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Shane Carden to Justin Hardy: Can Rapport be coached? And, what does Rapport translate to on the field?

We all know how special the on-field relationship between Pirates QB Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy is. It has been well written about, like here, and here, and here. I suppose it could be expected that two guys with a positional relationship coming into the program around the same time might bond and forge the pitch-and-catch bond that they share, but their success – re-writing the record books at ECU – got me thinking about it. Is rapport something that can be coached? Is it something that is either there or not in a player? Can the player who doesn’t have it, discover it? Can the player who has it in minute amounts, grow it? And, how do you know it when you see it?

Whatever it is, Shane Carden and Justin Hardy have the Mojo.
Whatever it is, Shane Carden and Justin Hardy have the Mojo.

Clearly, when you watch Carden and Hardy – from the jump – you don’t have to be Oz to see they had rapport. They are clearly on the same page of an incredible book at all times, as if one could finish the other’s sentence at any time. Their history explains it, maybe. Afterall, what they got, they built together. Their similar paths to ECU – you know, the road of disrespect and under-appreciation. They are so intimately connected with like ESPN or something. So, let’s look elsewhere when it comes to the QB-WR link.

What creates rapport in the passer-catcher relationship? Is it really all just skill? A highly talented QB and a highly talented WR get put on the field together and viola! Record breaking commence? I don’t think so. If that were the case, all of these teams with 5-star QBs and 5-star WRs signed each year would be dominating the game. But that is not happening out there each season. Sure, we can put a check next to ability to throw and catch. Check! But there is more at play, no? OK, so hard work ethic and drive to be perfect probably adds more to the chance of a great rapport. Ok…check! Film study? Yeah, check!

Perhaps there is some secret sauce…the Colonel’s recipe or something like that.

I asked ECU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley what he thought it was…you know…that contributed to this type of rapport.

“If you look at Shane and Justin, they have a lot of similarities…shared perspectives,” said Riley. “And, they are friends. They spend a lot of time together on and off the field working on their game. They both came into place at the same time wanting to do well for themselves and the situation was right (for it). Normally, it takes years to develop…and these two have spent summers and Saturdays in the off season…working on it. But, can you coach it? I’m not sure. I do think that players can find it…work at it and make it happen. Boy…those two do have it though.”

Perhaps the secret sauce, if you will, is that the players have to be more than just two skill sets on the same team.

So, supporting the case for it being spontaneously germane to individual athletes could be the examples of 2013 true frosh Isaiah Jones and Davon Grayson. Juxtapose perhaps with the antithesis of this in Lance Ray and even maybe Reese Wiggins. There is no doubt that all four of these receivers possessed high-end pass receiving skill sets, put in the hours of work and preparation, played at 110% and desired to be very good on the field.

Yet, the two freshman, from Day 1 connected with Carden in a way that made it look easy. Like both Jones and Grayson were veteran players, not newbies. Rapport. You could see it. Conversely, Wiggins who burst on the scene as a freshman sort of was hit and miss throughout his career…having a big game here and a silent one there. He certainly was not Carden’s first look. Same can be said for Ray, who despite finishing strong in 2013, never really rose above the corps despite his highly touted – accurately so – skill set. The non-coach that I am observed several ingredients that the youngsters seemed to bring with them: 1) passion, 2) work ethic, 3) desire to please teammates/coaches. Why them? One ingredient I feel contributes to the connection which is known, but maybe not explicitly discussed is TRUST. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the other factors could all be considered ingredients that go to being trustworthy. Trust is built on intimacy and intimacy is built on knowing one another. Knowing one another takes investments of time and engagement. So, maybe, Coach Ruff’s “we are family” environment matters more than we may give credit to it. Maybe the fact that Jones and Grayson came in with the idea that there is no difference between work and play contributed to their quick rapport building with Carden.

Speculation then would be that maybe the other guys came to work, worked hard, and then went home. Hence, no rapport.

Using Bryce Williams as an example, maybe rapport can be grown. Clearly, Carden and Williams are in sync offensively…Williams scores TDs. But, it seemed that the trust factor increased down the stretch between Carden and Williams and as a result, Williams seemed to become a bigger threat. A more frequented target.

Is it the it unique to that position? Leadership probably plays a big part in it.
Is it the QB…is it unique to that position? Leadership probably plays a big part in it.

When you hear the offensive linemen saying that Carden is their leader and they would go to war for him…rapport. Perhaps it originate with one individual and it is infectious for those who are predisposed to follow. That’s a thought I would like to run with because if rapport is the result of high trust and the other factors being skill, work ethic, and willingness to follow, then Ruff and crew – while not coaching it – may very well be nurturing it.

Consider that in my conversations for Bonesville Magazine with the freshmen wide receivers, guys like Quay Johnson, Terrell Green, Curtis Burston, and Steven Baggett all said to some degree that they can see themselves making plays with QB understudy Kurt Benkert, using words like trust, leader, reliable, talented, etc., to describe their future QB (at least in their minds). And linemen like Messiah Rice, Des Barmore, Garrett McGhin in company saying that they would follow Benkert into the battle bodes well for the future. Rapport perhaps emanates from the QB outward like a source seeking willing inputs. Whatever the reality, you get the sense that Carden to Hardy may be the first in a succession of duos that establish records at ECU.

And less coaching it, maybe Ruff and his crew seek out and find players who can have rapport…players like Carden and Hardy.


10 comments on “Shane Carden to Justin Hardy: Can Rapport be coached? And, what does Rapport translate to on the field?

  1. A quarterback has to know that if he throws the ball to a receiver, the pass catcher will make him look good.

    For example, if the quarterback makes a bad throw, the receiver will make sure it is not intercepted. He will in essence become a defensive back and knock the ball down.

