By Mike Kuchar Senior Research Manager X&O Labs
This report provides in-depth analysis of proper press coverage technique and tactics.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
We all want that lock-down corner, the Derelle Revis shut down stud who has the potential to alter an opponent’s game plan and change the course of the game. If the technique is played right, it can make an offensive one-dimensional or even cut the field in half. But let’s be honest – chances are a Derelle Revis or Champ Bailey may not be walking onto your practice field any time soon. So you have to make the most of what you have – and that’s what this week’s Coaching Research Report is all about.
For the purpose of this report we’ll be addressing techniques used by the isolated corner. We’ll assume he has no help, regardless of the coverage. We’re talking about MFO (middle of the field open), no middle field defender, just a corner on the receiver. It's a coverage most coaches are scared to play, and perhaps rightfully so with the vertical elements the spread offense possesses. We were actually surprised to hear that 70 percent of coaches will only press their corners if they feel he has the ability to do so. So, we wanted to find out if it is your players’ lack of athletic ability or a reservation in your ability to teach the proper mechanics of press technique that prevents you from doing so. Apparently it’s both. Well, that’s why we’re in this business. We’ve consulted with the masses that use a press technique on a regular basis and they have given you an all-access look on how you can develop your corners into dominant defenders. Sure, that Revis-type may not be coming in the building any time soon, but after reading this report, you may not need him to.
Benefits of playing press man coverage:
- Ability to stack the box with nine: Assuming you’ll get closed, tight end oriented sets, if your corners can play man coverage without the help of your safeties, it frees them to get down in the box and play run support.
- Safeties can’t get cracked: Many defenses now are playing some form of quarters coverage to contend with the vertical pass game (Note: X&O Labs will be finalizing a Coaching Research Report on quarters within the next couple of weeks). Because offenses know that in quarters your safeties are tied into the run game, they will try to block them with receivers. Playing tight press man takes away their ability to do so.
- Develops your blitz package: You’d be hard pressed to show us a defensive coordinator who lacks aggression in the blitz game these days. If you can teach man coverage, it gives you the ability to attack various man and zone pressure concepts.
- Eliminate big plays: We’re sure some of you offensive guys are cringing at a bold statement like this. We know that seeing some form of press man coverage outside can make you drool. But the truth is if you train the hands, feet and hips of your corner to handle all routes, particularly the dreaded fade and fade stop routes which we will discuss later, you limit the offenses’ chances of hitting that home run.
Case 1: Proper Stance/Vertical and Horizontal Alignment The responses were unanimous. Nearly every coach we spoke with on this topic talked about how the feet will control the hands. There is nothing more important in teaching press than teaching the play of the feet. We couldn’t tell you how many times the mantra "feet first, then hands" was blurted over my cell phone line this past week. But before you can play the feet accurately, you must be able to get into a good stance. Many coaches, including the ones we have as our analysts, feel that teaching the stance of a press corner sometimes goes overlooked. At the risk of boring some veteran coaches, we put together a majority consensus on what a stance should look like for a press corner:
Press Corner Stance (Picture 1)
- Feet directly under armpits: Slightly tighter than shoulder width. This provides for better explosion off receiver movement and the prevention of getting over-extended and lunging on a WR, which many of our coaches feel was the biggest problem area when teaching press.
- Bend at the waist: Much like a sprinter, the stress should be on their hamstrings, which need to be one of the stronger ligaments in a corner’s body.
- Hands at the ready: Since the play of the hands are vital to success in press, the corner’s hands should be in the "up" position with elbows in and thumbs up. This provides for an aggressive strike point on receivers. We should mention that some coaches of the press technique, like Greg Brown, a well-reputed leader in the field, teaches his corners to hang their arms with fingers spread. This provides for a relaxed posture.
- Eyes Fixed: We found that this may vary as well. Some coaches teach the focal point to be the bottom of the receiver’s numbers while some teach the belt buckle or waist. Whatever the focal point, one common denominator was clear in our research. Do not look at the QB in press technique. Your eyes should solely be locked on the receiver you are covering. We’ve found it interesting that some coaches won’t even press their corners if they have to read number two, like in some two high schemes. The eyes are that important.
Press Corner Leverage When we refer to leverage, we’re speaking specifically about the horizontal and vertical cushion a corner should give to a receiver. Our studies show that the majority of coaches, 34 percent, teach their corners to line up less than a yard off the line of scrimmage. I remember hearing Mark Stoops speak at a clinic years ago when he was a defensive backs coach at Kansas State and him saying that deciding how much ground you’re going to give a receiver is strictly dependent on how good he is. Coming from Stoops, this made a ton of sense, but I quickly found that I was not that good of a coach to assess my player’s abilities individually, so I had to give them a reference point.
We know that almost every fundamental or technique in football is in direct proportion to the ability or skill set of your players but one of the best reference points we’ve learned is the ones that Greg Brown, a veteran NFL mentor who has the best video out on bump and run play (no matter how old it is) used to give his players. He breaks it down to two distinct leverage points:
- Ork Technique: The corner maintains outside leverage on a receiver, by splitting the crotch of the receiver with the inside foot (Picture 2, ball is to the right). This is used when the corner has middle field help (MFC) on a receiver by having a post safety.
- Ink Technique: The corner maintains inside leverage on a receiver by splitting the crotch of the receiver with the outside foot (Picture 3, ball is to the right). This is used when the corner has no middle of the field help (MFO) on a receiver. It’s mainly used in two high or no high defensive structures.
Note: Generally, split rules do override the assigned shade. Example: if the corner is using an Ink technique and the WR is tighter than normal, a corner may adjust to an Ork technique. Some coaches tell their corners to be in an "arms length" alignment, meaning if the receiver is on the line of scrimmage the corner should be able to touch him with his fingertips. If the receiver is off the line of scrimmage, the corner should be two yards away from him.
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I just wanted to take a minute to formally thank everyone who has been reading and responding to these reports. It’s been as tremendous a learning experience writing them as it is for you to read them. Our support has continued to grow and we encourage any research ideas you may have. Again, just like you, we love talking ball. Hope to hear from you soon.