NFL Hall of Famer Cris Carter, who coaches wide receivers at St. Thomas Aquinas High when he’s not analyzing games on ESPN, gives his players seemingly sage advice on the subject of one-handed catches.
“He said, ‘Use two hands until you make the Pro Bowl,’” said University of Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett, who played for Carter at Aquinas. “He said: ‘If you’ve got two hands, use them. It’s easier.’”
Not everyone is heeding those words, however.
Spectacular, acrobatic one-handed catches have become en vogue in the NFL and college football, leaving fans marveling from coast to coast and wondering why the trend came to be.
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Mike Wallace’s one-handed juggling touchdown catch Sunday afternoon against the Patriots was one of the few highlights for the Dolphins in a 41-13 loss. With five seconds to go before halftime, and two New England defenders closing in on him, Wallace snagged a 32-yard pass from midair with his left hand and managed to cradle it into his waist for the score.
Within the past month, Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes made one of the most amazing interceptions ever, and Giants rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made a leaping grab while falling backward that many are calling the greatest catch of all time.
Those are hardly the only ones. Chicago’s Brandon Marshall and New England’s Rob Gronkowski recently bedazzled fans with one-handed catches, and Wallace had a few earlier this season.
One day before Beckham nearly broke the Internet with his YouTube sensation of a catch, Virginia receiver Canaan Severin used his right hand to make a diving grab in a victory over the Hurricanes.
And two weeks ago, Baltimore Ravens receiver Torrey Smith made a relatively routine one-hand catch on a pass he probably could have caught with two just as easily.
Why have one-handed catches gone from rare to weekly occurrence?
Many feel glove technology plays a significant role. The glove Beckham wore is a Nike Viper Jet 3.0 that he helped design, along with Giants teammate Victor Cruz, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Dez Bryant of Dallas. The glove has layers of slightly sticky mesh on the palm and pre-curved fingers.
“Probably the biggest reason we are seeing this trend is that players are benefiting from glove technology,” Carter said. “The surface of those gloves is a little tacky, so it helps grip the ball, which other gloves had before, but the new ones are so thin that it doesn’t take away the feel of the hand. It’s almost like another layer of skin. Having big hands helps with one-handed catches, but using today’s gloves can also help compensate for guys with smaller hands.
“Lynn Swann didn’t have the quality of gloves I had, and I didn’t have the quality of gloves guys today have.”
Former Miami Dolphins tight end Joe Rose agreed.
“I don’t want to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but the gloves have really helped receivers today,” Rose said. “Back when I played, you only wore gloves if you were freezing in Green Bay, and even then, Coach [Don] Shula hated them. If you ever dropped a ball in gloves, he’d blame the gloves. Nowadays, guys wear gloves even when it’s 200 degrees out in training camp. They never take them off.”
Miami Central’s Da’Vante Phillips, a four-star recruit and the nation’s sixth-best receiver prospect, said he practices one-handed catches but only uses them when he has to go that route. Phillips agreed modern equipment makes the ball easier to corral with one hand.
“I believe the thickness of the gloves, the material of the ball — all of that helps,” Phillips said. “Without the gloves, my hands would get too watery and sweaty and I could lose my grip.”
According to pro-football-reference.com, the average height and weight of an NFL receiver now — 6-1 and 201 pounds — is virtually the same as it was 40 years ago. But there are many tall receivers now, and players with extra-large hands.
UM junior cornerback Tracy Howard believes equipment technology is a factor, but “one thing I learned is if you’ve got hands, you’ve got hands. If you can catch, you can catch. I think gloves probably give you 5 percent more chance.”
Do coaches instruct their players to practice one-handed catches? Do some coaches still insist players use two hands? Or are there circumstances that call for one hand?
And are the NFL players’ one-handed catches — and the publicity they generate — damaging younger players in terms of their technique and fundamentals?
“I believe in catching the ball by any means necessary, but I prefer with two hands, and that is how I coach,” Carter said. “Sometimes the quarterback’s not perfect and the ball is outside of your two-handed reach, but I think only in extreme, extreme conditions should you try a one-handed catch.”
Besides bigger hands and better gloves, another reason one-handed grabs are more evident now is because players are catching that way in practice.
Vince Lombardi would probably disapprove, but most every team, even at the high school level, has one-hand-catch drills, according to Jeff Bertani of North Miami Beach.
Bertani is as “old school” as it gets, but about five years ago, he incorporated one-handed-catching drills, which he said enhances a receiver’s concentration level.
Westminster Christian Coach Sedrick Irvin runs the drills as well, even though he knows his college coach would have hated the idea back then. Irvin was a Michigan State running back in the 1990s, and his coach was Nick Saban, now the Alabama taskmaster.
“Every time someone caught a pass one-handed in practice, Saban would say he was a ‘pretty boy’ or a ‘showboat,’” Irvin said. “He didn’t like it, but times change.”
High school coaches fear that kids — who are prone to emulate college and pro players — will fall into the one-hand trap. Instead of making a one-hander only when there was absolutely no other option, receivers will seek the highlight and drop a catchable pass.
Something like that happened to the Dolphins’ Wallace on in a Monday night game against the New York Jets. His one-hand try in the third quarter failed on what would have been a touchdown.
“It can be a negative,” Irvin said of the desire to make any grab one-handed. “These days, everybody wants to be on ESPN’s Top 10 Plays.”
Despite the occasional drops, the trend of one-handed grabs figures to escalate.
Bertani said he won’t “chew out” a receiver if he makes a one-handed grab — only if he drops one.
Phillips, the Central receiver, said that his coaches have given him a similar message.
“As long as I get them yards,” Phillips said, “they don’t [mind] how I do it.”
Miami Herald sportswriters Manny Navarro and Susan Miller Degnan contributed to this report.