Football 101: Off Man Coverage

Every DB wants to be labeled a playmaker, but before you can show off your ball skills and footwork you need to master the basics.

If you line up against some of the best receivers in pro football week in and week out you can bet that your technique is going to be put to the test.

In my years of experience, I’ve realized that it takes hard work and lots of practice to become a shutdown cover guy at any level. A good defensive back relies on sharp reflexes, great instincts, and composure under pressure to make plays and impact the game.

Of course, you want all of your players to become playmakers, but before they can show off their ball skills and footwork you need to help them master the basics.

As a coach, you want all of your players to become great playmakers, but before they can show off their ball skills and footwork you need to help them master the basics.

When you teach man-to-man coverage (m2m) keep these 3 Coaching Points in mind:

  • Alignment
  • Pad Level
  • Eyes


“Line up 7-9 yards away from your receiver.”

Avoid aligning head up with the player you are covering. Instead, take a step inside, towards the quarterback, to establish what we call “inside leverage”. In general, the defender’s head should be in-line with the receiver’s inside shoulder. Work to maintain this relationship throughout the duration of the route.

An inside leverage alignment allows a defensive back an advantage against any route breaking inside towards the Quarterback.

A defensive back doesn’t always need to intercept the ball to have success. If the intended receiver doesn’t catch it, mission accomplished! Force the quarterback to throw a perfect pass.

“Run to win.” – 22

Pad Level

“Stay low.”

When covering a receiver, bend your knees and split your feet shoulder-width apart. Try to keep your shoulders over your toes without bending over too much at the waist.

Ease into this body position before the play starts. Then, try to maintain that good posture while back-pedaling and transitioning and making breaks.

“It’s hard to be athletic with your legs straight.” – 22


“Discipline your eyes.”

As a defender, from the line of scrimmage to the top of the route, your eyes should be focussed on a small, coin-sized point on the receiver’s hip or thigh – usually the hip. This is because the hips move less than the head and shoulders during fakes and breaks.

When the receiver’s hips drop, prepare to change directions.

“You can see a lot if you learn to see a little.” – 22

When the receiver’s hands raise to catch, get ready to make a play on the ball.

If you’re close enough to lean on the receiver (“in phase”) you can turn, locate the ball and attempt an interception.

If you are further than arms reach (“out of phase”), forget about the ball. The only thing that matters is running until you catch up with your receiver. Never look back for the ball while you are out of phase. Your best bet is to just run to catch up.

Once you close the gap, focus on the receiver’s face and hands to get a sense of when the ball is coming.  If the ball is underthrown and the receiver has to slow down you might be able to make a play.

“Don’t fall asleep. Cover like the ball is coming your way every play.” – 22

These are just some guidelines to help get you started. Try using these coaching points during your next practice.

– 22


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Author: Courtney A Stephen

From Brampton, ON, Canada. Professional Football Player & Founder Overtime Football Club Inc. Wilfrid Laurier University & N. Illinois University Alumnus

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