Man Coverage Techniques for Man Pressures

By Adam Robertson
Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line
Crestview High School (FL)
Twitter: @OLcoachrob



Our teaching progression at Crestview always starts with AASK. This is our foundation for our defense. When players are not sure what to do they just need to AASK.



A – Assignment

A – Alignment

S – Stance

K – Key


This report is all about man coverages so our assignment is man. The players need to know if they have help and if so where is that help. The call will help identify what type of help if any. Whether there is a Rat in the hole, 1, 2 or 0. Their assignment will help with their next step, their alignment.


“Rat Help” or “No Rat Help”

Alignment is determined by the defender having help or not. We teach if the defender has inside help, whether that’s a safety or Rat, to have outside leverage and vice versa as long as the WR is inside the divider. Leverage to us is taught by the offensive player’s eye. So inside leverage would be the DB outside eye on the WR inside eye. Leverage is also determined by position maintenance. We utilize the 5-1-Bottom rule for our 1 high maintenance. The dividers allow our players to know if they can expect help from the safety.


The next step will be the stance. We give our players guidelines they must meet but allow the players to find what “works” best for them in-regards to their stances. We want our guys comfortable so they play fast.



  • Feet slightly greater then shoulder width apart
  • Toes in line with one another with an on ball WR and toe to instep with an off ball WR
  • Mental weight on inside of the balls of their feet
  • Bend in knees with ankle flexion
  • Hips down allowing shoulders over knees and knees over toes
  • Hands will be in-front and relaxed ready to jam


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4 C’s of Continuous Movement in Press Technique

By Dan McKeown
Defensive Coordinator & Defensive Backs
Saginaw Valley State University (MI)
Twitter: @DB_McKeown



Press coverage with cornerbacks is an advantage! Pressing with the CB’s gives us route elimination based on releases, instant re-routes, interruption of timing, the ability to put more defenders around the ball, and the fulfillment of a competitive DB’s nature. I’d like to identify that press isn’t a form of a physical bump and run method but rather the concept of disrupting WR’s while staying on top of their route for as long as possible. QBs and WRs will run their routes on air every day and develop timing together. Now let’s say they do it again, but I place a barrel in front of the WR. Their timing will already be different. Now imagine if this barrel moved to stay on top of the WR and cut his angles off! The timing they worked on is now off schedule, and that’s why press is an advantage. Different coverages dictate different elements of press but in this case, we will focus on press coverage used in our quarters and cover 1 concept. I’ll spend more time talking about the release part of the press because it’s where common technique issues can be cleaned up.


A key component to press coverage: Continuous Movement

A couple of years ago I watched all the top CBs in the NFL and wanted to see what made them the best at their game. There were different styles of play but the one thing that showed up with all of them is they moved with efficiency. Moving with efficiency is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible with the least amount of energy. A lot of words like fluid or smooth would describe what we call being efficient. All these top NFL CBs moved efficiently that allows them to obtain continuous movement. They took steps that continuously directed them to their intended direction without losing any speed. These elite DBs didn’t take “gather” steps which I would define as an unnecessary extra step in between transitions. This was the difference from the elite to the rest. It showed up, especially in press coverage. From this, we developed how to obtain continuous movement in our DB’s. If we can move with efficient steps in press coverage, we feel we have the advantage.

Continuous Movement: Four factors based on biomechanics that work together to create an efficient movement. We call them the 4 C’s of Continuous Movement

Diagram 1


Circle: Staying within our frame. Our frame must be defined in a 360-degree manner. The width of our frame is our shoulders down to the floor. The front to back part of our frame is the length. To find the length you can stand on one leg and put your other foot behind the standing foot while keeping it flat (dorsi) on the ground. Take the width (side to side) and the length (front to back and drawing a circle around them. That is your frame. Our objective is to stay in our frame all the time.

Diagram 2


Ceiling: It’s our foot height We want to keep our feet dorsiflexed while pedaling, scooting, and shuffling. This allows us to keep our feet under us and in our circle. Our foot height should be like a heart monitor in transitions. For example, when backpedaling and then opening the height on the monitor should all be the same. What I mean is the rhythms should all look the same until you get into a run. We will gather step when our rhythms are inconsistent. An example would be sliding our feet on grass then picking them up to transition.

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Drilling Mid-Point Technique For 3-Deep and 2-Deep Zone Defenders

By Mark Theophel
Defensive Coordinator
Hartwick College (NY)



Zone concepts like cover 2 and cover 3 allow DBs the freedom to read the QB and make lots of plays on the football, although they also present the challenge of having to defend multiple receiving threats in an area of the field. This happens most often for us when a defender in an underneath zone is “high-lowed” or when a defender in a deep zone is stretched vertically by multiple receivers. To better position our DBs to defend these concepts, we teach “midpoint” principles in zone coverage, which allow defenders to play in-between multiple receiving threats in their zone and react to the throw.

theophel 063020


Zone Coverage vs. Man Coverage:

It’s important that we first educate our players on the distinction between zone coverage and man coverage. This may seem obvious, but it will help our players to better understand their teaching and why we are doing what we are doing. Man coverage for us is not necessarily going to be just straight man-to-man. Some coverages like quarters will still fall into the “man” category for us because of the key reads for the DB’s. Simply put, if a DB has a “man key” at the snap, then it is a man concept coverage. By contrast, when we play zone coverage, DBs will key the backfield action/QB rather than focusing on a specific WR at the snap.


Features of Man Concept Coverage:

DBs have a “Man Key.”

Eyes are on a WR at the snap.

Man Key will define both our run and pass responsibility.

DBs cover a specific WR on the play.


Features of Zone Concept Coverage:

DBs key the QB/ball.

the initial read will indicate either outside run or pass.

Any ball off the line (of scrimmage) action such as an inside run or drop-back = PASS to deep zone defenders.

DBs cover an area of the field and do not lock on to one WR.

Again, these distinctions may seem somewhat obvious, but it helps our DBs to differentiate between man and zone concepts, especially with their key reads. While man coverage is usually considered much more physically difficult than zone, it is also much simpler in concept. Zone coverage requires DBs to make reads on the QB, recognize different route concepts, and anticipate throws. One of the challenges to playing zone is defenders being stressed by multiple threats to their zone in some route concepts. How we handle this depends on the coverage but the unilateral principle we will use is to “midpoint” the zone.


Midpoint Technique in Cover 2:


Corner Midpoint Technique:

In Cover 2, the midpoint technique comes into play for the corner most often vs. the “smash” concept, with the corner being “high-lowed” by an outside vertical and a short route/hitch to their side. The corner is technically an underneath defender in cover 2, responsible for the flat, and the smash route poses a challenge for him. If he is too aggressive on the hitch, he leaves us vulnerable to the ball being completed behind him in the cover 2 “hole”, before the safety can get there. If he gets too deep to prevent that throw, the hitch will be completed with ease. Teaching him to midpoint these routes can help position him well to defend both throws, while also creating indecision on the part of the QB.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2


It is important to note that while we do often use landmarks in zone coverage, and those landmarks will come into play later when discussing midpoint technique for deep zone defenders, we do not use landmarks for the cover 2 corner vs. smash. The main reason for this is because the ideal positioning for this route depends on several factors that can vary from opponent to opponent. Instead, we focus on specific coaching points to put the corner in the best position.


Midpoint Technique Coaching Points For Cover 2 Corner vs. Smash:

Bait and Drive.

Bait the corner route with body positioning then drive the hitch.

Read the front shoulder of the QB for the throw.

Depth and Width vary based on several factors.

  1. Spacing of the routes.
  2. QB’s abilities/arm strength.
  3.  abilities (know yourself).


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Press Technique Toolbox to Defend Multiple Routes

By Brock McCullough
Defensive Coordinator
Shenandoah University (VA)
Twitter: @BrockMcCullough


Situational press man coverage has merit at most levels of football. Typically, our press man coverage is paired with bringing more defenders than the offense can block (Cover Zero). A quarterback allows defenses to outnumber the offense’s protection. Press man eliminates the modern quick game, easy access, high percentage throws which offenses love to take. We teach a heavy inside press alignment to help discourage easy, in-breaking routes by the offense. This approach and alignment allow us to force out-breaking throws which are completed at a lower percentage. Our teaching progression starts thereby eliminating those types of throws simply by our alignment. A key point to this article is disruption. Press man is disruptive. Any wide receiver loves a free release. If he runs a 4.6 forty and is allowed a free release, he still runs his 4.6 forty. However, receivers at every level hate being disrupted. By disruption, they likely now will run a 5.0 forty because we are in the way as defenders. Also, you will often hear radio broadcasters and television commentary on how the receiver “dropped an easy touchdown pass.” What they hardly ever consider is that receivers hate to be touched. They often complain to the official when they are touched. The reason they likely dropped that “easy” touchdown pass is often because they were disrupted off of the line of scrimmage therefore, they dropped the pass three steps later. Or they have been disrupted with thoughts that a 230-pound linebacker was within a foot of their pattern.  Disruption is especially important for defenses. This article will talk about one form of defensive disruption: press-man coverage.

Man coverage from a press position all starts with great alignment. We always start any coverage with alignment as the first thing on our checklist. We want our corners, nickel, and press safeties to take a hard-inside ability alignment. First, we want to educate you on the difference between a “man turn” and a “zone turn.” We drill these types of turns daily. A zone turn by a defender means that we see the quarterback and the ball throughout the entirety of the play. We feel this visual key increases our chances for turnovers and provides more eyes on the football for tackling. A man turn involves turning our back to the quarterback and the football while focusing our vision on our man. We feel this has merit at times throughout a football game as well. Man turn technique is what we will be focusing on in this article. Man coverage means we are canceling out one offensive player with one defensive player. We want to melt to this man and eliminate him. Our teaching progression for all coverages/concepts is A.S.K.I.R. I will take you through our press man Alignment, Stance, Keys, Initial reaction, and Responsibility.

Inside press man generally invites lower percentage throws to the perimeter of the field.

