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By Richan Gaskins

Defensive Backs Coach

Gallaudet University (DC)

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Editor's Note:  Coach Gaskins is the defensive backs coach at Gallaudet University.  Gaskins attended Duquesne University where he played linebacker for the Dukes football team. Upon graduation, he played for the Baltimore Mariners in 2010, taking a position with Gallaudet. In 2012, the Gallaudet passing defense allowed only 200 yards passing and recorded 16 interceptions en route to the best record in Gallaudet history (7-3). Coach Gaskins wants to thank Chuck Goldstein and John Davis, head coach and assistant head coach of Gallaudet University, respectively, along with all the coaches on staff that were a part of a historic 2012 season. 

Our secondary and linebackers are taught to play physically in pass defense. Physical play does not begin when the ball is in the hands of the receiver, it begins at the line of scrimmage. Our version of the Cover 2, our most successful coverage this season in terms of interceptions this season, has placed a premium on putting hands on receivers and tight ends. "Hands-on" has become a common phase in the secondary in our Cover 2 look, particularly with the cornerbacks. Our philosophy centers on the idea that a quarterback has approximately 2-3 seconds to make a decision in the pocket before reverting to either a "scramble drill", sack, or hurried throw. By having our cornerbacks and outside linebackers re-routing receivers, it will disrupt the timing of the quarterback and receiver. Our ultimate goal is to cause turnovers by forcing the quarterback to make the most difficult throw or settling for the last read in his progression.

Placing a premium on physical play in the secondary will also cut branches off of the passing tree. What I mean by that is that receivers will often be forced to break off routes early, or resort to a limited number of routes. Physical play makes it difficult for many pass route combinations to fully develop before the rush gets to the quarterback, as we saw with many offenses who gave us a high percentage of 3-step routes. This plays into our defensive concept of stopping the big play.

Hard Corner Techniques

We have different alignments in our Cover 2, but our philosophy in every look remains the same. In our "Hard" Cover 2, our corners are lined up one to three yards from the line of scrimmage, giving him the least amount of room to work a release. We set up in an outside shade of the wide receiver, with the inside foot parallel to the groin of the receiver. Our feet are even and set underneath the hips, providing a solid base. The body is in a comfortable, hands are above waist level with the tips of the fingers facing forward. We coach the hands to be relaxed and ready to strike. Like any track coach will tell you, a loose, relaxed muscle travels faster than a tense one. The objective of our cornerbacks in Cover 2 is to force all threats inside towards our safeties and Sam and Will backers. While being physical may lure some corners into being overly aggressive, we coach our defensive backs to jam with their feet first. By keeping the initial outside leverage using short, quick steps to stay in front of the receiver, we can disrupt the timing of a pass route. We have two drills that we use to emphasis our footwork in Cover 2, the importance of forcing your opponent to the inside, and to not unnecessarily give up ground, respectively.

The first drill is known at Gallaudet as the "Cliff" technique. We set up our defensive backs in our hard Cover 2 technique lined up in front of a receiver. The receiver will move back and forth laterally before sprinting forward on the cue of the coach, who is set up ten yards away from the drill, facing the receiver. The defensive back’s objective is to maintain the outside leverage and move laterally using short, quick steps. While mirroring the receiver’s movements, the defensive back must be mindful to not lose ground. What we coach at to our DBs is to visualize themselves standing at the edge of a cliff. It reinforces the technique and mentality of not giving up ground when in Cover 2. Their feet should not cross and heels should not click. When the receiver finally releases, the defensive back will be hands on with the receiver, transition into a trail technique, and until another threat shows, escort the receiver to through their zone. Finally, we finish the jam. Finishing the jam is important in pass defense in the Cover 2 because it puts additional pressure on the receiver to maintain balance, adjust their route, and further disrupts the timing with the quarterback. Once we drill this into our corners’ muscle memory, we allow them to use their hands to jam.

Jam Rules:

  1. Shoot the hands, do not lunge
  2. Use your hands to control and guide the receiver to where you want them to go
  3. Every jam should look like a boxer’s jab. We teach defensive backs to eye the hips.
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Soft Corner Techniques

Our Soft 2 is holds firm to the same fundamentals and rules of our Hard look, but is used primarily in formations with multiple receivers on one side. Our corners are set at 5-6 yards off the ball with outside leverage to the No. 1 wide receiver. Our Soft 2 alignment puts our corners in a better position to make their reads and drive on short to intermediate routes without being as concerned with making initial contact in their jam. The routes that break off past our the 5-6 yard cushions are met, or "caught" by the cornerbacks. The receiving threats that run past the flat zone are escorted to the safety or outside linebacker.

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