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

Apr 27, 2017 | Defense, Coverage, One High Coverage Structures, Defending Pass Game, Position Groups, Cornerbacks

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.”