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Campbell University’s Press Technique Drills

By Bryan Butterworth
Defensive Backs Coach / Defensive Pass Game Coordinator
Campbell University (NC)
Twitter: @CoachButterCU


Like most coaches, I feel the best way to teach anything is through a part to whole progression. To do this, we break down each individual step, create a drill, rep it and put it to use in practice so it will be effective on game day. This report will break down the base press man progression we use and teach at Campbell University. This is a four-drill progression that is designed to teach stance, eyes, footwork, posture, release and strike. We will focus on multiple techniques that will allow us to be physical with receivers, disrupt routes and make plays on the football.


In teaching our press man stance, the key is starting with a great foundation. We align players in an upright position with feet armpit width apart. Every player is different, taller guys might need to have a wider base, as will guys who don’t bend as well. Adjust each players’ base to their own comfort level without compromising your coaching.

Next, we teach the bend. I will give players a “stance” command and they will snap down into a press man position. To effectively get into a respectable press stance players must bend at their three power angles. Players must bend fluidly at the hips, knees, and ankles. At this time, you can measure ankle flexibility by noting whether the players’ heels are firmly on the turf.

With the base side, we move on to the upper body. We teach a nice flat back and relaxed chest with eyes up and on the coach. Any arched lower back or protruding chest will not be acceptable. If the player exhibits upper body stiffness tell them to stand up and “shake it out.” Before putting the player back in press stance, we make them aware that as they bend at their three power angles to “drop” their head and eyes and let their back flatten naturally. When they are comfortable and have a flat back, then we tell them to look up. Bring their eyes to a target while maintaining a flat back. The flat back will eliminate most chest stiffness as well. If there still is some chest protrusion, just remind the player to relax his chest.


Stance Coaching Points:

  • Bend at 3 power angles (hips/knees/ankles).
  • Drop head and eyes, let back flatten naturally, relax chest.
  • Eyes up.

Drill #1:  Read Drill

Read drill is designed to teach the proper base and first reactionary step for defensive backs playing press man. Start the drill by aligning the defensive back(s) on a horizontal yard line in an upright position. Make sure that his toes are on the line. I like to use the edge of the sideline as my starting point. Use the line or lines as a visual reference to make sure DB is stepping properly.

If you are working with multiple DBs at a time, make sure that you stagger their alignments on different levels. On the coaches “stance” command DB will snap down into a press man stance with eyes on the coach.  The coach will give a directional point, left or right, and echo the command “read”. On coaches’ command, DB will take their read step with coaches’ directional point. On each “read” command the defensive back will take a 3-inch lateral read step. The step must be subtle and under control. The coach must make sure the step is within DBs cylinder.

Common mistakes by players are overstepping (long steps), stepping too fast, and stepping with both feet. To correct overstepping, we tell the player to step from armpit to shoulder with a read step. It will make the player aware of keeping his feet in his cylinder. Correct fast steppers by slowing the drill down and echoing words like “patient” and “subtle”. Finally, players who step with both feet, make them aware that the foot away from the read step is active but stationary. The foot must remain stationary because after coaches read command and read step by DB, the read foot must come back to balance in DB’s home position. Coaches repeat “read” command three to six times. Make sure player takes good tempo’d lateral 3-inch steps. Players must always finish in the home position. Once defensive back has completed the drill, the coach will give a “melt” command and they can come up out of their stance. 


Read Drill Coaching Points:

  • Read step must be short (3 inches) and subtle. Step from armpit to shoulder.
  • Work read steps in both directions, mix it up.
  • Hip level should be the same with each read step.
  • Keep react foot stationary but active. DB’s must exhibit calm feet.
  • Be patient, don’t guess… react.

Drill 2: React Drill

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Cover 2 Press Corner Techniques

By Richan Gaskins
Defensive Backs Coach
Gallaudet University (DC)


galludetOur secondary and linebackers are taught to play physically in pass defense. Physical play does not begin when the ball is in the hands of the receiver, it begins at the line of scrimmage. Our version of the Cover 2, our most successful coverage this season in terms of interceptions this season, has placed a premium on putting hands on receivers and tight ends. “Hands-on” has become a common phase in the secondary in our Cover 2 look, particularly with the cornerbacks. Our philosophy centers on the idea that a quarterback has approximately 2-3 seconds to make a decision in the pocket before reverting to either a “scramble drill”, sack, or hurried throw. By having our cornerbacks and outside linebackers re-routing receivers, it will disrupt the timing of the quarterback and receiver. Our ultimate goal is to cause turnovers by forcing the quarterback to make the most difficult throw or settling for the last read in his progression.

Placing a premium on physical play in the secondary will also cut branches off of the passing tree. What I mean by that is that receivers will often be forced to break off routes early, or resort to a limited number of routes. Physical play makes it difficult for many pass route combinations to fully develop before the rush gets to the quarterback, as we saw with many offenses who gave us a high percentage of 3-step routes. This plays into our defensive concept of stopping the big play.

Hard Corner Techniques

We have different alignments in our Cover 2, but our philosophy in every look remains the same. In our “Hard” Cover 2, our corners are lined up one to three yards from the line of scrimmage, giving him the least amount of room to work a release. We set up in an outside shade of the wide receiver, with the inside foot parallel to the groin of the receiver. Our feet are even and set underneath the hips, providing a solid base. The body is in a comfortable, hands are above waist level with the tips of the fingers facing forward. We coach the hands to be relaxed and ready to strike. Like any track coach will tell you, a loose, relaxed muscle travels faster than a tense one. The objective of our cornerbacks in Cover 2 is to force all threats inside towards our safeties and Sam and Will backers. While being physical may lure some corners into being overly aggressive, we coach our defensive backs to jam with their feet first. By keeping the initial outside leverage using short, quick steps to stay in front of the receiver, we can disrupt the timing of a pass route. We have two drills that we use to emphasis our footwork in Cover 2, the importance of forcing your opponent to the inside, and to not unnecessarily give up ground, respectively.

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Using Press Technique to Disrupt the Fade-Stop

By Trey Henderson
Safeties Coach
College of William and Mary 


wandmI would like to take this opportunity to thank Mike Kuchar, Research Manager for X&O Labs for allowing me to write this article on Press Coverage.  Most of what I know about the game of football has been given to me by someone.  I would like to thank them all, but there are just too many to mention.

In 2010, William and Mary finished the year as the CAA Champions with the #2 Overall seed in the Division I playoffs.  Defensively, we were sixth in points allowed per game (16.6 ppg) and tenth in Pass Efficiency Defense (103.6)  in all of FCS.  We also allowed only six passing touchdowns.  The reason for our success is because of our ability to play Press Coverage no matter where we are on the field.  In this article, I will explain our basic press man to man technique and how to better defend the fade stop route.

The teaching progression we us in our Press Technique, at William and Mary, can be illustrated by the acronym (AKRE) :

Alignment, Key, Responsibility and Execution.  We use this acronym for every coverage we install, regardless of zone or man.  So let’s get to work.

Alignment – If we are lining up on a #1 WR that is on the LOS (Line of Scrimmage) then we align one yard off the ball with inside leverage on the WR. If the WR is off the LOS then we align as tight to the LOS without being off sides while still having inside leverage.  We define Inside leverage as having our outside foot splitting the WR in half.  Our stance is square with our feet slightly wider than shoulder width.  This give us a good base and allows us to not get run over if a WR decides to bull rush us.  Also, we are in a good knee bent position with our hand relaxed ready to strike.

Key – Our eyes are locked on the bottom of the WR numbers.

Responsibility – The WR Man to Man.

Execution – We want to be as physical as possible in our three-yard area surrounding us and the WR.  Our feet need to move before our hands, so that our punch is more violent.  Moving your feet provides a better balance for the punch.   If we dominate this area, then we should disrupt the timing of any route.  As the WR moves we move our feet,   I begin by telling our guys to slide back slightly(slide technique is defined below) when the WR moves to prevent them from lunging.  As we slide back grudgingly from the WR, we remain as square as possible.  We use an off handed punch technique on the WR.  This means if the WR releases to our right then we slide our feet to stay square and maintain our leverage and punch with our left hand.  Our aiming point is the breastplate of the WR with our thumb up.  This gives us the most power to punch the WR and impede his release.

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Principles of Slide Technique:

  • Balance stance, no stagger.
  • Weight on balls of feet (similar to a boxer), no forward lean, no heels.
  • Six inch to one foot slide backwards depending on ability of receiver.  For most dynamic receivers, a longer slide is necessary.

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Training the Feet and Eyes in Press Coverage

By Grant Caserta
Defensive Coordinator
Husson University
Twitter: @GCaserta1




Press coverage is a tool that has many great benefits for the defense. From taking away easy throws, to challenging receivers, to altering route releases, press coverage can make things hard on the offense. With a few basic coaching points, corners can be equipped with the techniques and confidence to be successful at the line of scrimmage.

Stance and Key

There are two main items we focus on to help us achieve a proper stance: feet and eyes.


When teaching corners a stance for press coverage we always start with the feet. The first thing we look for is balanced weight distribution in the feet. We want equal weight on each foot, and equal weight on the ball and heel of the foot. This posture allows us to move quickly in reaction to the receiver in any direction.

We want the corner’s feet to be around shoulder width apart, or slightly wider than shoulder width. Each individual body type may be comfortable in a slightly different stance. Longer legged corners may feel more comfortable with a wider stance, while shorter corners may feel better with a narrower stance. I am a strong believer in the idea that an uncomfortable player will likely be a non-efficient player, movement-wise. The only requirement we have for a corner’s stance is that he must be balanced and stable after taking his first step. We want the corner’s first step to put him in an athletic position that allows him to respond to the receiver quickly. We do not want the first step to overextend the corner’s base so he cannot react to a counter move by the receiver. We also do not want the first step to be too short, where the receiver cannot be cut off on his initial release.


Just like defending a ball handler in basketball, we want to focus our eyes on the midsection of the receiver. It is very easy to be fooled by head/shoulder fakes and arm movement. By keying the midsection, we give the corner the best chance of responding correctly to the true release of the receiver. It is the onus of the receiver to get around the corner; therefore, the more patience the corner can show initially, the better shot he has of forcing the receiver to declare where he is going. This can be best accomplished by keeping the eyes keyed on the midsection of the receiver – ignoring head fakes and other superficial attempts to get the corner’s hips opened up too early.

Two keys to winning at the Line of Scrimmage

We teach two key elements to the start of press coverage technique.

