The purpose of this article is to show the use of simple and effective Defensive Back (DB) drills that will work man to man, off man, agility, and zone coverage techniques. I have been fortunate to work with coaches who believe in individual time during practice and will always value this time. The two drills shown in this article, are two that will help any defensive back while developing confidence for the individual player and DB group. The amount of individual time varies, but typically we will give ourselves 10-20 minutes (not including our pre-practice where we will have an extra ten minutes). I want to accomplish five things during individual periods:
- Man to Man Technique / Agility
- Block Destruction
- Ball Drills
- Coverage Teach / Gameplan
Each day is different and I may not accomplish each of these points, but I always try to follow these five as I plan out my individual periods. This article will focus on the first point, Man to Man Technique.
The two drills that I will focus on are Press Man/Releases and Top of the Route. These two drills take about five minutes each and are up-tempo with little rest. The purpose of these drills is to get my athletes more comfortable playing press man, attain better footwork, agility, and to cause strain, forcing them to focus when they are tired. The beauty of these drills is that everyone is working at the same time. There are no lines and all the DB’s are working together and for each other. I believe that performing these drills together, while they are tired, develops confidence. Because once the period is over, they will be tired but they know how much work they put in and will have pride in that. It also will cause the group to rely on each other resulting in continuity within the group.
PRESS-MAN/ RELEASE DRILL
The purpose of this drill is to simulate Wide Receiver releases that a DB could see while working on press man techniques. Teaching man to man is something that is crucial for all defensive backs and something I look forward to every day. I have multiple man-to-man techniques that I teach, but I always start with Motor Technique. Motor is a softer press-man technique, but there are many benefits to teaching this first. Motor involves the DB moving his feet quickly while gaining depth. Each foot should move up and down, like a foot fire, while moving backwards in 6-inch increments. It is important that this does not turn into backpedaling, but stays a motor. Obviously, a motor is not great for all DB’s, but it is important to teach because it forces all the DB’s to move their feet in an effective way. Having great footwork will directly correlate to other parts of football such as tackling and block destruction.
DRILL SET UP:
The Press Man/Release Drill starts with each player getting a partner and aligning on the sideline and yard line meet, giving each group a line to perform the drill. The player on the sideline will be the Wide Receiver(WR) and the other will be the Defensive Back (DB). The WR will be in a receiver stance with their inside foot up (I tell them which way the ball is for the WR and DB). The DB will align a yard off the WR in a press man stance. I won’t get into much depth with this stance, but the DB will have their feet shoulder width apart, athletic bend, flat back, hands up, weight on their big toes and eyes on the WR’s hips. On the whistle, the WR will jog at the DB. As the WR jogs at the DB, he will then start to work his Motor Technique, until the WR hits the top of the numbers on the field. Once the partner gets to the numbers, the DB and WR switch roles, and work the same drill but now working towards the sideline (this is what will happen for each one of the portions of the drill).
ZIG ZAG DRILL
The next portion entails the same setup, but now the WR is going to zig zag as he jogs at the DB. The DB is still working his motor technique, but now as the WR zig zags, the DB is going to work with him. It is important that the DB stays square, does not open his hips, keeps his base wide and continues to work his feet. The DB will also work to maintain his leverage while gaining depth with his motor technique. Understanding leverage is key and that is why seeing what foot is up on the WR at the start is important to understand. The wider we can get the WR to release will benefit the DB, and that is why we must stay square while working this drill.
ZIG ZAG WITH 2 HAND PUNCH
The next portion is zig-zag with a two-hand punch. The DB will put both hands on the breastplate of the WR, with their thumbs up and arms locked out. The WR will still zig-zag, but now the DB will have both hands on and stay square with their hips while working his feet. It is important the DB keeps their thumbs up and arms locked out, making him understand what it feels like to have control of the WR (both hands will stay on throughout the drill). The important piece to this is to make sure that when we do get hands on a WR, we cannot stop our feet.
