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By Zach Cunningham

Secondary Coach

Harrisonville (MO) High School

Editor's Note: Coach Cunningham currently serves as the Secondary Coach at Harrisonville High School in Missouri. This is his 4th season at Harrisonville, and prior to that he served in the same capacity at William Chrisman High School in Independece, Missouri. Coach Cunningham played his college ball at William Jewell College in Liberty, MO. 

I want to first start by thanking X&O Labs for the opportunity to write about Press Technique. I also want to take a quick moment to thank the coaches I have worked with in the past and especially those in the Kansas City area for their experience and support. Lastly I want to thank all of the players that have played for me for their talent and effort throughout the years.

I have spent the past three seasons as the Secondary Coach at Harrisonville High School, which is located outside of Kansas City, MO. On defense we play an attacking 3-4. We blitz 90% of the time, so we are in man to man coverage 90% of the time, mostly with no safety help. Our opponent completion percentage last season (2011) was 28.7% and in 2010 was 32.4%. We feel playing man- instead of zone- when we blitz allows us to dictate what the offense can and cannot do.

There are many benefits of press-man coverage. It disrupts the timing on the routes, and with us blitzing 90% of the time the ball will be out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. We like press-man coverage for three man reasons:

  1. It allows the defense to put more guys in the box.
  2. It closes the space between the receiver and defender, which tightens the window for the quarterback to throw into.
  3. Wide receivers just don’t like being pressed off the line.


Alignment and stance must be addressed first. Everything in the following article will be discussed out of a Cover 0 look. When we are pressing, we will align with an inside shade (defender’s nose to receiver’s inside ear) (Figure 1). I like to use the nose-to-ear as a starting point because it allows my defenders to have a comfortable base with their feet. Some players are naturally wider and longer than others, and some guys are quicker and more explosive with a wider stance. We want to squeeze the line of scrimmage as much as possible, or get as close to being off-sides as we can if the wide receiver is ‘on’ the line. If he is ‘off’, we will align further away from the line of scrimmage and move inside more than usual. I want our defensive backs in a comfortable stance: knees slightly bent, butt behind, eyes up, arms loose (Figure 2). Putting the butt behind the defender allows more room to keep the receiver in front of the defender. It is going to take more steps and work for the wide out to get behind the defender.


This is where we will win or lose on the route. I like to teach playing press in two phases:
  • 1st phase is the initial contact and the first 3-5 yards of the route.
  • 2nd phase is route progression and playing the ball.

1st Phase:

1st phase is usually won or lost on the line of scrimmage. Many coaches teach the slide step and off-hand jam. I prefer more of an attacking method with a punch/counter-punch (p/cp) into the off-hand jam technique. We are already aligned inside the receiver. I teach this to take the inside away and put the defender between the QB and receiver. When we punch/counter-punch (p/cp) our first step is forward with our inside foot (Figure 3). This step is not a big one, it’s more like a 6 inch step with the inside foot forward. Simultaneously we will "punch" our inside hand to the inside chest-plate of the receiver. This takes away the inside and forces the wide out to go one direction. The key to this is to not lunge; but stay balanced with a solid base or risk being out of phase within the first step. The second step will match the release of the receiver (outside or inside). The defender’s other hand will "counter-punch" to either the outside chest-plate (outside release) or shoulder (inside release) (Figures 4-5).

The third step is where we will transition into our off-hand jam. If we get an inside release, we are already in an off-hand jam after our counter-punch. On an outside release, we will make contact again with our inside hand to the inside shoulder of the receiver to put us into an off-hand jam and consequently in a great position to defend the route in the 2nd phase. The biggest problem with an outside release is the defender does not flip his hips quick enough. When playing Cover 0, offenses will take their shots over the top so the defender needs to flip their hips and get up field as quickly as possible to gain ground. No 90-degree steps!

2nd Phase:

2nd phase is riding the hip of the receiver and recognizing route progression. Hopefully we have forced an outside release. If not, we will keep riding the route inside and prevent the receiver from gaining as much depth as possible. In the first part of the route (7-15 yds) we will stay on the backside of the inside hip to defend the shorter routes (hitch, curl, out, comeback). The inside hand of the defender (which is now toward the outside of the field after flipping the hips) will remain in contact with the receiver’s inside hip or thigh pad (Figures 6-7). After the 15 yard range, we will transition to the top-side shoulder of the receiver. In-phase means that the shoulder of the defender is inside the shoulder of the wide out. This will help us be in position to defend the deep ball such as fade (Figure 8). We need to remain in contact with the receiver and NEVER look back until you are in-phase and the receiver looks for the ball. This is probably the toughest concept for young DB’s. Many players want to watch the QB while playing man-to-man. Their eyes need to stay with their man. The wide out can’t catch the ball if he is not looking. Several inexperienced receivers will continue to look down field while giving a double-move. When in phase and the receiver does look back, the eyes of the defender need to match the flight of the ball, not straight back at the QB (Figure 9).

Get Coach Cunningham's Punch and Counter Punch Drill; Mirror Shade Drill; Breakdown Drill; and, Defending Deep Balls Drill When You Join X&O Labs' Exclusive Memberhsip Website - Insiders.  Click here.


I want to again thank X&O Labs for the opportunity to discuss how we win the passing game with the press-technique. I hope this helps other coaches get a better idea of different styles and drills to assist in the teaching process. The biggest thing is that if you are going to play press-technique you have to commit yourself to it. Work it everyday. Don’t shy away from it if it is a little rocky in the beginning. Keep drilling it because it will make your whole defense more versatile and add an attack attitude to your entire team.

What Do You Think?

Do you use any additional concepts to teach press man techniques to your team? Tell us about them in the comments section below. And as always, post your questions or comments below and Coach Cunningham will respond shortly.




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