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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

X to Z to X to Z - the Muhsin Muhammad Story

In the wake of the Steve Smith injury, Muhsin Muhammad has moved over to the split end role in the offense. The split end, or X receiver, typically lines up wide left and on the line (i.e., unable to go into motion), a role Smith has had since 2002 when he became a starter.

Muhammad started out at the X, and started there from 1997-1999. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1999 in the role, but had to move over with the injury to Patrick Jeffers in the 2000 preseason because Donald Hayes only knew the X role. As Hayes was allowed to leave before the start of 2002, Smith assumed the role, leaving Muhammad as the Z receiver. As the motion receiver, Muhammad made his money taking shorter routes and going into motion, which by 2003 included blocking down on linebackers. In a memorable play in the 2003 playoffs, Muhammad caught end Leonard Little off guard, knocking him to the ground despite a 45 lb difference in weight.

When Smith broke his ankle in the first game of 2004, Muhammad moved back over - to facilitate Keary Colbert, his backup. Muhammad, back at the X, earned another Pro Bowl berth, then took the role in Chicago. This year, the move is again pushed by a Smith injury, and a backup acclamated to his own role. Dwayne Jarrett gets the start as the Z receiver, for the time being.

Luckily, long term Smith should be back. It's an unlikely move, but if Muhammad flourishes in the role, the team may use Smith at the Z to put him in motion to eliminate doubleteams. The move would free up Smith on motion plays, and command a heavy shift in the defense when he comes across formation. Either way, Muhammad will be ready to move.
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