  1. Working on 45-degree angles to cut off the receiver and
  2. Protecting the “cylinder” by striking the receiver. These help us to disrupt timing of routes, prevent free releases and stay in the proper position to defend.

45 Degree Angles

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In-Phase & Out of-Phase Technique Progressions for DBs

By Eliot Fields
Assistant Defensive Coordinator & Safeties Coach
Carroll University (WI)
Twitter: @CoachFields_CU


We define being in-phase as the defender being in good position on a receiver. This means our defender is in a slight trail technique in which they are close enough to get their hand to the receiver’s hip while still maintaining a slight bend in the elbow. When we are in-phase, we are in good position to play the ball if thrown in our direction. We will utilize our wedge progression to teach our in-phase technique.

On the other hand, we will define being out-of-phase as the defender not being in position to make a play on the ball. This means the defender will need to play the receiver’s hands instead. When we are out-of-phase, we will utilize our disadvantage progression.

While some of the drills you will see here may be familiar, I firmly believe that the progressions we use to teach the techniques help our players fully understand the technique, as well as the “why” behind how we do things. Teaching a technique is one thing, but without teaching the student-athlete the “why,” we are not truly helping that individual become a better player. By utilizing these progressions, we are able to introduce the different aspects of our in-phase and out-of-phase techniques, identify when each will be used and ultimately tie everything back together.

Wedge Progression

As I stated above, when teaching our wedge progression we are saying that our defender is in-phase with the receiver and can make a play on the ball. We begin by teaching the wedge, as it is our best-case scenario. When we are teaching technique, we always want to teach the proper technique before moving on to contingencies.

The primary focus of our wedge progression is getting into, or maintaining, proper body position on a vertical route by the receiver. This progression is broken into 4 phases:

  1. Jogging Wedge (w/o ball)
  2. Start In-Phase
  3. Mirror Breaks
  4. Full Wedge

Jogging Wedge

We start our progression by teaching the correct body position and posture. We want this drill to simulate perfect positioning against a receiver downfield. For this drill, we will slow down the tempo of the receiver and the defender, and eliminate the ball. The defender will start in-phase with the receiver, meaning that he has:

  1. Inside positioning on the receiver
  2. A slight trail technique (between ¼ and ½ man) on the receiver
  3. A slight bend in the elbow with the bottom 6 inches of his Ulna (DB’s outside arm) making contact with the inside hip of the receiver

On the whistle, both players will jog at 60-75% speed, with the defender looking to maintain this position on the receiver through the rep. The focus of this drill is 100% on body positioning and posture. The defender should be playing within their frame and under control throughout the entire rep.


To study film of this drill, click on the video below:

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Slide-Step Off Man Technique Teaching & Drill Work

By Steven Dudley
Defensive Backs Coach/Special Team Coordinator
Fort Hays State University (KS)
Twitter: @CoachDudleyFHSU


Throughout my coaching and playing career, I had always taught the traditional back pedal off man technique. I was confident in my ability to teach it, it was always what I had used, and I knew it worked if executed correctly. A few years ago, I could not help but notice the rise in popularity in higher levels of college football of the slide-step technique and my players were noticing as well. With our defensive philosophy moving to more of a quarters scheme and my players wanting to use the technique, I decided to start researching the technique to make the switch.

Once we made the change, I ran into an issue. There is not a lot out there on teaching this technique. I spent a lot of time going to different FBS camps that I knew used the technique and poured over a lot of All-22 film. From there, I was able to piece together enough information to create my own ideas on how I thought it was best to teach it and after some trial and error in my first spring of implementing it, I’m very confident in the final product of the way I teach this technique. The change made a big difference in the play in our cornerbacks and the results reflected this. We rose to the second best pass defense in our conference, our CB’s interceptions rose from 5 to 9, both of our starters were all-conference, and one was first team all-region. The technique is now a staple in our system and will continue to be as long as we are a quarters based defense.


Before I get into the specific details of the technique, I want to cover a few philosophical points of why I teach things the way I do. In my mind, good DB technique is all about being in the proper position to transition into your next movement. Back pedal technique has little to do with how fast a kid can go backwards. If that’s all we were concerned with, we’d just teach them to do a backwards run. It’s all about pedaling with tempo while trying to main the technical integrity to be able to have the best break/turn possible. The same applies to the slide-step technique. The benefit of playing a slide-step technique is that it’s easier to break on anything in front of you because of the position the body is in. I always want to maintain the position to be able to break properly at all times. We also man turn all outside vertical releases, so I want to maintain a position where we can make a clean man turn to the outside.

Stance & Alignment

I always teach stance with the guys standing on a field line. This helps make sure they’re cocked in at the right angle and their feet are placed correctly. They want to have their outside foot forward and their inside foot back. They should be facing in to the ball. Now, I teach to have them slightly angled in to the ball. I always refer to it as having your belt buckle pointed to the ball. The best way that I’ve found to do this is to use the field line where their front toes should just be on the outside of the line and their back heel should be just inside of the line.

