Passing fancy

Picture-perfect pass routes have given way to chaotic improv on NFL fields

Updated: October 22, 2009, 7:01 PM ET
By Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine
Getty ImagesThe path to this moment was hardly predictable.

This article appears in the November 2 issue of ESPN The Magazine. To see an illustrated glossary of route-running from Football Outsiders, please click here.

Hue Jackson skeptically smiles, wondering if I realize the depth of my request. Jackson is the quarterbacks coach of the Baltimore Ravens, but he's known in NFL circles as one of the premier teachers of wide receivers. During three years of coaching that position in Cincinnati, Jackson transformed the route-running of Chad Johnson (he won't say Ochocinco) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh from undisciplined to pristine. Safe to say, the 44-year-old knows his stuff, which is why I've asked him to draw a modern passing tree. He fires back an incredulous look: Are you serious? I am.

"Well, okay," he says, scribbling. "You have this. And this. And this off of that -- "

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Seth Wickersham | email

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Seth Wickersham joined ESPN The Magazine after graduating from the University of Missouri. Although he primarily covers the NFL, his assignments also have taken him to the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.