Press man eliminates the modern quick game, easy access, high percentage throws which offenses love to take. One defensive staff teaches a heavy inside press alignment to help discourage easy, in-breaking routes by the offense.
By Brock McCullough
Shenandoah University (VA)
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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.
We want our press man (usually Cover Zero) alignment to be hard inside. What we mean by that is our body position should always deny any inside release by alignment. We also teach “ability” alignment based on the individual ability of each man cover player. We use the inside foot or inside eye of the wide receiver as a landmark starting point. We want our defenders to align their outside foot to the wide receiver's inside foot. We will also say our outside eyeball to their inside eyeball as an alignment rule. What this gives us is a firm inside presence on the receiver. By body position, we want to take away the inside release of any receiver in a "normal" split. Our philosophy is that the higher percentage throws for a quarterback are inside throws. Thus, we want our alignment to take away those throws. We also say that once we start in leverage (inside body position), we want to maintain that leverage. So in this example, if we align inside of a WR we want to maintain inside body position throughout the entirety of the play. That means if we begin the play with inside leverage, we want to maintain inside leverage during the play. Depth from the line of scrimmage will depend on the receiver or receivers. If the WR is on the line of scrimmage we will press as close as is allowed within the rules. “
The actual football is the neutral zone. One thing that drives us crazy is one on one drills (enormously easier for a receiver than a defensive back). We do them in practice, but it is a highly offensive centric drill. A WR will never have 120yds by 53⅓yds to run freely without any other player on the field. From a defensive perspective, we hate to see a DB facemask to facemask with a receiver. We yell at our guys for that. You should at a minimum be able to place a football between the WR and the DB’s facemasks. Please practice the game you are going to play!! We use split rules (WR width of their split from the football) and bunch rules in man coverage that vary. We also use “bunch” rules when WR/TE/RB are near one another. We may choose to stay with our man in bunch sets or we may make a “zone it” call to let the offense sort it out for us. Any time two or more defenders are playing man coverage near one another we will “play it at levels.” This means that on the vertical plane we never want to align on the same “level” as our teammates. We do not want to help the offense out by possibly picking ourselves off by aligning on the same vertical plane.
We have a philosophy that we never want to over coach anything. We do not want our players over-analyzing and being paralyzed by overthinking anything on the football field. At the end of the day, man coverage will come down to our defender playing as fast as possible. We do, however, coach a base stance. Any 5’7” defender in a stance may look quite different than a 6’2” man cover player. We always want to align square to the line of scrimmage and square to the receiver. We use the following saying: “we want to stay as square as we can as long as we can.” By “square” we mean that we want our shoulders square/parallel to the WR and line of scrimmage (LOS). If we took a yardstick to the breastplate of their shoulder pads, that yardstick should align perfectly parallel to the line of scrimmage. If we started from the base and worked up the body, our feet are the first thing we will talk about. Our feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart, even, and parallel. Any confident man cover guy should have weight slightly on the balls of his feet. If we see a man defender with weight on his heels, we know psychologically he is already defeated. We want to be able to move in any direction. Therefore, we feel having our weight distributed on the balls of our feet with our toes pointed forward we can move in any direction. We do not want too much weight forward or too much weight backward. We want a good, balanced parallel stance that allows us to move in each direction. A great way to indicate balance is if the defender can relax enough to transfer his weight back and forth from the right foot to the left foot before the snap. Working up our body, we want a slight bend in the ankles and knees. We do not want too much or too little bend in the knees. This is part of the same mechanical advantage of being able to move in any direction with a slight knee bent posture.
Progressing to the hips, we also want only a slight bend at the waist. With only a slight knee bend and a slight bend at the waist, we feel this is a perfect posture. This posture of slight ankle, knee, and hip flexion allows us to move with a receiver post-snap. This posture also allows us to keep our chest and eyes up to see our man. With our chest and chin up for vision, we can now progress to our arms. We want a slight shoulder contraction, elbows in/near our ribcage, and we never want our hands down to our sides. We are speaking about press-man coverage and football is a game of milliseconds. If we have our hands down to our sides in man coverage, we might as well play off-man coverage. When we press, we press for a reason. That reason is the disruption of timing for an offense. We are coming for the QB. We are buying valuable time for the rush to get home. Therefore, we always want our hands up and ready. Football is a game of inches. Have your hands up and ready for battle. I hope that was a lot of good information for you simply about a great press man coverage stance.
