7 Ways DBs Can Learn A New Defense Super Fast

You’ve spent countless hours in the weight room and on the field in the off-season. You’ve taken your body to the brink and toiled under the sun to be an impact player on your new team, but there is one thing that can undo all of your efforts and keep you on the bench. That thing is the playbook.

Whether you are leveling up from high school to college, college to pro, or just switching teams, adapting to the new playbook can be very challenging depending on how complicated your new team’s scheme is. If you don’t put forth the same amount of effort in learning the playbook that you did in training, all of your physical efforts might have been for naught. If you don’t know where to line up and what to do, you will not play.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the best ways to quickly learn your new team’s defensive scheme.

1. Review Before Meetings

If you’re fortunate to get materials before install meetings, it is in your best interest to review those materials prior to the meetings. In a lot of colleges, the defenses that will be installed in the meeting are sent to your iPad beforehand. In some other cases, even at the high school level, you are given an entire playbook and you are told prior to the meeting what will be installed on that day. Whatever the case may be, I urge you to review the materials before the meeting. As you do this, ask yourself some questions.

There’s no doubt that there will be terminology in the playbook or install that you are not familiar with. Make note of those terms you do not understand. Additionally, some of the questions you can ask yourself before the meeting and seek answers to are: What happens when there is motion? Do we stay in this coverage if they come out in a different formation? Having these questions in your mind prior to the meeting ensures that you find the answers and allows the answers to stick in your mind a little better.

2. Take Notes During the Meeting

This one is elementary, but you’d be surprised how many players don’t do this. If you aren’t taking notes, you aren’t engaged, and you aren’t learning. Unless you know the defense like the coach who is installing it, you better be jotting down some things.

If you are like me, and you find that excessive note-taking during a presentation causes you to fall behind, then make use of all of the technology available to you. Use your phone to record the meeting while you jot down the most important notes here and there. With AI now on the scene, there are apps that will take your recording and do anything from summarizing the meeting to giving you the key points. If you’re not using this, then you are cheating yourself. Claude.AI is a great app that can do this for you. There are others as well.

3. Review Immediately After Install

This can be challenging because installs are typically followed thereafter by either a walk-through or practice. So in some cases, there isn’t a ton of time. However, here’s how you get ahead of the game: Prepare yourself before the meeting for practice. This could mean coming to the meeting already dressed (minus the shoulder pads; don’t be a dork lol). This way, the time you would’ve spent getting dressed after the install you can spend reviewing the install. Just simply doing this for five or ten minutes can make you twice as good in the walk-through that is coming. The mind works so much better when newly learned materials are reviewed. It really is a hack.

4. Pay Attention in Walk-Throughs

When you are young, you are active, and that includes the brain. Things moving slowly, like a walk-through, can be painful for your overactive brain. However, this is where your discipline is going to have to kick in. Remain dialed in during the walk-through.

Most guys are only really paying attention when they are in and taking their turn during the walk-through. It is very easy to get caught up in side conversations with other players during a walk-through. Do yourself a favor and save those side conversations for the locker room.

The truth of the matter is, you will learn more during the walk-through when you’re not in than when you are in. When you are taking reps during the walk-through, your brain is scrambling and focusing on a lot of things. When you are not in and watching others take reps, your brain is more calm and better able to focus. That’s where the learning comes in. Now when it’s your turn, you are just reacting, and that will be from what you observed while you were not in.

If you think that your coaches aren’t evaluating you or don’t take walk-throughs seriously because you aren’t tackling someone or making plays on the ball, you better guess again. A lot of times, this is when they are determining how many reps you are going to get in the live practice. If you look lost in the walk-through, your coach might think you aren’t ready for live action. Don’t let that be you.

5. Review After Practice

If all you went through was a walk-through and then you were given some free time, steal 10, 15, or 20 minutes to review once again. If you had a full-on practice after the walk-through, then spend that same amount of time soon thereafter reviewing. I get it, practice just ended and you would like a break. Extend your practice this small amount of time and put the review in. It will work wonders. Again, the reviews really allow the information to be absorbed by your brain. It will also allow you to correct some of the mistakes you may have made. Repeating mistakes when you are new is a cardinal sin.

6. Watch Film

If you have it available to you, watch film of your team playing the defenses that have been discussed. Watch the film and try to determine what defense the team is in. If you are in college, you are probably going to have access to film that labels the defense that is being run on the film. Use that to your advantage. Sometimes the brain works better watching others execute something that has been drawn on a board or put on a pad. Also, use this to your advantage. This, along with the other tips, will enhance the speed at which you learn the new defenses.

7. Quiz Yourself

There is knowing the defense, and then there is KNOWING the defense. Don’t forget how fast things move during live practice and in games. When the offense breaks the huddle, you have precious little time to figure out what formation they are in, where you’re supposed to line up, and what you are supposed to do. Don’t get fooled by taking two minutes to come up with the right answers about a defense when you are sitting in your dorm or in a meeting.

You really need to know the defense well enough to have all the answers within five to ten seconds. That’s about all the time you will have when things are moving for real. Do yourself a favor and choose some defenses out of your playbook and draw them up on paper without the benefit of reviewing your notes. The more you do this, the faster you will learn it. Ultimately, you want to know the defense well enough to teach it to someone else, preferably someone that doesn’t even play football. When you know it like that, then you know it for sure, and now you’re ready to go.


Knowing the defense and the coverages is ultimately what you will need to play. While being big, fast, strong, and skillful at your position is a must, nothing is going to happen if you don’t understand the defense. By reviewing before the meetings, taking notes during the meeting, reviewing immediately after the installs, paying attention during walk-throughs, reviewing after practice, watching film, and quizzing yourself, you can dramatically speed up the amount of time it takes you to know the new defense. The quicker you learn, the quicker you will play, and the more plays you will make. Implement these tips into your learning process. You’ll thank me later.

Author: Chad Wilson

Chad Wilson is the owner of All Eyes DB Camp and author of "101 DB Tips". He played college football at the University of Miami and briefly in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. Over his 15 year high school football coaching career, he tutored over a dozen Division I defensive backs and as a trainer has worked with NFL All Pros, first round draft picks, college football All Americans and Top 10 ranked high school football prospects.

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