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The King at Routes, That is My Name

Vikings' Adam Thielen makes a diving catch
Photo Courtesy of St. Paul Pioneer Press

And I know the fly spot where I get the yards gained! (s/o to the Beastie Boys fans out there).

Adam Thielen exploded onto the NFL scene last year and his amazing start to the 2018 season has him on pace to break some single-season WR records. Thielen’s rise to glory has been described as shocking by many as his career didn’t start at a Division I school, making him an unknown to most throughout college. But if look close enough, you’ll see that Thielen possesses the key traits that make up a successful wide receiver.

Technique off the Line

One of the easiest ways to take a dominant wide receiver out of a play is to use press coverage and jam the receiver at the line, keeping him from getting into his route on time. Big receivers have an advantage here as they are harder to contain, but what can the smaller receivers do to win this battle?

The next time you’re watching a Vikings game, keep an eye on #19 and see how he handles it. Standing 6’3”, 201 lbs., Thielen can compete with any DB off the line using his hands and proper angles to create momentum towards separation as he works into his route. Being undersized throughout his high school years, Thielen was forced to learn how to be creative in making his way to his desired route path.

Route Precision

The chemistry between a QB and his receivers is critical to a successful passing game, no matter what kind of talent you have (East Rutherford, I’m looking in your direction). The ability of a WR to run consistent routes, considering both timing and location, builds confidence in his QB to put the ball in the right spot, knowing his guy will be there every time. We touched on how Thielen gets into his routes, but it’s what he does when he gets there that makes him elite.

Thielen is known to be one of the most precise route runners in the NFL, finding his spots and shifting his weight in symphony as he cuts into his breaks. If the play calls for an 8-yard slant, he’ll break it at eight yards. Not seven and a half or eight and a half, but eight.

Whether up against man or zone coverage, he can quickly read a defense and anticipate how he’ll get to the endpoint of his route. If he needs time to create separation mid-route, he’ll get into his break quicker to make up for the time needed. Whatever it takes, he gets to his spot with consistent rhythm. This has allowed first-year Viking QB Kirk Cousins to quickly build chemistry as he confidently delivers passes to Thielen, even before his shoulders get open to the ball.


The first trait most people think of when asked what makes up a good WR is his hands. Of course, it helps to have good hands – both soft and strong as you don’t just need to catch the ball but also secure it from defenders. Thielen checked this box at an early age as his size required him to make catches away from his body, before he developed his ability to create separation off the line.

Thielen’s 2018 stats for receptions and efficiency speak for themself, so I think we can agree to agree that he’s got hands.


As a guy who was introduced to the NFL by way of rookie camp, Thielen knows the importance of staying prepared at every point along the way. Some players only get one shot at making it, and that shot often comes unexpectedly when an injury or other circumstance provides the next man up an opportunity to impress. So, preparation has been a mainstay in Thielen’s process.

Staying prepared requires a strong work ethic on the field, in the weight room, and in the playbook. The players who focus solely on the first two and overlook the playbook will quickly realize that raw talent will only get you so far. The smarter you play, the more you’ll find yourself in the right position to execute your specific assignment. Understand all the elements of your playbook and you’ll be prepared when your number is called.

At the youth level, coaches emphasize their training around the development of the players’ physical traits outlined above, as they should. Instilling the fundamentals of the game early on and teaching proper practice technique will create a strong foundation in developing players, keeping them in the game longer as they play safer. But what if you could give playbook preparation as much focus as physical development, making them smarter players early on?

SMASH Routes was developed to provide a new way for players to work on their playbook away from the field. And not just by watching game footage but by immersing players into a mobile game designed to use all the elements of their playbook. Imagine sitting at the bus stop or in a waiting room and getting 10 minutes of work in your playbook by mastering a few formation trials. Or brushing up on the week’s key plays on the car ride to the game. More mental reps whenever and wherever.

Coaches using SMASH Routes get help with their preparation as well. Player data is created from their play in SMASH Routes and coaches receive analysis reports outlining the strengths and weaknesses of their team. Identify plays or concepts that may need more work in practice, or monitor players’ commitment to certain positions if they have interest in playing there this week. And by creating team challenges, you can get your players focused on key plays or schemes and have them prepared for the next opponent.

Install your playbook today and get your team started working on their playbook. There’s no off-season for getting smarter.

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