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How Jets' Brandon Marshall helped Jace Amaro change his catching technique

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How Jets' Brandon Marshall helped Jace Amaro change his catching technique

 
Jace Amaro

 

By Darryl Slater | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

FLORHAM PARK — Every morning, in the weeks leading up to Jets training camp, tight end Jace Amaro walked into his parents' back yard in San Antonio. 

He set up a Jugs machine and stood in front of it. Then one of his family members — his father or even one of his sisters — spent the next hour feeding footballs into the machine.

One by one, the balls zipped toward Amaro, who framed his hands in a triangle well before each ball arrived — just like teammate Brandon Marshall had shown him. Three hundred balls every morning, and sometimes again at night. Since February, Amaro estimated he has caught 10,000 to 15,000 balls. 

Amaro wants to be an important part of the Jets' offense this season, his third in the NFL. A former second-round draft pick, Amaro missed last year with a shoulder injury, after he struggled with drops during his rookie season in 2014. 

With Marshall and fellow wide receiver Eric Decker getting so many targets in the Jets' offense, Amaro knows he'll have to run block well in order to play. But he also knows he can — and must — catch the ball better than he did as a rookie. 

Throughout high school and college, Amaro never paid much attention to catching technique, even though he was a prolific pass catcher at Texas Tech. 

"I guess I just kind of athlete'd it," he told NJ Advance Media after a recent training camp practice. 

Then came his uneven 2014 season, when he was targeted 53 times and caught 38 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. 

Amaro understood the general "triangle" principle of catching — use the thumb and pointer finger of each hand to form a triangular frame. But he used to not bring his hands together in a triangle until the ball sailed toward him. In the NFL, Amaro learned, this was not a reliable enough technique for him.

When the Jets began offseason workouts in April, Amaro spoke with Marshall. Amaro often asks Marshall questions. One day, they got to talking about Marshall's catching technique. Marshall told Amaro that he likes to form the triangle well before the ball arrives — and punch toward the ball with the triangular frame, for stability. Amaro, who admired Marshall's success last year, wanted to try this. 

"I always used to close in on the ball with my hands, rather than bringing them tight and holding them in there, and then getting the ball," Amaro said. "So if you're trying to catch the ball with your hands coming in, rather than punching it, it's a little bit easier for the ball just to slip right through your hands. I was waiting for the ball to get there, rather than [forming the] initial triangle and punching at the ball. That's something I feel like I can be a lot better at." 

Between his time at his family's home to the Jets' spring practices to working out with his trainer in Texas, Amaro made this catching technique his routine. He resolved to catch 300 to 400 balls a day, to train his eyes and hands. He caught balls at different angles, to prepare for every potential game situation. 

Even still, after camp practices, Amaro spends a few minutes on the Jugs machine. Though it's early, his work is paying off so far. Already in camp, four practices in, he has made a couple pretty catches — a diving grab along the sideline, and an outstretched catch in the back corner of the end zone. 

Amaro tried to make this technique adjustment as simple as possible for himself — and it now feels natural. 

"If you're trying to catch a fish [with your hands], you're not going to catch a fish clapping at it," Amaro said. "You're going to catch a fish holding [your hands like a] net and then bringing it in, closing your hands.

"That's something one of my trainers told me. That's something I kept in mind. I'm doing a lot better out here. I feel like I've been catching the ball really well, a lot better. I just feel a lot smoother. I'm not really worried about that part.

Run blocking — something he rarely did in college — remains Amaro's biggest hurdle to playing a lot. If he can't run block, he won't get on the field enough to showcase his improved hands. Because he missed all of last season, he hasn't practiced in pads since early in last year's training camp. So he's just getting back into the swing of real run blocking. 

"Obviously, if I want to play, I can't just catch the ball," Amaro said. "I've got to be able to do both. If I'm able to do both, I feel like I fit right in with this team. I feel like I'm strong enough and big enough to be able to block anybody out here." 

Darryl Slater may be reached at dslater@njadvancemedia.com.

 

#88 WIL be a factor this year. 

 

 

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