Their toes should be pointed in to the ball just as their body is. Some coaches will teach to have the front foot pointed to the line of scrimmage, but I prefer that it be pointed to the ball because it makes it easier to adjust to the stem of the WR once we start sliding. Their feet should be slightly wider than shoulder width apart. The width of their feet should be the same as if they were going to shuffle laterally. Their eyes and their chest should be turned in to their man. This upper body position helps them keep their hips slightly cocked in. Maintaining this position is so important because if the hips get opened up, it becomes very difficult to man turn. The arms should be relaxed, although some of my guys like to have a little flexion in their arms. That’s not something is get too concerned about.

I always teach my guys to play 5-7 yards off and to play with inside leverage. The guys that are very good with this technique I let get up to 5 or 6 yards, but I always start the young guys at 7 yards. For leverage, their outside shoulder should be matching the inside shoulder of the WR. 

Stance Coaching Points:

  • Facing into the ball
  • Belt buckle to the ball
  • Feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  • Toes pointed to ball
  • Comfortable bend at the hips, chest over toes
  • Eyes and chest turned into the WR
  • Relaxed upper body

Frequent Issues to Look For:

  • Too open or too closed


On the snap, they should push off the front foot. The push off should start at where the front pinky toe is. Once they push off, they should be up on the balls of their feet so they’re light on their feet and are quicker to react to stems. The slide technique is not a true slide. It’s a push-step-step cadence. They push off the front foot, step with the back foot, then step with the front foot to get in position to push again. They should never be dragging their feet on the turf.

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Man Coverage v. RPOs: Case 1 – Teaching Press Man and Off Man Techniques

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikeKKuchar



Playing man coverage is a mindset. We must not underestimate that. There is a common myth among coaches that believe you must have the “dudes” to play man coverage. You need that 4.45 shutdown corner that can eliminate at least a third of the football field. Or you need that 6ft. 3in. safety with the length and ability to both close quickly in the short game and cover enough ground in the vertical game to prevent deep throws. 

Well, we’re here to tell you that is not true, at least according to our contributors of this study. Regardless of your personnel, you can play man coverage and you can do so effectively without putting your players at a significant disadvantage. One of benefits of man coverage is the possibility of creating personnel match-ups and getting players who may be deficient in coverage the help they need if they know how to protect leverage. While man coverage can be the simplest coverage to teach structurally, the challenge lies in teaching your player the fundamentals and techniques necessary to defend routes.

In this case, we present our research on the daily drill work our contributors are using to teach both press and off technique to their back end. But before we do so, we wanted to start with how these coaches get their defensive backs to understand how important it is to play with confidence.

Developing the Man Coverage Mindset:

Let’s face it: getting players to play man coverage starts with the belief that they can. In doing this, defense can shift the paradigm to where they are dictating which routes they want the offense to run and which part of the field they want them to be run. And while much of this is tied to pre-snap and post-snap leverage, which we will detail in this case, we will start with how coaches are teaching their defenders to understand how the following five components tie into success in playing man coverage: 

  1. Competition
  2. Playing with confidence
  3. Knowing your Opponent
  4. Knowing the Situation
  5. Maintaining Focus

We asked our contributors how they use these components to prepare their defensive backs for success in playing man coverage. Consider their responses below: 

Mac Alexander, defensive backs coach, Colorado Mesa University: “As a defensive back coach I believe it is my job to instill confidence into my players. Part of being a defensive back is all about having belief in yourself. As a coach, I understand that they are going to get beat, but the way they respond is what I am really looking at. If a big play happens, I never want their body language to change, because if they do drop their heads or slump their shoulders, then I guarantee an offense is coming right back at them. I want them to believe in themselves and the techniques we are using.

“The first way I instill this confidence is by coaching them hard, but always being positive with them. The second way is by the way we do our individual drills. Each day we have a 10-minute segment dedicated to man-to-man technique. These drills are always the same and they pertain directly to what we are going to see from a wide receiver. Now these drills are not easy and they are made to make the DBs get tired, so now they must focus even more on their technique and what they are doing. This is my way of getting them to have confidence. As a group, we have the hardest individual periods on the team and that is something that we take pride in and will develop confidence through these drills. They work this stuff every day and come to a point where it feels very comfortable to them giving them confidence in themselves. Then when they see the drill work carry over to teamwork, they really start to work even harder during these individual drills.”

Will Pluff, defensive coordinator, Utica College (NY): “If you do your first three tasks right you will always have the opportunity to win the play. No matter whether you are ‘in phase’ or ‘out of phase’ you always have a chance to compete to win the play. But players need to be drilled what to do when the ball goes in the air. This cannot be an intricate thought process, it happens fast. We also spend a lot of time in wide receiver study of not only what routes you will see but also how the receivers get in and out of their breaks. Do they give the route away in their release? As far as down and distance goes, we must know what routes would an offense use and how does our alignment impact the wide receiver’s route such as an offense coaching choice routes based off our pre-snap alignment.”

Zack Moore, defensive coordinator, Morehead State University (KY): “Any form of man coverage requires confidence, thick skin and a short memory. The opponent is going to catch a ball, we’re going to get a pass interference call; they will make plays. If it happens, we don’t lose our minds, we correct the performance and put them right back in the same situation. Our expectation is that they learn from their mistake, correct it, and make the play when the opportunity arises. Confidence comes from feeling comfortable in what you are doing. We habituate our players to different looks as much as possible. In studying our opponents over the past couple of seasons, and by competing against our own offense, our guys will be exposed to all the stacks, bunches and motions we can imagine during meetings, film study, walk-through’s and practice. We believe that when they have been put in these situations, we’ll reduce the emotional response (panic) during competition, therefore increasing their ability to produce.”

