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VOL. 132 | NO. 159 | Friday, August 11, 2017

Separated at Birth: Defensive Backs & Wide Receivers

By Don Wade

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The wide receiver and the defensive back are exactly the same – until that point when the ball is in the air and then they are totally different.

The wideout wants to catch passes, run free, score touchdowns, and prance and dance. The DB wants to knock down passes, intercept passes, deliver teeth-jarring hits, and posture and strut.

Truth is, if a wide receiver played any other position it mostly likely would be defensive back. But he might not be such a good tackler.

If a DB played any other position, it would be wide receiver. But his hands might not be so reliable.

Memphis Tigers wide receiver Anthony Miller (3) scores a touchdown during the Tigers 51-7 victory over the SMU Mustangs on Nov. 5, 2106,  in Dallas, Texas. (File/Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

“DBs are more cocky. They have to be,” said Mississippi State wideout Donald Gray (White Station). “Prime Time (Deion Sanders) kinda brainwashed all the DBs to be like this. As far as receivers, they say we’re pretty, but we just want to catch the ball. Who likes to take punishment?

“But we don’t mind taking hits. That’s where they get confused and think we’re pretty boys, where we really can get dirty.”

At the least, wide receivers can hold their own when the trash-talking starts. Close-ups of receivers and corners on the line of scrimmage or downfield often catch both of them jawing furiously.

Although Missouri wide receiver J’Mon Moore, who was second last season in the SEC with 1,012 receiving yards, insists corners and safeties don’t waste their breath on him.

“I’ll make you eat your words,” Moore said.

To be sure, actions speak louder than words. Nowhere is this truer than when a receiver is running a crossing pattern over the middle.

“If you hit them, it’ll be more intimidating the next time they go for the ball,” said junior Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, whose four interceptions returned for touchdowns in his career is a school record. “They may short-arm it and not extend because they’ll know somebody’s coming.”

Yet there is a great argument to be made that the cornerback or safety has to be mentally stronger. It’s like in baseball with the pitcher-batter confrontation. The batter is hoping to do something good; the pitcher is trying to prevent something bad.

While pitchers get hitters out more often than not, and DBs stop receivers from scoring more often than not, it requires a stout mentality that, at some level, is rooted in negativity.

“It’s the toughest position to play,” said Arkansas corner Kevin Richardson II. “You’ve gotta be wired different. You don’t’ have any help behind you. If you mess up, that’s a touchdown. Anybody else mess up, up front, `Oh, somebody’s behind me and got my back.’”

So you’re playing a game of survivor, but yet you can’t play that game scared.

“You know how it feels to get scored on,” said Florida corner Duke Dawson. “Receiver drops a ball, he might come back next play and catch the ball. As a defensive back, you might not get the ball thrown your way until two drives later. You have to have a strong mindset. Because if you worry about getting beat, then you’re going to get beat even more.”

Consider: Receivers are always on a quest to accumulate – more catches, more yards and first downs, more touchdowns. Last season, Anthony Miller (Christian Brothers) caught 95 passes for 1,434 yards. Both were University of Memphis records.

A former walk-on, the senior has a catch in 25 straight games, hauled in 14 TD passes last season, and openly admits that a 2,000-yard receiving season is in his sights.

“Most definitely,” he said.

For the second straight season, Miller is also on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, so named for Fred Biletnikoff, a 1964 All-American at Florida State who went on to star in the American and National Football leagues with the Oakland Raiders and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 – or well before Miller was born.

So no surprise, Miller has never heard of Biletnikoff, doesn’t know him as that stringy-haired, eye-black wearing bag of bones that could catch anything thrown near him.

One receiver to another, he gives him his props just the same.

“He was probably the best of his time,” Miller said. “Shout out to him.”

Truth is, Biletnikoff is a brother to Miller, Moore, Gray and all the rest. Receivers understand each other, have to look out for one another.

That’s senior D.J. Chark’s job at LSU, which has been dubbed DBU because of all the great defensive backs to come through, including safety Jamal Adams (sixth overall to the New York Jets in 2017) and cornerback Tre’Davious White (27th overall to Buffalo in 2017).

So at LSU, the wide receiver-defensive back battles start in earnest well before there is outside competition.

“Defensive backs that I play against at practice have a swagger about themselves,” Chark said. “They feel like they can guard anybody. The thing I’m trying to bring to this receiver role – and we’ve had it, Jarvis (Landry) and Odell (Beckham) showed it – is to let these young guys know we can ball, we can go at it with these DBs.

“If you make a play on a first-rounder, then respect that. Going against Jamal Adams, if you get that win, take credit for it because not too many people in the country can get a win against Jamal Adams. Take pride in what you do. You can’t play the little brother in the room because they gonna bully us. And we expect them to bully us if we let them.”

No doubt, Fred Biletnikoff would appreciate that sentiment. In another way so would Deion Sanders, who also played for the Florida State Seminoles.

Like always, they are opposite sides of the same of coin.

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