A lot of times, I’ll mention that a player or coach has been “generous with his time” or that I was “fortunate enough to get a few questions with” a guy. Things like that. And it’s always true — these are exceedingly busy people with any number of demands on their time; I genuinely appreciate that they use some of that time to answer my questions and help me out with things.
Wide receivers coach Stan Hixon, though, deserves a more special mention than that. Not only was he generous enough with his time to answer a whole bunch of questions for me, he did it again after the first conversation inexplicably disappeared from my recorder. And then he was kind enough to answer a follow-up question or two that I realized I had forgotten to ask during the re-interview.
So it’s safe to say that Coach Hixon is a tolerant, patient guy. Which is fortunate for him, since the position he coaches tends to be populated by mercurial personalities who take some time to develop. And, yes, I think it would be fair to put Devin Thomas into both those categories.
I asked Coach Hixon about Thomas and the other wide receivers, about where things stand after twelve OTA sessions, and about Steve Largent. But we started with the basics: the wide receivers on the roster now.
Hixon: “Player by player: Santana Moss has had a good OTA out there on the field. We try to move him around some too, different positions. He plays slot, he plays outside, we can move him around.
“We think that Randle El is an excellent slot receiver; he also plays some on the outside. You’ve seen Devin Thomas all over the place, playing Z, the flanker receiver, along with Malcolm Kelly, who has played a lot the last couple of days as the Z receiver.”
I’m not going to lie: I get nervous every time Kelly makes something more dramatic than the most basic catch. Does it concern you at all at this point?
Hixon: “I don’t worry about that. Once he has been cleared by the doctors and they give him to me, I assume he’s fine. My position with him is that I won’t throw him a lot of deep balls continuously, but he’ll get his share. I won’t overdo it right now, ’cause his leg is still going through a building up process. It’s getting stronger and faster, that type of thing. I don’t worry about it. If there’s a problem, the trainer’ll come to me and say, ‘His knee is flared up, and he will watch for the day, and I’ll cut his reps.”
Okay. Then you’ve got a few other guys as well….
Hixon: “We got Roydell Williams, who’s been a good surprise for us. Last year, he didn’t play, but he’s had a lot of time there at the Tennessee Titans. I think one year he caught 55 passes and they went to the playoffs that season, and he got hurt at the end of the year.
“Then we have Marques Hagans, who’s playing slot receiver for us. Very knowledgeable guy, knows all of the positions, a lot like Randle El. Plays both slots for us. Then Marko Mitchell, the draft pick from Las Vegas. He had a good practice for us on Monday, caught a couple passes, caught a touchdown.”
That’s good to hear — I thought he looked a little overwhelmed in minicamp.
Hixon: “They all did, the rookies did, in minicamp. They were all like, ‘Oh boy, they going so fast.’ But he is better than he was in minicamp, and he is better than he was for the first OTA’s in the first week. Once we get to July and August he’ll be better again. Than when the bullets start flying in preseason, we’ll see where they are.”
What about Keith Eloi, the YouTube sensation?
Hixon: “I saw that too. I saw it when I read about it in the paper. I think yesterday I saw it in the paper, and I went to You tube, pulled him up. I saw him do the vertical jump into the truck. That had nothing to do with what we do here, though.”
No real football application for the truck jump?
Hixon: “No, no.
“We’ve also got Jaison Williams, who is learning the offense too, and he is catching up.”
Who of those guys are you willing to say is a frontrunner for the number 5 Receiver spot if James Thrash can’t return?
Hixon: “Hard to say right now. I would think that the man Roydell Williams, he is a veteran, he’s played some games before. And has made some big plays in some games before. So you got to give him the frontrunner, ’cause he has been there, done that, is running good routes, and has good hands.
“As you know once preseason comes around, some people always surprise you. Last year we had Marcus Mason that came out of nowhere. Billy [McMullen] came out and had a good preseason, but we tried to keep him and you can only keep so many. He ended up going to some other team, picked him up down the road.”
I asked Marques Hagans about whether guys get slotted as “just a practice squad guy.” Does it almost cause a blind spot with guys like that?
Hixon: “No, I give them all a chance. At the end of the day, we pick the top 5 and say who’s left? These five guys are left, and who has practice squad ability. Who’s the best of those five? And that’s how we take it”.
Is there anything you wish you could’ve done differently with Devin and Malcolm last year, given the way things went?
Hixon: “The only thing I wish we could’ve done differently … obviously if Malcolm hadn’t gotten hurt, he could’ve played more. I think at times I wish that Devin could’ve gotten off to a better start, because I think by the end of the season, he was out on the field and he had some opportunities to catch some balls, but most of the balls went to Santana if there was an either/or situation. I wish he would’ve been given the opportunity to make more plays for us.”
