“It makes it a lot better,” Shepard said of having multiple threats in the slot. “Whoever's in at that moment, Landry can trust them, and that's one big thing that you need to have is trust.”
The slot position has become so popular, Norvell said, that other receivers are pleading to get reps there. True freshman Durron Neal, for example, has been used exclusively on the outside in his limited action so far, but asked Norvell the other day when he'd get a shot inside.
Players capable of truly excelling in the slot, though, must demonstrate a unique combination of athleticism, intelligence, awareness and toughness.
“It's a special feel ... certain guys aren't very comfortable in there, because there's people all around you, and they're trying to hit you,” Norvell said. “You have to have a certain amount of awareness when you're running in there, because there's a lot of land mines in the middle of the field that you've gotta avoid.”
Norvell, who recently wrote a book on wide receiver play, said the slot position emerged over the past decade as spread offenses became more prevalent in college football.
College defenses, Norvell said, usually struggle when they're spread out and forced to use more linebackers in pass coverage.
“The biggest difference between college and pro football are the defenses,” said Norvell, who has spent many years coaching at both levels.
“The great athletic defenses are able to defend spread teams, but there's still not many that have three linebackers that can cover, and five or six DBs that can cover. You can usually find a weak link. I think that's one of the things we've found out this year, playing four wides. One of those guys is gonna be open.”