ZIG ZAG WITH 1 HAND PUNCH
After the two-hand punch, we will now go to zig zag with a one hand punch. The WR will still zig zag, but now the DB is going to punch with one hand. As the WR goes left, the DB will punch with his right hand and when the WR goes right, the DB will punch with his left hand. The aiming point is the V of the chest, with the thumb up and arm staying locked out. A key teaching point when punching, is to gain control of the WR and not punch him so that he is pushed away. As the DB punches, I now want them to open their hips and flip them as the WR jogs back and forth, while still focusing on moving their feet.
ZIG ZAG WITH ARM THROWN OFF
The last portion of this drill, the most complicated, will take the most time to master. We will now work on punching with one hand, but will get that arm thrown off. It will start off exactly as zig zag with a one hand punch did, but now as the DB punches and gains control of the WR, the WR will throw the DB’s arm off. As the WR throws the DB’s arm off, the DB will speed turn and punch the WR again with the other arm. The most important element, is having a good partner. The WR is more important than the DB, because if the WR is not doing his job then the DB will not accomplish what is needed. We want the DB to feel what it is like to be thrown off and then let him speed turn back into the WR. As the DB speed turns, it is important to emphasize staying low, getting his eyes around quickly, find his target and punch. Again, this is one that might need to be slowed down to a walk at first, but eventually, you will be able to speed it up.
All portions of this drill can be done once or twice depending on time and part of the season. I will typically have every DB do each portion twice at the beginning of the season, and will eventually cut it to one later in the season. This drill is not easy and there is not much rest for any of the DB’s. This is what I want. DB’s are going to get tired during a game, and they cannot lose their technique as soon as they get tired, so I am going to train them to perform at a high level while they are tired.
TOP OF THE ROUTE
The next drill that the Press Man drill will flow right into is Top of the Route. This drill is made to simulate the tops of routes that are ran by an offense. This is a great drill to work on off man technique, but also zone coverage, because at some point all zone coverage will turn into a man to man situation. The routes that we focus on are: post, post corner, post dig, takeoff and back shoulder. To help save energy and time, we will run/work the top of these routes, which means the point where the WR running the route will break. Just as before, each DB will have a partner and will align where the yard line meets the sideline. One partner will be a WR and the other will be a DB. The WR will be a receiver stance with their inside foot up (this is where it is crucial that the correct foot is forward). The DB will now be 3 yards off with inside leverage, and in a good off man staggered stance ready to backpedal. If the WR’s right foot is up, then the DB should be shaded to the left, giving him inside leverage. The DB should always know where the ball is based on the foot that is up on the WR. After the first route is ran, the partners will go to the hash and switch roles, and run the same route just working in the opposite direction. We will run each route both ways, right and left, so each DB will get a route ran at him to the right and left.
The first route that the WR will run is a post. This route is a standard to this drill, because we must always protect the post first. We will start with the WR’s right foot up telling the WR that the post will be ran to his right. On the whistle, the WR will take three hard steps forward and then break/stick to the right and run a skinny post. The WR only needs to burst for a few yards after the break, but it is critical that he over emphasizes his break/stick to the post, giving the DB a good picture of the break/stick. As the WR releases, the DB will get into is backpedal and react to the WR. As the WR breaks to the post, the DB will then snap his elbow, open his hips, and burst for five yards, working to get on top of the post. I do not want to see the DB wait or reach for the WR, but burst and basically run the post for the WR. It is imperative that the DB changes speed as they open their hips and get used to protecting the vertical routes.
After we work the post, we move to the post corner. The alignment will be the same, but now the WR will break to the post for 3 steps and then break to the corner for 3 steps. This is another where the WR must over emphasize the breaks he makes. The DB will again backpedal then open and burst on top of the post. Once the WR breaks to the corner, the DB will speed turn and burst to get on top of the corner. A major coaching point is to always burst on top of the post and then react to the corner. The post is the more threatening route, forcing us to protect this route first. Once the DB reacts to the corner, he will speed turn by flipping their hips, getting their eyes/head around and then take a high angle to the corner route. I do not want to see a flat angle to the corner route, but a high angle to stay on top of the route.
