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Patriots' Lloyd excels in part because of training on track

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / August 7, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH — One of Patriot Brandon Lloyd’s hallmarks as a receiver is his body control, and his ability, at 6 feet tall, to give himself a much wider catch radius than other players his size might have.

Or, as Lloyd puts it, “I feel like every ball is catchable.”

While some of that ability is certainly innate, much of it was honed on the track. More specifically, it came on the high jump apron, the area of the infield where athletes perfect the highly technical craft of high jumping.

Lloyd was a better-than-average high jumper: He was a two-time Missouri state titlist in the event, and placed third at the Big Ten indoor track and field championships during his freshman year at Illinois.

In high school, he cleared 7 feet 2 inches. Not only is that impressive — only around 10 high school jumpers cleared 7 feet this year — but when the fact that he wasn’t quite 6 feet tall at the time is factored in, it is even more of an achievement and underscores Lloyd’s leaping ability and his dedication to jumping.

He had a personal coach, the father of a friend who lived near him, and put in his time on the mats.

The 31-year-old also was a standout sprint hurdler, another technical event.

Both helped make Lloyd the receiver he is now.

“I think it’s just the body control,” he said. “Being able to make those turns and in high jump you’re so in control, everything’s well-calculated when you’re going into your approach and coming in and you’re planting and you go from being so out of sorts and then the jump and you get back and collect yourself. I think that’s how that translates over into football.”

A high jump approach is all about controlled aggression. Called the ‘J’ curve for its shape, it requires both speed as the athlete runs toward the bar, then smoothness as he takes several steps in a curve (the hooked part of the J), maintaining that speed but not going so fast as to be unable to gather himself and put himself in the right position to jump, with his hips parallel to the bar and mat.

Finally, all of the forward movement must be converted upward, as rises, leans back to go over the bar, careful to get his hips up, and then snaps his feet to ensure clearance.

Any one of a dozen things can go wrong during an approach and takeoff, often leading to a miss. And the higher the bar gets, the more technically proficient the athlete has to be.

But it wasn’t just the physical aspect of high jumping that helped Lloyd become a better receiver; it was also the mental aspect.

“I did a lot of visualizing and preparing to jump at high heights that you can’t practice,” he said. “I couldn’t [hype] myself up enough in practice to clear 7-foot, but I could visualize it and visualize the timing, and I was so successful at that I thought I’d transfer that over to football.

“So when I look at the call sheet and I look at the plays, I just imagine catching every kind of [pass] in every possible way. So, visualize every coverage, visualize every catch, one hand, two hands, anything, so when it happens it feels like I’ve already been there almost.”

Thus far in his time with the Patriots, Lloyd has impressed. He had knowledge of the playbook thanks to his time spent with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in Denver and St. Louis, and continues to call his chemistry with the quarterbacks a work in progress.

Lloyd is quick to acknowledge that he’s working to make everything seamless.

“It’s just important to build trust with guys to do my job, to be accountable, to make the plays when my number’s called. I think that all factors in there,” he said. “I think that’s just how I’ve been playing since I was young and it’s just something that drives me — trying to be perfect out on the practice field.”

Lloyd’s done everything that’s been asked of him since arriving in March as a free agent, but Brian Hoyer, for one, was impressed before Lloyd arrived in New England.

“Even before he got here, I remember watching him and being like, ‘Man, how did he catch that?’ ” the backup QB said. “He catches balls that shouldn’t be caught. As a quarterback, that’s always good, because you know his catch radius is a little bit bigger than some other people.”

And it all started on the track, trying to train his body to clear a bar 7 feet in the air.

Lloyd still knows how to high jump: He recently filmed an ESPN Sport Science segment in which he cleared 6 feet 2 inches while catching a football.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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