Find Your Friends in Man Coverage

How Smart Defensive Backs Use Coverage Knowledge to Lockdown Opponents

Great defenders have egos, but they also aren’t stupid. We are all aware of how macho football players can be. Few position groups exude that more than defensive backs. It’s all about a mindset here, but don’t let your mindset cloud your intelligence.

In the land of great man-to-man defenders, it is important to realize there is always help when you are tasked with attaching yourself to a particular opponent in a coverage. Less experienced defensive backs will turn every man coverage into a solo session and try to do too much. Smart defenders always know where their help is and make good use of it.

The term “on an island” has been made famous over the years for defensive backs in man-to-man coverage. I totally get the mindset and the marketing. However, no matter what the coverage, there is always help, and good defensive backs know how to make good use of it.

Starting with the safest of man coverages, 2-man, a wise defensive back knows not to allow the wide receiver inside of him at the line of scrimmage. There is no help for a defender when that happens. The help in 2-man is over the top, so a savvy defender takes a hard inside position and forces the receiver to go up top where the help is.

In coverages like cover 1, the help is in the middle of the field. This comes in the form of a safety in the post and can also mean help in the hook and low hole areas of the field via a dropping linebacker or a spying safety dropping down from a hash. A wise cornerback or nickelback aligns on their wide receiver based on the area of the field where their help is positioned. Sure, you’re on an island, but your job is to cover the wide receiver while he’s on the sand and, if you can, force him into the water.

Even in a coverage like cover 0 where there is no designated help from another defensive player, your help comes in the form of an intense rush upfront. This means the quarterback has less time to hold the football, resulting in less time to throw certain routes. Also, the sidelines and end lines are defenders. A wise defensive back or linebacker knows this and puts them to good use. A lot of times, cover zero is used in the red zone. Realize that the end line acts as a safety. Position yourself as a man-to-man defender accordingly. A wide receiver cannot go beyond the goal post for a reception. Don’t be the guy that lines up in the end zone and backs up after the ball is snapped. It does you no good to be two yards away from the end line with the receiver underneath you with an open chest for the quarterback to hit.

In closing, don’t just shut your mind down when you hear that the coverage is man-to-man. Make it a point to examine and understand where others will be on the field. Know which defenders, if any, will be providing you help. If there is no help from another defender, understand that your positioning both at the line of scrimmage and while the route is being run is going to be your best friend. Make use of the sidelines, end lines, and increased pressure on the passer to position yourself accordingly on the wide receiver. This is how you will make plays in man coverage or, at the very least, limit the wide receiver’s opportunities to make a catch.

I speak more in-depth on this topic in my book 101 DB Tips. It’s the ultimate guide for defensive backs and will improve your play dramatically. Hit any of the links to it on this blog or go to to pick up your copy.

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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