Post dig/curl, is the next route and one that the players tend to cheat the most. Again, the WR will start off by breaking to a post after three steps, but then break down and work across the field for a few steps. What I want to see out of the WR, is after he breaks/sticks the post, he must breakdown and chop his feet to run the dig. The DB will again open and burst on top of the post, but once he sees the WR breakdown, he will break and work to the dig. The part that will be cheated is the DB not bursting on top of the post, but just waiting for the dig to happen. Over emphasizing the importance of protecting the post first is a coaching point used daily. The post will give up explosive plays, and the dig most likely will not. “Burst on top of the post first and then react to the dig,” is the phrase used frequently.
A takeoff, fade, is one of the simpler routes for the group to execute. The only thing that the WR must know is which way to fade. They will fade away from the ball, so if the right foot is up they will fade to the left and left foot is up they will fade to the right. Again, the WR will take 3 steps and then fade the proper direction. The DB will backpedal and once the WR fades, they will open and burst to get on top of the route. This is when I want to see the DB change speeds and burst. I do not want to see the DB worry about the WR, but focus on the feeling of changing speeds.
The last one that we will do is the back-shoulder throw. This is not something that I will do day one of practice, but will introduce it after the group is comfortable with the rest of the routes. The alignment and start is the same as a takeoff, but now once the WR gets the DB to open their hips, the WR will turn as if they were catching a back-shoulder throw. For the DB, I still want them to burst once they open, but now they must react to the WR. Once the WR turns his shoulder, the DB will put his closest hand to the WR’s hands and with the other secure the tackle around the WR’s waist, making them be chest to chest. The big coaching point with the back-shoulder, is that the hand must be first and the eyes will be second. These types of throws are difficult to cover and I want to make sure that if the DB does miss the ball, he will be there to make the tackle.
As the year progresses, there are many different variations that we can make to work on other routes. (Double moves, learning to lean and to fight being thrown off on an out or in breaking route) The routes listed above are what we will focus on but, any route can be put in this drill. Just as the Press Man drill, Top of the Route should be an up-tempo drill with little break in between reps. The DB who is being the WR, should not take this as a break, but more as time to get better at running routes. The great DB’s understand what route is taking place as it is being ran, so running the route will give a DB better understanding of route concepts. Also, the DB is counting on the WR to give him a good look and to make him better by running a great route. This will be a tiring drill, but in the end, it will make DB’s much better at recognizing routes. Which will result in more big plays being made by the secondary.
Overall, these drills are made to be done quickly and with a ton of tempo. It will take the athletes awhile to get comfortable with them, but the goal is to have every athlete master these drills and use them in game situations. These drills are made to be done in ten minutes, resulting in mental and physical strain, forcing them to focus more and more on their technique. this is what will translate to game situations. Since this is such an up-tempo drill, a coach will have to pick and choose where he wants to make his coaching points. The group of DB’s will also have to take it upon themselves to get better, even if the coach isn’t directly coaching them. Certain athletes will need extra attention, but during the drill may not be the time to help. I want to develop great habits during these drills and I always emphasize proper footwork and hand placement for the Press Man drill and the changing of speeds for the Top of the Route.
Playing DB is a hard position to play, and therefore the DB’s must work at mastering their craft every day. Making these drills hard, everyone working together, relying on each other, will create a sense of togetherness, give them a sense of pride, and develop confidence in their technique. This confidence is built by the work they have put in daily, which will translate to dominant play on game day. These ten minutes will be the most difficult but rewarding time to the Defensive Back unit.
Mac Alexander joined the Skyhawks coaching staff in the Spring of 2018. He comes to Fort Lewis College from Colorado Mesa University where he was a full-time assistant coach for defensive backs and the co-special teams coordinator since 2016. Alexander is the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. His responsibilities included coaching the entire secondary for the Mavericks, designing and running position meetings, assisting in the strength and conditioning program, travel arrangements and summer camps. Alexander spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as a graduate assistant at CMU, from 2009-2011 as a defensive back, and played for the Mavericks basketball program from 2011-2014. Alexander graduated from Colorado Mesa in 2014 with a degree in exercise science. He received his Master of Arts degree in Human Performance and Physical Education from Adams State University in 2016.
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