Chris Hogan’s lacrosse background is becoming the latest addition to the NFL’s ever-growing “did you know” list.
Did you know Antonio Gates and Julius Peppers played college basketball?
Did you know Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard? Or that Larry Fitzgerald was once a ball boy for the Vikings?
By now, you know Hogan played lacrosse, but do you know why that matters?
Like tight ends with basketball backgrounds, the New England Patriots receiver’s previous success in another sport has heavily contributed to his career and what he’s best known for – getting open.
It’s totally understandable why Hogan’s collegiate lacrosse career can get lost as a simple piece of trivia as the sport’s popularity doesn’t come close to football, basketball, or any number of sports with professional leagues. In actuality, the basic philosophy of offensive strategy in lacrosse is very transferable to football.
In lacrosse, the basic concept of the offense is to move the ball around the field in an effort to create space for an ideal shot. Like basketball and hockey, the game is fluid, so constant movement is used to exploit holes in the defense, whether it be against zone or man to man.
When the ball is moved, defenders change position, and in turn, offensive players move to the new space provided. With enough ball movement, the offense should eventually force the defense to make a mistake and that’s when a shot is taken.
In simple terms, offensive players are constantly reading the positioning of defenders, looking for mistakes and trying to find enough space for a scoring chance and ways to create room themselves – much like receivers looking to beat zone or man-to-man defense to create enough distance from defenders to catch the ball.
During his four years of collegiate lacrosse at Penn State, Hogan played as a midfielder (also known as a “middie”), meaning he played at both ends of the field and had to know when defenders made mistakes, as well as techniques to limit the space available.
Hogan first became a known player in the NFL when he appeared on the 2012 season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” with the Miami Dolphins, gaining the nickname “7/11” because he was always open. While it’s far from unfathomable that a player can gain the same skill set as Hogan without playing lacrosse, it’s easy to see how he uses his experience from lacrosse to do his job on the gridiron.
The 28-year-old is in an ideal situation with the Patriots.
Their offense uses a heavy dose of option routes that allows receivers to adjust their assignments based on what the defense gives them. With head coach Bill Belichick also having a background in lacrosse, Hogan has a unique connection with his boss that likely contributed to the coach’s confidence that his newest receiver would be a good fit when he acquired the former middie from the Buffalo Bills – Belichick signed him to a three-year offer sheet when he was a restricted free agent.
Here are a few examples of how Hogan uses his experience in the stick sport to do his job in the NFL:
No chance for Harrison
In the following clip, the Patriots use two formation shifts to get Hogan a matchup on Steelers linebacker James Harrison. When Harrison takes a few steps to the outside after the snap, Hogan immediately recognizes his mistake, makes an inside move, and looks to the quarterback for the pass. He doesn’t explode through the opening as to not get too close to the safety over the top, adjusts to the pass, and makes the catch with plenty of room to fall forward.
Fast as a flea
One of Hogan’s most memorable plays from his nine-catch, 180-yard AFC Championship performance was a 34-yard touchdown scored off a flea flicker. Hogan’s recognition was key to burning the Steelers secondary as he perfectly sold that the call was a run play. As soon as Hogan’s hips cleared the nickel corner’s, he recognizes that the safety has also committed to the run play and hits the accelerator. Hogan gets deep enough to get plenty of space between him and the safety to cut to the outside and catch the touchdown.
Right down the seam
In Week 14 against the Ravens, Hogan used his spacial recognition to burn the Baltimore secondary on a clear mistake. No defenders line up directly over top of Hogan in the slot, as linebacker Zach Orr was to his left and safety Matt Elam to his right. Orr takes a misstep towards the line of scrimmage giving Hogan room to work towards the middle and Elam slips once he noticed the receiver has a step on him. Hogan knew he had a seam before the play began, turning on the jets as soon as the ball is snapped and scoring a long touchdown.
Out defending the defenders
Working against two of the league’s best corners in the Broncos’ Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., Hogan is forced to use all the tools in his arsenal, dipping back to his days on the defensive end of the lacrosse field. Hogan keeps his eyes on the inside of the field, getting a read on Harris as Brady sells the play-action fake. He uses his eyes and body language to sell the crossing route. Once Harris drifts too far to the middle of the field, the receiver sticks his foot in the ground and turns back to the outside, knowing he has a step on the pair of All-Pro defenders.
Being able to determine how to create space on the field, read defenders, and recognize when they’ve made a mistake has served Hogan well in his five-year NFL career. His move to the Patriots was a perfect fit for both player and team as their heavy use of option routes allows Hogan to use his recognition skills and apply his lacrosse experience.
It’s totally conceivable for a receiver to learn similar traits without having ever picked up a stick or stepped on a lacrosse field, but if you’re confused as to how this former lacrosse player was able to turn one 12-catch college football season into a sustainable NFL career, go watch some of his old sport.
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