Our press coverage keys are fairly simple and straightforward. The primary thing that matters is our man. He is everything. Our eyes will be on our man before and during the play. We will keep our eyes locked on our man until we are in a great position (hip to hip), the receiver provides us cues that the ball is near, and we also receive a “ball” call. We generally are not expecting interceptions in zero-man coverage. Therefore, eye discipline on our man is critical. We are disrupting the WR’s release and the offense's timing of the play. Wherever our eyes go, we believe our feet will follow. We "key" the near pec with a laser-like focus before the ball is snapped. That near pec is where our eyes are, and we are in a hard-inside alignment. We like the inside pec (near number) because we are inviting an outside release by the receiver (lower percentage throws for the QB). If you disagree, just always remember that defenders typically are striking the receiver on the breastplate so we must be looking where we are going to strike (unless you want to miss your target). Therefore, if the WR brings the near pec to us we can “flatten” the in-breaking release down the line of scrimmage with a firm inside hand presence. If the receiver takes the near pec away from us after the snap we can transition to a turn and run. Once the WR has committed to his release we change from our pre-snap key to our post-snap key. If we have mitigated the release with great pre-snap alignment, footwork, and hand placement we will now transition our eyes from the near pec (most likely striking point) to the near hip. During the route, our laser focus (key) will now transition to the WR’s near hip.
There are six clips here we will revisit individually throughout the article. The big point of these clips is that it is a drill. Do not get too caught up in winning/losing an unrealistic offensive drill. We are aware that a few of these may look like pass interference. However, we want good soldiers who do not mug the receiver but practice eye discipline for the drill. Keep your eyes on your man. The QB is not throwing you the football. This drill film was taken less than 1 week into camp this past fall and many of the clips are freshmen.
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- Coaching point and film of the four drills used to defend fade routes—run to catch up, arm battle, man turn and through the hands drill.
- Coaching points and film two drills used to defend slant routes—the inside open hips drill and the man mirror angle drill.
- Coaching points and film of the Out, Up and Out drill used to defend double move routes.
- Coaching points and film of Slip to Trail Drill used to defend comeback routes.
- Variations of press technique as it relates to man free coverage concepts.
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Offensive and defensive coordinators play a game called “last chalk” often. That typically means that each side always has an answer on the chalkboard. At our level, recruiting great players is critically important. If you have unblockable players up front and guys that can add on from the second level that is extremely helpful. In the case of inside leverage, man press cover zero having defenders that are bigger, stronger, and faster than the receivers is extremely helpful. However, we may not always have that luxury. By taking away easy throws (gimmees) for the offense with alignment, we then limit the techniques and offensive plays we will have to defend. We can now coach a smaller set of plays to defend extremely well and with detail. We speed up the in-play rhythm of the offense by being the aggressor. On some level, the defense is now swinging control back their way by being offensive in their attacking approach.
We always tell our players that coaches will not make a play all season. They are the ones inside that rectangle making plays and having fun. By that same token, we are trying to take the offensive coordinators out of the game as well. We want them as play-callers to feel claustrophobic. We limit their play options and paint them into a box. Quarterbacks now become our focus. The human psychological element of knowing you’re going to get hit changes things immensely for any quarterback. Always remember this in today’s 7 on 7 culture where a quarterback is back there eating a sandwich and filing his nails. That is not how the real, violent game of football is played. I cannot remember a winning day for us as a team when the opposing quarterback has not been rattled. Making any quarterback feel shaken and lacking confidence is our goal. Remember, if you want to kill a snake you cut off its head!
Meet Coach Brock McCullough: Brock McCullough is currently the associate head football coach and defensive coordinator at Shenandoah University (VA). He played cornerback and ran track at Grove City College (PA) from 1997-2001. Coach McCullough received his Master of Science degree at Clarion University (PA) where he also served as graduate assistant coach. This season will be his 17th season at Shenandoah University.