To play good defense, a unit must be strong in the secondary. Offensive Strategies that attack the perimeter with the run or throw the football up field are challenging the abilities of the secondary. Consequently, a strong defensive backfield is a critical aspect of the defensive scheme.
The player must have adequate physical skills, mental alertness, and discipline. Discipline for a defensive back is one of the most important attributes he can have. Mental Toughness is absolutely imperative. A mental error in the secondary is an open invitation to a score for the offense.
The physical characteristics of a defensive back primarily focus on speed and quickness. Athleticism, in general, is important, but an athlete slow of foot or lacking quickness cannot play effectively in the secondary. It is only a matter of time until an opponent will exploit a defensive back lacking speed or quickness.
The ability to hit and play “contact” football is also important. A player with coowardly tendecies will ultimately lose.
In run support, pass defense, ot tackling, a defensive back must possess courage and the will to play aggressively.
The fundamental physical characteristics of a defensive back are:
1. Speed – must be able to run.
2. Motor skills – (quickness is always a premium)
A. Agile foot movement, coordinated
B. Ability to play in reverse.
C. Ability to change directions in minimal time.
D. Reaction time – transfer an impulse from the brain into action.
E. Leaping ability.
F. Ball handling skills.
G. Skills as a contact player including, but not limited to, tackling, defeating a block, busting up a receiver, etc.
The mental characteristics are equally or more important in the make-up of a quality defensive back. The following
qualities are vital to a complete secondary player:
Pride – Take pride in getting the job done. Know and do your job.
Confidence – Accept a challenge knowing you will succeed. One the same note, be able to bounce back following
a negative experience.
Poise – Have the composure and charisma to perform well under pressure.
Desire – Play with intensity, determined to win at all times, and be the best at your position.
Intelligence – Know the call! Know the strategy of the defense. Know the alignments, sets, eligible receivers,
keys, schemes, and how to diagnose the offensive play.
The mental toughness or discipline a player has contributes greatly to his effectiveness as a player. Emphasis the
importance of each play, alignment, and assignment. A good defensive back executes his assignment which, at times,
can require a great deal of patience and discipline.
Mental toughness is the ability to respond to negative situations. An offense will succeed at times, and a mentally
tough athlete will respond with pride and confidence. The player must place a bad play behind him and move on to the next down. Focus on the present and do not dwell on a mistake.
Discipline and mental toughness also includes a player’s matruity to avoid sensless penalties. The plays a defensive back makes are often times one-on-one in clear view of an official. A good player knows the fine line between making a play and the penalty play. Another discipline required is the know how to stop on a whistle. Often a defensive back arrives at a play just as the whistle blows. He must discipline him self to avoid late hits.
Mental discipline is playing tough in critical situations. Ultimately, in a close contest, the defensive back will be expected to “come through in the clutch.” Defensive backs must have the mental toughness to welcome a win or lose situation with the confidence to succeed. A defensive back lives on the edge and must thrive on the challenge of anxious moments.
There are intangibles which really cannot be measured but can be valuable to the complete player. The competitiveness of the player is difficult to measure as is the “heart” and desire inside an athlete. The value one places on doing a job well is a tremendous attribute.
The pleasure a defensive back takes in contact of the game contributes to his effectiveness as a player. Those who really enjoy contact and aggressive play will make plays. It is the nature of the sport. A defensive back with the proper physical and mental characteristics is a greater player if he enjoys tough, aggressive, contact football.
Perhaps the most important intangible factor is instinct. There are players who have a feel for the game; a nose for the football. Players who make plays and have an instinctive nature to diagnose plays are the best players. An important coaching point is never out-coach yourself that is, do not take away the instinctive nature of a player by over coaching, schemes, reads, techniques, etc. Instinctive players make any coach look good. Instinctive players make plays.
Rules For Defensive Back
Coaching The Proper Secondary Stance
1. Knees Bent
2. Hips lowered.
3. Weight on the back foot and balls of the feet.
4.Good body lean.
5. Eyes focused through the receiver to the quarterback.
1. Quick feet, must have the ability to change direction quickly.
2. No false steps.
3. Weight on the balls of the feet at all times.
4. Keep hips and shoulders parallel with the line of scrimmage as much as possible.
Playing and Reacting To The Football
1. Converge to any thrown ball.
2. Always play the ball at its highest point.
3. Bounce receivers around in the secondary.
4. Be aggressive and play physical.
5. Strip the receiver.
1. Look the ball into your hands.
2. Roll your hips into the receiver as you go for the ball.
3. After the interception, sprint to a point one yard from the near sideline and pick up your blockers and score.
1. Must turn the runner inside and make the tackle.
2. Always use an angle to force a play.
3. Take all inside blockers on with the inside arm, inside leg up and hips and shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage.