    Another example is if the quarterback is under pressure and needs to get rid of the ball, he needs to know in his “knower” that his receiver will run the correct route, be where he is supposed to be, and catch the football.

    As you said, the quarterback has to trust his receiver.

    • Hi Paul…thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

      Totally agree…I have to say that I feel like this offense is truly stockpiling the right kinds of players. Talking to the young receivers, they are all in and really have that connection already with Kurt Benkert. I think we are in good hands going forward.

      Just hope that Lincoln Riley’s pay day (which is coming) won’t come too soon. I think we would be fortunate if we have him again next year, but I am sure Ruff has a contingency.

      Cheers and go Pirates, go!

  2. Ron, great story. I can’t help but to compare these two to Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. Of course Lincoln coach Crabtree at Texas Tech. It must be déjà vu for Riley. Did he allude to the Texas Tech duo when he spoke to you? Here is a CBS 60 Minutes story on Mike Leach. At the 6:12 mark, Harrell and Crabtree are interviewed with striking similarities. It must be strange for Lincoln to see this twice in a lifetime. Is it coincidence or is it coached?

    • Hey Coby…always great to hear from you.

      Riley did not mention the duo at Texas Tech, but thanks so much for that link. It is very similar…and you can see the bond between Michael and Graham is so sincere…

      Lincoln was pretty firm about it being way more than coaching…but I plan to follow up to get that input from him.

      Hope you are well and that this season is one to remember.

      Go Pirates, Go!

  3. Blackbeard's Ghost

    I could read articles about Captain and Duece all day long RC! But I think you hit the nail on the head brother. These 2 have worked and worked until they know each other and know how each other are thinking DURING a play.
    Example, look back at film from this past year and you will see when Shane is flushed out, there is one guy (Justin) that always comes back to his quarterback to allow Shane to unload at the last second. Or even better, lay out a defender to block for Shane so he can gain a few extra yards.
    I hope our fans realize just how special this duo is and try to live in the moment when they are out on the field finishing out their incredible careers here.

    You just can’t teach players what to do on a busted play but these 2 always seem to make something happen.

    Great stuff RC!
    As always, cheers sir!

    • I hear you BBG…I know I plan to sit back and take it in each week. I think the team could be special, but either way, these two are incredible and I love that they are helping each other re-write the record books.

      Whatever it is…they got it.

      Here’s to a special season BBG.


  4. Ron, Nice read as always. Weather you call it Trust, Chemistry, or Confidence they all help to get everyone on the same page. By having these ingredients it gives a unit or team the chance to execute above the sum of the individual parts. As a result you will always teams with lesser talent beating teams with more because they are willing to set aside personal glory for team victory. We have to remember not everyone is a 5 star talent and most importantally, these for the most part are still kids. When we review talent we look at size, speed, and strength, and take the grade as gospel, however there is never a rating for heart, determination, or work ethic. Some kids peak at age 15 while others wont develop until late in their college years. When a kid is given a grade or none at all it destroys some or lights a huge fire under others. There are far more elite recruits that never amount to anything than the overlooked kid who is determined to show the world that the so called experts had it wrong. These kids self motivate and are willing to run through a wall for their coaches or fellow players. To get back to your point I think Both Carden and Hardy saw a bit of themselves in each other, both barely recruited, both wanting to prove something and both having confidence in the other to get them where they wanted to go. As individuals they are good but as a unit they make each other better.

    • Hey DCP…I love this line: “…Carden and Hardy saw a bit of themselves in each other…” well said and right on the money, IMO.

      Hey…btw…any chance you are planning to go to the Temple game in Philly. Let me know if you do…would love to meet up.

      Go Pirates, Go!

  5. Trust is the key as Paul wrote and you included in your article. Some coach said if you pass, three things can happen and two of those are bad. Actually four things can happen and three of them are bad. Sacks the four thing. So a QB is not going to throw often to a receiver who he does not think will execute the route and catch the ball, not to mention Paul’s damage control angle. And he is not going to sit comfortably in the pocket if he does not trust his OL to give him some time. Happy feet negate lots of QB skills on many teams. ECU is being built on trust in every way. In coach Connors, in Ruff and his staff, among the players, among high school and JC coaches. It is the key intangible to what has been done so far IMO. And more and more fans, including me, are feeling trust with the program.

    I didn’t distrust it but I wasn’t confident in hiring a HC with zero HC experience and wasn’t sold quickly as Ruff tried to find his footing. But he seems to have found it as a quality person who loves his alma mater and goes the extra mile in everything he does. No idea how good a HC he is or will be but the trend is his and ECU’s friend. If he fails to win enough games, he will be the same guy but many fans will begin to complain. That is the nature of his profession. The crown never sits firmly on their heads.

    • Well stated factoid. You and I, I recall, had a couple of discussions (if that is what these are called on a blog or a board) about his lack of HC experience and that he went 30 years without a gig. He has earned his rep at least in regards to being genuine and that resonates with certain kids…the whole family thing is real and different.

      All that said…and I love Coach Ruff and what he has done for this program…he still needs that head turning win. Let’s face it…N.C. State is horrible right now and UNC is nowhere near a top 25 team…they just aren’t. But this season he has a gauntlet to run in weeks 2-4.

      If he sweeps that gauntlet…there will be no more questions to ask. If he takes 2 of 3, IMO, he has proven something.

      One thing is for sure for me, given the college football world around us, I will be tuning in with a much narrower view this season…should be fun and we don’t have to wait long to see what kind of team we have.

      Go Pirates, Go!

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