The best athletes and fastest players on the football field are usually found at the wide receiver spot. When your job is to cover the wideout and shut him down, you are usually fighting a very tough battle. You may have great athletic ability yourself, but it will be difficult to match up with the best athlete on the field. If that weren't enough, the receiver knows where he is going at the start of the play--and you don't.
Take a very aggressive approach toward stopping the receiver. Instead of playing a soft zone that often invites a quick pass in front of the defender, get right in the receiver's face and show him that you are not afraid. There will be times later in the game that your defensive coordinator may want you to back off or go to a zone, but early in the game an aggressive approach will show your opponent that you relish the 1-on-1 battle.
Play bump-and-run with your opponent. You have a 5-yard zone to get physical with the wide receiver. You can redirect him with your hands, or you can go hard after him with a well-placed shoulder. Getting physical with a wideout tells your opponent that you are out there to intimidate him, and not the opposite. This is an advisable move and will help set a tone, but even the best defensive backs know they can't get away with this on every passing down. It is best to pick your spots because there is much the receiver can do to counter such aggressive behavior.
Coverage should be tight on 3rd down plays. Be aware of the situation. If it's 3rd down and 6 or less, realize that your opponent is likely to use a short pass to earn a first down. Don't give in by allowing the receiver to have a big cushion. You don't want to give up the big play, but you don't want to give up the easy first down either. Maintain an aggressive approach and stick with the receiver.
Learn how to mirror the receiver's moves. This is what will allow you to make up for a step differential in speed or an inch or more in height. By studying game films, you will understand the moves that your opponent likes to make and in which situations he will use them. You can mirror his break off the line of scrimmage and turn and run with him when he turns on his speed. You may not be able to match the athletic ability of your opponent in all situations, but you can have better technique.
Vary your technique. You may have started the game with an aggressive bump-and-run technique, but that will not work for 60 minutes against an outstanding opponent. If you have help in your coverage from one of the safeties, mixing in a zone with trail technique. Simply allow the receiver to get a half-step ahead and move inside him even though you may be a step behind. If the quarterback does not throw the ball well ahead of the receiver, you are in a perfect position to cut through to the ball and make the interception. However, never use the trail technique in 1-on-1 coverage or the offense will pick your defense apart.
Tips & Warnings
- Work on your coverage skills throughout practice. Defensive backs are often asked to cover the most athletic and confident athletes on the field. As a result, your technique must be flawless and your confidence must also be unrelenting.
- Watch as much videotape of your opponent as possible to learn his tendencies and techniques. Some receivers will tighten their chin strap a notch when they are asked to go over the middle. Look for that and other "tells" when you watch videotape.
- Every defensive back gets beaten from time to time. If you give up a touchdown or a key reception, forget about it and move on to the next play. If you dwell on past failures, another one is right around the corner.
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