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Teaching Zone Eyes to Defensive Backs

By Zach Turner,
Defensive Backs Coach,
Kenton High School (OH)
Twitter: @Zach_Turner1


screenshotOffenses are evolving year after year and are finding ways to put defenses in a bind. We are starting to see a lot of offenses use a variety of motions, zone fakes and misdirection to confuse and put the defense in a bad position. All of this “eye candy” can take your players out of position and create an edge for the offense. At Kenton High School (OH), we have incorporated a number of drills that help teach our defensive backs the eye discipline they need to more often be in position to make a play.


A lot of players especially at the high school level are aware of their initial (run/pass) key or secondary key when they enter our program. The first day of camp is when we teach our players how to determine and interpret their keys. This is a crucial part and must be done prior to any drills.

Determining Initial Keys

Defensive backs must have their eyes on their initial key at the snap of the ball. This is going to give them an initial read and identify if the play is a pass or run. We distinguish keys based on our defensive backs alignment. If a player’s alignment is outside, or on the hash, they will read the end man on the line of scrimmage. We tell our players that it could be a tight end or a tackle depending on the team and personnel grouping. If a player’s alignment or landmark is inside the hash they will be reading the guard to the tilt side.

Teaching Initial Keys

We teach our players two different ways to interpret their keys. We introduce both concepts in two-a-days so our players are familiar with them. Then during the season, based on the players’ technique and the scheme, we will go over how we want our players to interrupt their keys during the game. These two different concepts help our kids read the linemen who are high firing out or the lazy tackles who do not get off the ball well.

The first way we teach our players to interpret their keys is the common “high hat vs. low hat” read. If the player reads a high hat, he knows it is a pass. It may be the tight end releasing for a pass or a tackle pass setting. If the player reads a low hat, he knows it is a run. It may be a down block, drive block, reach block or even a pull by the tackle.

The second concept we use for teaching pre-snap reads is by determining “aggressive vs. non-aggressive.” If his key is aggressive and fires out with intent to block someone it is a run. If their key is non-aggressive and is either looking to release for a pass or is not firing out to drive the defender off the line of scrimmage it is a pass.

The only time these keys change is if you are reading the uncovered guard then you have to introduce guard pulls. To teach guard pulls, we tell our safeties if it is a tight pull it is a run; a wide pull is a pass.

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How Champions Disrupt Routes

By Mark Bruns 
Defensive Coordinator
Coldwater High School (OH)
Twitter: @coachBruns



From a defensive perspective our goal is to disrupt the offense as best we can, allowing time for the rush to connect, and making the quarterback throw something they are not comfortable with.  Our philosophy at Coldwater High School is to collision receivers at different points in their routes, thus making the timing of the offense disrupted.  By getting our hands on receivers we are hoping to also create a smaller completion window for the quarterback to try and fit his pass into.  If we can disrupt the read, and get some time for the rush to get the quarterback to move his feet and reload then he is also not going to be as accurate. 

We try to accomplish our goal in several ways and techniques.  We have a press technique that many teams use, especially when they have superior athletes to their opponents.  We have the typical off technique where the secondary players give cushion and react to what is happening in front of them.  However, our favorite technique is the “catch” technique, where we wait for the receiver at 5 yards and then let them turn us into the route.  This has been most effective at stopping offense from using any kind of short game, and also intermediate routes timing is off as well. 



Disrupting reads is a big part of our defense, but we don’t let it be a detriment to our scheme.  We do not walk all the way out on a receiver that is lined up 5 yards or closer to the sidelines, that receiver can only do 2 things.  Most likely come and block you, which is why he lined up that far out in the first place.  Or because he is trying to create some space for his route that he is going to run inside somewhere in the first place.  We have seen too many teams concerned with getting their hands on receivers that they will take themselves out of plays simply by alignment.  Or they will chase a receiver and take themselves out of position to make a play in their area they are designated.  If a receiver wants to run out of his way to avoid us, or the offense wants to put multiple people in a zone then we will cover those guys with one defensive back.

We want to play the receiver from the “top down” by disrupting the easy pass first, and working our way into deeper routes.  Once we are past 5 yards we don’t have to worry about quick game, at ten yards we are looking for outs, flags, an in, or a post.  Then if the receiver hasn’t committed to breaking their route after fifteen yards it is likely a fade or vertical route.  Having inside leverage we want to take away the easy pass inside first.  But also by having inside leverage we want the quarterback to have to throw to the outside, hopefully putting the sideline (our 12th defender) into play, and it also makes the throw longer, thus reducing accuracy.  I think all defensive backs coaches have to worry about giving up the deep ball first, and work everything else off of that.  By taking on just half of the receiver, because he turns us, we are “catching” him at 5 yards, it has to slow down the receiver.  The aiming point for contact is the near pectoral with our close hand.  Never want to come across and gamble on a big hit, because our momentum has to be backwards and ready to run in the hip pocket of the receiver.


