By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
In Blacksburg, defensive backs coach Torrian Gray has cultivated an atmosphere of grit and tenacity among his protégés. Gray, a former All-American at Virginia Tech, has tutored the likes of Kyle Fuller, Macho Harris, Brandon Flowers and Kam Chancellor throughout his nine-year tenure. It’s the cultivation of the atmosphere of competition that Gray credits for the Hokies success in playing many of the pure man concepts they employ, which was used to defeat Ohio State.
“Defensive back play is a mindset the way we coach it,” said Gray. “I try to impinge my mindset among those players. We want to contest every throw. I told them going into Ohio State that for us to go to Columbus and play in front of 100,000 people the way we have to win is to load the box and play man coverage to stop the run.”
It worked. Virginia Tech limited the Buckeyes to 108 yards on the ground, made three interceptions, and one pick six which sealed the game.
Many of the coverages in the Hokies system are man or a matchup man concept, particularly in its Bear package. It’s a mindset deeply rooted in Bud Foster’s system. “When they (defensive backs) come here they need to know that is how we play,” Gray told us. “It becomes a matter of teaching them the fundamentals necessary to execute these techniques. Young players need to know plays that you do or don’t make in the back end wins or loses games.” But in order to do this, Gray has to cross train his entire back end, especially his safeties, in being responsible for playing a man in coverage and defending a run gap. It takes tremendous eye discipline to do so, particularly with a sense of “intelligent recklessness” as Gray calls it. Quite simply, if those safeties see a down or fan block by their cover key, they are triggering in the run game immediately.
We wanted to spend some time reporting on how the Hokies teach their press technique. As seen on film, Gray gives his corners the choice to play press or off technique in Bear. However, since many Bear snaps are first and second down based, those corners are usually pressed on the line of scrimmage. Gray talks more about the first five yards of the route than the routes themselves. He preaches winning in the first five yards. “What that means is that whatever technique I use in the press technique, I want to be high on that receiver and not let him get stacked on me,” said Gray. “The first thing you have to do is defend the takeoff.”
In order to win the first five yards of the route, Gray teaches his safeties and corners the following techniques in press coverage:
- Revis Technique: Modeled after NFL All-Pro Darrelle Revis, this is a technique where players are moving their feet and working their hands on the snap of the ball. It’s a square, square, punch technique that reinforces the defensive back to stay square until he feels threatened. The alignment is a shoe-to-shoe stagger.
- Stagger Square Technique: Here, the defensive backs are doing the same things, but they are staggering their feet pre-snap. “We got our feet staggered and we are trying to give ground and let the receiver close to ground,” said Gray. “Once he gets on top, we want to turn and use our off arm to run with him.”
- Quick Jam Technique: This is a more physical technique, which is mainly used in the red zone where the ceiling is low. Here, players use both hands to jam the receiver without shuffling. The defensive back is almost forcing the receiver to get on top.
To see cutups of Virginia Tech’s press technique fundamentals, click on the video below: