Football is a game made up of a bunch of techniques and movements designed to give one man an advantage over another in hopes of making a play. At no position is that more obvious than at defensive back.
Despite what I wrote in that first paragraph, many a defensive back takes their movements on the field for granted. No other position is required to go in reverse as much as a defensive back. At some point, some geniuses decided that back pedaling is not that advantageous to DBs and started a no back pedal movement. This involves starting a player off turned sideways so they can run deep with a WR. What has resulted is a virtual playground of short to medium routes by wideouts that have been hitting with high frequency.
Perhaps coaches were tired of seeing players who playing in off coverage, struggle to come out of the back pedal on deep routes and end up in trail position. Mistakingly, some observers attribute this to the DB turning too late which could be the case at times. However, a lot of times, the problem resides in how the player turns out of their backpedal. Turning out of the backpedal is on the list of things that are taken for granted by defensive backs and coaches. However, it’s one of the more important things that you will do at the position.
In observing the backpedal turns of many defensive backs, I have zeroed in on the 4 main things that go wrong in that turn that leads to trouble.
(1) Too high in their back pedal
Some guys just don’t like bending their knees. That’s unfortunate. Most of your power and balance as an athlete comes from bending your knees and lowering your center of gravity. Pedaling too high makes turns of any kind very difficult. One of the questions I ask many of my defensive backs in training is “If you were being chased around corners in a car, would you rather be in Ferrari or a Range Rover?” The point I am making is that a Ferrari because it is low, will negotiate turns a lot better than a taller Range Rover that will have to support the swinging weight of it’s top when it bends around a corner. The same is true when you turn out of your pedal. Be a Ferrari not a Range Rover.
(2) Stepping with the wrong foot
Some guys can turn out of their pedal in one or two steps. Others will take three or four. What causes the extra steps? Dropping the wrong foot on the turn leads to the multiple steps that slows down your momentum and obviously delays your transition into running deep. A player turning to his left should drop his right foot in the ground and vice versa. Dropping the opposite foot allows the hips to open in the direction of the turn quickly. If you drop your right foot to turn right, you will then have to step over with the left, have to drop the right again and possibly have to drop the left foot once more to gather yourself. Can you see how that would be a problem? Dropping the proper foot is a minor detail that has a major effect on the outcome.
(3) Stepping outside of your circle
What’s the circle? It’s the small imaginary circle under your body. That circle represents the place where your footwork should reside if you are going to make the most effective use of your power and balance. Some defensive backs will take a wide step to turn. Once that first step is wide, the next step will also be wide to compensate for the swing your upper body makes to come back in line with your feet. So essentially, your body will swing from side to side until you are able to stabilize it. Who has time for that when a WR is screaming down the field at us? Stepping wide outside of your circle is equal to jerking the steering wheel hard from one side to the other when you go around a corner. You don’t need me to tell you what could possibly happen if you do that. Keep your feet under you in your circle as you make that step or steps to turn.
(4) Using your upper body to turn
When making your turn, you should keep your shoulders at the same height. Popping your shoulders up and down or swinging your upper body around to make the turn will quite often throw you off balance once you face the other direction. Again, thinking of a car making a turn, the last thing you want when you bend the corner is for the top of your car to be swaying from left to right. Instead of throwing your upper body, generate the turn from your hips and keep your upper body as still as possible. This will help you keep your balance.
If you want more details and instruction on the proper way to turn out of the back pedal, check out the video below. The turn is comprised of many little things, all of which are important in getting up the field and in proper position quickly.
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.