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DB Press Technique Report

By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs


Researchers’ Note: You can access the raw data – in the form of graphs – from our research into DB press techniques: Click here for the Statistical Analysis Report.


We all want that lock-down corner, the Derelle Revis shut down stud who has the potential to alter an opponent’s game plan and change the course of the game.  If the technique is played right, it can make an offensive one-dimensional or even cut the field in half.  But let’s be honest – chances are a Derelle Revis or Champ Bailey may not be walking onto your practice field any time soon. So you have to make the most of what you have – and that’s what this week’s Coaching Research Report is all about.

For the purpose of this report we’ll be addressing techniques used by the isolated corner.  We’ll assume he has no help, regardless of the coverage.  We’re talking about MFO (middle of the field open), no middle field defender, just a corner on the receiver.  It’s a coverage most coaches are scared to play, and perhaps rightfully so with the vertical elements the spread offense possesses.  We were actually surprised to hear that 70 percent of coaches will only press their corners if they feel he has the ability to do so.  So, we wanted to find out if it is your players’ lack of athletic ability or a reservation in your ability to teach the proper mechanics of press technique that prevents you from doing so.  Apparently it’s both.  Well, that’s why we’re in this business.   We’ve consulted with the masses that use a press technique on a regular basis and they have given you an all-access look on how you can develop your corners into dominant defenders.  Sure, that Revis-type may not be coming in the building any time soon, but after reading this report, you may not need him to.

Benefits of playing press man coverage:

  • Ability to stack the box with nine: Assuming you’ll get closed, tight end oriented sets, if your corners can play man coverage without the help of your safeties, it frees them to get down in the box and play run support.
  • Safeties can’t get cracked: Many defenses now are playing some form of quarters coverage to contend with the vertical pass game (Note:  X&O Labs will be finalizing a Coaching Research Report on quarters within the next couple of weeks).  Because offenses know that in quarters your safeties are tied into the run game, they will try to block them with receivers.  Playing tight press man takes away their ability to do so.
  • Develops your blitz package: You’d be hard pressed to show us a defensive coordinator who lacks aggression in the blitz game these days.  If you can teach man coverage, it gives you the ability to attack various man and zone pressure concepts.
  • Eliminate big plays: We’re sure some of you offensive guys are cringing at a bold statement like this.  We know that seeing some form of press man coverage outside can make you drool. But the truth is if you train the hands, feet and hips of your corner to handle all routes, particularly the dreaded fade and fade stop routes which we will discuss later, you limit the offenses’ chances of hitting that home run.

Case 1: Proper Stance/Vertical and Horizontal Alignment The responses were unanimous.  Nearly every coach we spoke with on this topic talked about how the feet will control the hands.  There is nothing more important in teaching press than teaching the play of the feet.   We couldn’t tell you how many times the mantra “feet first, then hands” was blurted over my cell phone line this past week.  But before you can play the feet accurately, you must be able to get into a good stance.  Many coaches, including the ones we have as our analysts, feel that teaching the stance of a press corner sometimes goes overlooked.  At the risk of boring some veteran coaches, we put together a majority consensus on what a stance should look like for a press corner:

Press Corner Stance (Picture 1)

  • Feet directly under armpits: Slightly tighter than shoulder width.  This provides for better explosion off receiver movement and the prevention of getting over-extended and lunging on a WR, which many of our coaches feel was the biggest problem area when teaching press.
  • Bend at the waist: Much like a sprinter, the stress should be on their hamstrings, which need to be one of the stronger ligaments in a corner’s body.
  • Hands at the ready: Since the play of the hands are vital to success in press, the corner’s hands should be in the “up” position with elbows in and thumbs up.  This provides for an aggressive strike point on receivers.   We should mention that some coaches of the press technique, like Greg Brown, a well-reputed leader in the field, teaches his corners to hang their arms with fingers spread.  This provides for a relaxed posture.
  • Eyes Fixed: We found that this may vary as well.  Some coaches teach the focal point to be the bottom of the receiver’s numbers while some teach the belt buckle or waist.  Whatever the focal point, one common denominator was clear in our research.  Do not look at the QB in press technique.  Your eyes should solely be locked on the receiver you are covering.  We’ve found it interesting that some coaches won’t even press their corners if they have to read number two, like in some two high schemes.  The eyes are that important.


Press Corner Leverage When we refer to leverage, we’re speaking specifically about the horizontal and vertical cushion a corner should give to a receiver.  Our studies show that the majority of coaches, 34 percent, teach their corners to line up less than a yard off the line of scrimmage.  I remember hearing Mark Stoops speak at a clinic years ago when he was a defensive backs coach at Kansas State and him saying that deciding how much ground you’re going to give a receiver is strictly dependent on how good he is.   Coming from Stoops, this made a ton of sense, but I quickly found that I was not that good of a coach to assess my player’s abilities individually, so I had to give them a reference point.

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Press DB Resources

By X&O Labs Staff

As a follow up to the release of our press DB study, we have compiled a list of our best press DB resources for our X&O Labs readers.  Click the links below to read and watch some great instructional resources.

Desmar Black Press Technique Clinic Report

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