Secondary Pass Defense Tips and Suggestions
The following information will give you keys and reads for instructing your secondary players.
1.Q uarterback’s jersey number on his back is entirely visible.
2.Q uarterback is more erect when dropping to set up.
3.Q uarterback’s head is down, looking for the spot where he will set up and reverse pivot.
1. Offensive linemen sitting back on their heels with less weight on their hands.
2.Q uarterback’s nervous habits – licking fingers, toweling their hands, etc.
3.R eceiver’s split, stance, and release.
4.R unning Backs widening alignment position in order to improve ability to release.
5. Narrower line splits.
1.Q uarterback takes excessive drop, gets to deep too quickly.
2. Linemen slip their blocks quickly and leave their area to form screen.
3. Backs slip blocks and make poor effort to block rushers.
Pass Defense – Zone Coverage
When a pass develops, you must know your area of responsibility, where the help is coming from, the field position, strength of the offensive formation, etc. A defenders pass drop should always be controlled by the secondary by the type of patterns being run. When playing zone coverage a defender should always keep his feet moving and being under control so, when the ball is thrown you can break on the ball. Work to keep your defenders shoulders squared, when reading the quarterback’s eyes, arm, and throwing motion of the quarterback’s arm, this will give you the direction the ball is to be thrown.
Reaction to the thrown ball is the ability to move to it at the proper angle to break up the pass, don’t round corners and angles. A defender must develop the ability to go to the ball and intercept it. Catch the football at its highest point. If your defender intercepts the football have him get to the nearest sideline, and if in traffic cover the ball. If a teammate intercepts, block block the intended receiver if you are close enough.
If you have an underneath zone then try and get a piece of any receiver running through your zone. If the bump gets you turned and your eyes off the quarterback, be quick to get your shoulders squared back up, keep shoulders and hips parallel to the line of scrimmage.
Secondary Stance, Alignments and Techniques
Defensive Back Stance
The stance of your defensive backs should vary depending on the type of coverage called (man or zone). In
general, your defensive backs should stand in a two point ready position at a point of alignment defined by
the type of coverage called.
Your defensive backs stance should be with knees dropped and knees flexed and weight over the forward foot or knee. The feet should be narrower than the width of the shoulders, approximately 12 inches. Weight should be placed on the balls of the feet, never on the heels.
The feet should be positioned to a toe-instep stagger. Whether they are balanced or staggered our defensive
backs should always push off the front foot as he begins to backpedal or shuffle.
The hands, arms, and shoulders should be relaxed and hanging free in a natural position. The arms should be bent slightly at the waist with the head relaxed and hanging free in a natural position. Bend slightly at the waist with the chin over the knee with head relaxed and always pushing off the front foot. Don’t force the body too low forcing it in an unnatural low stance.
Outside Alignment Position
Anchor the outside foot at the alignment point and drop the inside foot with hips and shoulders square to the L.O.S.
or slightly facing inward. Focus the eyes to the total picture of keys with vision on the quarterback, receivers, and
The anchor point is determined by ability and assignment. It may be outside eye, outside shoulder, or 1 to 2 yards
outside of the wide receiver. The depth depends on the coverage called and the ability of our defensive backs. As an
Example, a cover 2 Corner may align two, four, five or seven yards off of a receiver, or on the L.O.S. on a press
look. A man corner likewise will align at a depth he feels comfortable with.
Your defensive backs can disguise their coverage by alignment or stem to their alignment timing their movement
with the quarterback’s cadence. Your defensive backs can show press coverage and then bail to the actual coverage
called. The strategy of the game becomes apart of the alignment bluff, keep this in mind when determining our drills.
Inside Alignment Position
Whenever aligned inside of a receiver anchor the inside foot at a point and drop the outside foot slightly. The anchor point will be determined by the coverage and ability of the defensive back. One reason for the inside alignments is to establish leverage on the receiver.
Inside alignment is used in man coverage or into boundary with restricted horizontal yardage. Outside leverage is generally used in zone coverage or man with inside bracket responsibility.
If a receiver is aligned 6 yards or closer to the boundry, always align on the inside.
If a receiver aligns wide anticipate an inside release, the receiver is making room for his inside route or look for a run play in that direction.
If a receiver align’s tight, look for the outside release, key the receiver’s splits.
About the Author of this post:
Jerry Campbell has over 30 years of high school and college coaching experience. He has experience as a head coach, offensive coordinator, and various position coaches. He has written numerous football coaching articles in various publications, is the author of over 30 books on coaching football, and has produced 12 coaching video series. Additionally, he is a nationally sought after speaker on the coaching clinic circuit.