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Four essential keys in playing (off) man coverage from the corner position.

Over the past couple of years, many defensive coordinators have become comfortable with playing man-press coverage. As the offensive coordinators become more astute in their schematics such as crossing routes, bubble screens, and crafty pre-snap motions, it becomes difficult not to play man press against them. Fortunately, every team you line up against isn't going to present problematic screens or line up with an array of four or five receivers. So, from a defensive standpoint, you still have to give yourself an alternate package that will give the opponent a different appearance. One alternative to the man-press coverage is the use of off-man coverage.


The alignment of the cornerback plays an integral role in putting himself in position to make a play. Football is a game of angles and inches. If the corner initially aligns wrong, he could take himself out of position to make a play. If the misaligns by just an inch, it could make the difference between a deflection and a touchdown.

When playing off-man coverage, the corner's alignment should be 7x1, which means seven yards from the receiver and approximately 1 yard from his inside shoulder. (See Diag. 1.)


The alignment should be six or seven yards from the receiver simply because this will give the corner enough cushion on the receiver. Depending on his speed, the corner can adjust accordingly.

However, he should not be aligned any deeper than 9 and nothing shorter than 6 yards from the receiver. If aligned under 5 yards from a polished or experienced receiver, the corner would be in what we call "no man's land"--meaning that the corner has no chance in reading the QB, receiver, or the route. It also denotes that the corner has not put himself in the best position to make a play.

The second aspect of playing off-man coverage is the ability to read the QB's drop for 3-Step. Some coaches do not teach the corner to read the QB drop. Certain coaches employ the corner just to eye-up the receiver.

The main reason for reading the QB's drop is to gain an advantage of where the ball and the receiver could potentially end up.

While playing off-man coverage, the corner already has a strike against him: he has no idea where the play or the receiver is going.

Why not take advantage of certain keys and opportunities that the QB and the receiver will give you? When the ball is snapped, the corner should use his peripheral vision to find the receiver and lock his eyes on the QB and look for the three-step drop. What is so intriguing about it is that it usually indicates some sort of short route.

There are only so many routes that can be run from a 3-step drop. The hitch, out, and slant are the most highly used patterns from the 3 step drop. And most of these routes will be run within 5 to 7 yards. (See Diags. 2-4.) You may also occasionally see a fade route, but many coaches and coordinators will often call on the fade route when in or near the red zone.




The start of the corner's pedal should be unhurried and slow, giving the corner ample opportunity to read the QB and sustain his cushion on the receiver. Whenever the QB demonstrates a 3-step drop, the corner must instantly recognize it, break to the ball, locate the receiver, read the route, and make the play.

It's imperative for the cornerback to get his eyes back on the receiver because the receiver will take the cornerback to the ball.

Once the cornerback has caught up to the receiver's hip or back pocket, he should then look for the ball.

If the QB continues to drop back after three steps, the corner should, while back-peddling, shift his eyes immediately to the receiver, and proceed to the next level of man coverage--which is reading the route and the body language of the receiver.

The third component of playing successful off-man coverage is the ability to cover your man by using good positioning and reading the body language and alignment.

One of the many objectives of a well-coached receiver is to push vertically up field to get the corner thinking that the receiver is running a deep route. In pushing vertically up field, the corner will open and turn his hips once he feels his cushion has been broken.

The premise for this is to get the corner out of position, when in actuality the receiver is in route to only run a curl or a comeback. A good corner must be able to stay low in a back pedal and when forced to turn his hips, he must be able to stop, plant and come out of the break to close on the receiver to make a play.

Once a receiver is in route, the corner should focus on a particular area of the receiver's body. Initially, the corner should focus on either the inside shoulder or the inside waist of the receiver. He should, ideally, be head up or maybe slightly inside of the receiver.

When the corner feels that his cushion has been broken by the receiver pushing vertical up field, the corner must turn, open at (180) and go, staying on the inside hip of the receiver. (See Diag. 5)


If the receiver pushes vertically up field to run a post, and the corner's cushion is broken, the corner must still turn and open, but this time toward the outside or up-field hip of the receiver. (See Diag. 6)


When the receiver is in route, the corner must sustain head-up to (slightly) inside leverage on the receiver to put himself in the best position to make a play on the ball.

In football today, many receivers are taught to "stem" the cornerback, especially at the collegiate and pro levels.

The stem finds the receiver trying to gain inside leverage on the corner by bending inside the corner at the beginning of the route. By putting himself between the ball and the corner, the receiver has a good opportunity of catching the pass.

The receiver also decreases the corner's chance to make a play on the ball. While in his back-pedal, the corner is taught to (weave) in order to sustain or regain position from the receiver's stem.

If the corner can (weave) back to his head-up or slightly inside position on the receiver (depending on location of the ball), he has put himself in the best position possible to make a play on any route. (See Diag. 7)


Some unpolished or inexperienced receivers have certain tendencies, especially at the high school level, to indicate what route they are running. It could simply be a head motion into the receiver's break or his eyes dictating where he will run his route at the line of scrimmage before the snap.

Some receivers will even echo their route by their alignment in the formation. For instance, the slant. Some receivers have a tendency to line up wider than normal due to the fact that they know that he has to come inside to run the slant ... and so they will create room by aligning wide. (See Diag. 8)


A corner can take advantage of these minute tendencies by reading the alignment and body language of the receiver. If the receiver is running a curl or come back, he will often exaggerate his torso when settling in the break.

The receiver will subconsciously raise his torso and arms instead of being tight into the settling of the break.

Another example of an unpolished receiver is the speed at which he runs his route or pattern.

If the route is a streak or post, many unpolished and experienced receivers will immediately come out the gate at a high velocity as opposed to a curl or out. They will not come out the gate as fast or at a high speed since they know that they have to settle, break and maintain balance in order to execute the curl or a comeback. The seasoned receivers have the ability to come out the gate fast, settle, break and maintain their balance to execute the curl or out.

In essence, good receivers have the ability to make all of their routes and patterns look identical. If the corner can read body language, tendencies, and peculiar alignments, he'll be able to exploit the unseasoned receiver. In order to do this, the corner must learn how to observe and study his opponents.

A corner can learn this by either practice or by watching film. A good film will familiarize the corner with the receiver's tendencies, body language, and patterns. However, the study of film at the high school level isn't usually a top priority. It is also difficult for most coaching staffs to produce and use largely because of time constraints.

Once the corner has placed himself in the best position to make a play, he should simply make the play. It does not always mean intercepting a pass. It can also be a pass deflection, staying with your man so that the QB will be discouraged, or it can simply mean coming up to make a tackle to prevent a first down.

The corner can be successful in off man coverage if he will learn the importance of alignment, positioning, and reading.


The four keys to playing great off-man coverage are:

1. Understanding alignment.

2. The ability to read the quarter-back's drop (3-step).

3. Coverage (positioning, reading body language, and alignment of the WR).

4. Making a play.

By Forrest Foster, Head, Access Services

North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, NC
COPYRIGHT 2006 Scholastic, Inc.
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Author:Foster, Forrest
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2006
Previous Article:Timing is everything.
Next Article:Running an option attack from a shotgun.

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