Is there anything you feel like you could’ve done differently to create that situation?
Hixon: “As a coach, I’m always trying to make ‘em better. I wish that I could’ve gameplanned more to throw it to Devin on a certain play, or ‘this is Devin’s play.’ As a gameplanner, you can do that. We had some plays where we did it that way, where he was wide open, and whatever happened somehow. Sacked, ball gets tipped, whatever.”
So what have you been doing to bring him along this year?
Hixon: “What I did with Devin — and also Kelly — is I really spend a lot of extra time with them. Go over plays, went over splits, and went over assignments. I try to teach them more in detail about the concepts, and what we are trying to get done on this particular play.
“A lot of times a young receiver, he’s just running routes. He don’t know why he’s doing it. If you know why you’re doing it and who you are trying to affect, and who the quarterback is reading, you know who the first read and second and third read, you’ll have a good idea of what you are trying to do. So we’re at that point right now.
“Last year when we came in they were just trying to learn the offense. You know, ‘Go twelve yards and look in, look out.’ That type of thing, and I think now they more understand, like, ‘I’m trying to affect this guy in the secondary,’ or ‘if this happens I’m getting the ball, and if this happens so and so should get the ball.’ Kind of reading the coverage on the run. Being more observant, being more confident.”
Santana Moss just celebrated his thirtieth birthday, a point where speed guys sometimes can start to lose a little of that speed. How have you been working with him?
Hixon: “With Santana I want to make sure he is in a position where he can be most effective for us. It could be a deep ball, it could be a short ball, and how can we get the best match up to our advantage. I think Santana is going to be Santana, he’s going to try to make a big play, and he is going to make a big play.”
How do you incorporate Coach Zorn’s offensive schemes into your coaching and approach?
Hixon: “I want to find out what he wants in the West Coast Offense, and his philosophy, and then I try to coach the offense and the wide receivers how he wants them to be coached.
“I’ve been in a lot of offenses before, and probably a lot more in the future, but I’m just trying to learn, and last year was a big help with the West Coast Offense and the West Coast philosophy. You run certain routes a certain way. It’s different than the offense Al Saunders ran, different than the offense Joe Gibbs ran.
“You run certain routes a certain way, and you block a certain way in certain different schemes, and that’s how it is. Football is football, but the philosophy differs as you go. You know, a certain route Al Saunders may run a certain way, and the same route, the West Coast may ran a different way. So you don’t just run a hook as a hook, it’s a different kind of hook”
What kind of differences are there?
Hixon: “Like I just said, a certain hook route, we can go 12 yards and come back to the quarterback, you can go 12 yards and roll back to the quarterback. That’s different. One offense is one way, one offense is a different kind of way. Also, how you run what we call a go route, which may be straight ahead trying to go long, or in this offense it may be a entice a defensive back and then go long. So it’s a different way of doing it”
When Steve Largent was at the OTA the other day, I got a couple of emails asking if him talking to the players didn’t undermine you in some way….
Hixon: “No, you know, Steve Largent, obviously he’s a Hall of Famer. It’s the same thing if Charlie Taylor came. I’ll be welcome the knowledge that they have. It wasn’t an undermining, not at all”
I heard Largent was talking about players keeping their eyes up while they run. How do young players keep all of this in mind while they’re learning so many other things at once?
Hixon: “Well, really your eyes should be up because you are reading the coverage. The older players do it all the time, because it’s natural. I think [Largent] saw a couple of young guys running with their head down, counting the yards in their head, counting the steps. It gotta come natural. The more you do it, a fifteen yard route is gonna feel a certain way. It’s a clock in your head. At the same time you’ve gotta be reading the coverage, and also the man that comes with a defensive back. It can be important to reiterate that for the young players.”
We’re finally at a break in the offseason. What are you going to do with the time off?
Hixon: “I’m vacationing, my wife and I are going to do Niagara Falls for our anniversary. Probably go down to Ocean City, Maryland, for 2 or 3 days. And play as much golf as I can.”
Who’s the best golfer of the other coaches?
Hixon: “On this staff, Steve Jackson is pretty good, but we’re all about the same. We don’t have any ringers. Like when we had Earnest Byner here and he was out there with a two or three handicap.”
Are you going to see Tiger Woods when he is in town?
Hixon: “That’s definitely the plan. Just need to get the tickets.”
Thanks to Intern Max for transcription work.
Tags: meeting the coaches, MeetingTheCoaches, Stan Hixon, StanHixon
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