When 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.
It takes something special 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. 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.
When you line up in man-to-man coverage (m2m) keep these 3 Coaching Points in mind:
- Pad Level
Before the play set 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 defenders 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 you as a defender to better protect against all inside breaking routes (i.e.: In, slant, dig, curl, or any route breaking towards the QB). Remember, you don’t always have to knock the ball down or pick it off to be successful. If they don’t catch it, you did your job. Force the quarterback be perfect with the ball.
“Run to win.” – 22
You always want to keep your pads down. The ideal body position when covering m2m is bent knees, with feet shoulder width apart & chest up (as opposed to bent over at the waist with the head down). Defenders should establish this posture before the play and maintain it while back-pedalling and transitioning or making breaks.
“It’s hard to be athletic with your legs straight.” – 22
Discipline your eyes. From the line of scrimmage to the top of the route, the defender should be focussed on a small, coin size point on the receiver’s lower body – usually the hip. The hips move less during fakes and jukes than the shoulders. 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 the ball, 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 outside of arms reach (“out of phase”), trying to catch up with your receiver, never look back for the ball. Instead, focus on the receiver’s face and hands to get a sense of when the ball is coming. Your best bet is to just run to catch up. 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 get you started. Alignment, pad level and eyes. Take these tips to the field next time you’re playing or coaching.
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