If you are going to be an effective cornerback at your level or even a quality nickel back, at some point you are going to have to be able to play some form of press coverage. A big part of being good at it is going to be your ability to stay with the route as it moves down the field. That’s what we are going to discuss in this article.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just stop every wide receiver from getting off of the line of scrimmage and not have to do the whole running down the field stuff? How awesome would that be? However, we know that it doesn’t work that way.
So, since we know that at some point, the wide receiver is going to get off of the line of scrimmage, we need to know what to do once that happens. Here are a few tips.
Stay an Arm’s Length Away
One of the most common things I see defensive backs do once the receiver exits the line of scrimmage is make an attempt early on to get into the receiver’s body. You are playing into his hands when you do this. The wide receiver wants you on top of him early so he can get rid of you early and be by himself when the ball arrives. He does this in several ways that you may have experienced. One is by pushing off with an elbow or shoulder. Receivers will drive their body into you and then break off in the other direction. This creates separation as the ball is coming. Another common way is for them to “pull you through”. This means they grab your shoulder or reach behind your back and carry your momentum beyond them as they break in another direction. This is common on curl routes. By staying an arm’s length away, you make it difficult for them to do either of these things.
Keep Your Eyes Low
Another common mistake made by defensive backs once the receiver exits the line of scrimmage is immediately moving the eyes from the receiver’s hips to his face. This is a good way to get lost during the route. Receivers can still put moves on you as the route moves down the field. If your eyes are high, you will react slowly to the move. This is another good reason for you to stay an arm’s length away early on. If you are right on the receiver’s body then it becomes impossible to see his hips and you are forced to look him in the face. Keep your eyes on his waist early on.
Maintain Proper Body Position
If you have done your job at the line of scrimmage and have not totally missed the jam, you should be able to run under control. Part of being under control is having the proper body lean. Running straight up and down early on in the route is going to make it difficult for you to stop and start if the route breaks off. You should maintain a slight and comfortable lean in your run. This keeps you in position to break down and / or change direction. You should also make an effort to run smoothly. Running out of control will both slow you down and cause you to slip out of your break.
As you exit the line of scrimmage with the receiver during press you have to maintain an area of suspicion in your mind. This develops more over time as you take more and more reps. However, as a rule, for the first 15 yards in your run you should be leery of a break from the receiver. Once you build up your instincts you can have more of an idea where a route might break (inside or outside). Most routes that break off will do so within the first 15 yards. If you think that every route is a go route or post route when you are in press then be prepared to get beat by the slants, curls, outs, digs and everything else that requires a change of direction at or under 15 yards. As you run within that first 15 yards, keep a suspicious mindset while running as fast as you need to stay even or on top of the receiver. Sometimes it’s as simple as what is in your head as you are playing
Raise Your Eyes at the Right Time
This is one of those things that also develops as your instincts grow. Your instincts grow as you take more reps. For now though, once you pass beyond that mark where routes typically break off it’s time to raise the eyes up. First we check the wide receiver’s eyes if we are in deep ball territory. If those are telling a story and the story is “the football is coming baby” now it’s time to do that thing. You know what that thing is? I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not for you to keep staring at the wide receiver’s eyes if you are close enough to touch him. The thing for you to do is turn your head around and find the football. How else are you going to get an interception? Far as I know, they have not created helmets or shoulder pads what will catch the ball for you. It’s still your hands and for you to put your hands where the ball is coming you have to see the ball. Get over your fear of seeing that ball come and turn your head. See the ball, catch the ball or at the very least knock it down and deny the offense this crucial transaction.
To enhance all of these very important skills in your post line of scrimmage man coverage, I have posted a great drill in the All Eyes DB Camp Member’s Area called 4 Cone Shadow Drill. This is an advanced drill for DBs but it is one of the best drills to help defensive backs hone the skills necessary to excel in this part of their game. You can check it out here.
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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.