching cutups, which in this day is a video file on his laptop.

There are Technique Catches and Late Hands Catches and Big Boy catches and at the moment he’s letting us peek at his file of Front Foot Down Back Foot Drag Catches. This is a few days after the entire world saw A.J. Green, Urban’s perennial Pro Bowler, make one of his ridiculous how-does-he-do-it catches to stay in-bounds that borders on the mystical last Sunday against Cleveland.

In fact, two of the game’s best sideline magicians go at it Monday night (8:25-ESPN, Cincinnati’s Channel 5) when Green and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown jockey for position at Paul Brown Stadium. About eight hours after Green made his catch at the end of the third quarter, Brown also defied logic and stayed in-bounds in the last minute to help give the Steelers a winning field goal at the gun last Sunday night.

But for Urban, it’s not just sheer talent or luck or some supernatural brew of all of the above.

“We work on it all the time. Every day. If not every day, at least once a week,” Urban says. “Work on the technique. Front foot down, drag the back foot. We do drills of it. We work it, talk it, we have cutups of it. If the ball is low, how does that feel to your body? If the ball is high, one foot is in and you’re flailing, how to get that back one in? There are different techniques of it.”

Urban’s cutups go back 15 years, long enough that it’s before HD and you have to squint to see through the grainy ones.  If he sees a catch that catches his eye or a technique that should be timeless, he puts it on his teaching loops.

He’s got Green’s first TD toe tap, back on Sept. 18, 2011 in Denver. He’s got the Packers’ Donald Driver, who played in the ‘90s. He’s got Bengals’ all-time leading receiver Chad Johnson working against cornerback Darrelle Revis, a tip-toe classic with both in their original uniforms.

“Chad had great feet,” Urban says. “If there were a Mount Rushmore of feet, Chad’s would be on it.”

But you don’t have to be a Hall-of-Famer to be on Urban’s cutups. Arizona’s John Brown made it because Urban liked his technique on one side-line route. The best toe tap may be from the Cowboys’ Terrance Williams a few years back off a scramble when he got his back heel down inches from the line.

“If the front foot is in bounds, you should be able to get the back one in,”  Urban says. “Guys all around the league do it every week. It’s when you have poor technique you don’t have a chance.

“It’s more the act and less than the person,” Urban says of the plays that get cut up. “A.J. and Antonio are more exceptional than most. Only a few can do those things. But there are a few.”

Urban has also a category that takes Front Foot, Back Drag to the next level.

“Kick,” Urban says. “When you don’t have enough time to drag that back foot, you have to get it down right now. Kick. Front foot down, kick. Look. Kick.”

There is Green in that rookie year against Buffalo in the left corner at PBS. Green kicks, but he catches it out of bounds.

“But the technique was good,” Urban says.

With Green and Brown in front of the same camera so soon after painting the sideline with two of their masterpieces, Urban may be cutting up some more.

“You can hear it from the guys on the sideline during the game,” Urban says. “ ‘Hey, that one has got to make the cutups.’ (Sunday’s) two made the cutups.”

 

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