Pre-Snap Cues for Defensive Backs
Cleveland Browns Defensive Back and Perfect Performance Alumnus M.J Stewart, celebrating after his first career interception.
Defensive Back is the most reactionary position in Football. Defensive Backs (DB’s) are required to cover the opposing teams’ likely best athletes with the disadvantage of not knowing what route they are running. DBs have to rely on their technique and ability to react to the Wide Receivers (WR’s) movements. What separates this position from most other positions is that one hesitation or misstep can result in a touchdown. This is what makes this position so difficult and oftentimes stressful.
There are pre-snap cues that DB’s can focus on to make their job easier. Pre-snap cues are things you can observe and understand before the play to help make your job easier. Allow me to explain the importance of three pre-snap cues that can increase your playmaking ability by making you less reactive and more instinctive.
Down & Distance
All football players should be aware of the down and distance prior to the snap of the ball. Knowing the down and distance before the play is a underrated yet important clue for defensive backs. Knowing this can dictate the technique that you choose to play. It can also hint you on the route the WR may run. For example, if it is 3rd and 16, you can know that the offense needs a 16-yards to get a first down. Which probably will lead to a deep route or screen pass setting them up for a big play. This knowledge allows DBs to identify the following factors:
1. Route recognition
2. When to play press vs off coverage (man coverage)
3. When to play high to low vs when to squeeze short routes (Zone coverage)
4. Hints pass vs run down (Short yardage may hint at a run play)
Formation and WR Alignments
Film Study is important in football. If you have access to the film of your opponent I advise you to take full advantage of that tool. Studying a receiver’s movements through film study will give you a tremendous start to understanding route recognition. Please remember that film may only tell you half of the story. Players who watch film must challenge themselves to see more than the player you will be covering. Study formations. WR alignments, and ask yourself these questions:
1. What routes are being run in this formation (2x2, 3x1, etc.)?
2. What release does this WR like to take when he is aligned tight to the formation?
3. What routes are run out of this position (slot, TE, X, Z)?
Once you answer these questions, you can look at formations and WR alignments as pre-snap cues to help adjust your technique. These cues are never 100% accurate. However, they can help put you in position to make a game changing play.
Understand the Defense (know where your help is)
Knowing your assignment is the first step to becoming a playmaker. The next step is knowing your teammates’ job. This gives you the ability to identify the weaknesses of the defense and anticipate where you may be receiving help. It is important for a defensive back to always know where his nearest support is. This pre-snap cue of knowing where your help is, and the weaknesses of the defense has an effect on three things:
Sometimes your nearest support is a deep high safety, which means you can play very aggressive in man coverage. It could be a cover 3 linebacker dropping underneath, which means you don’t need to play an aggressive press coverage. Knowing that you have inside zone help can tip you to play with outside leverage trusting that you will get help on all in-breaking routes.
It is important to trust your Pre-Snap cues to put yourself in the right position to make plays. If you are interested in developing your understanding of Pre-Snap cues, register for Perfect Performance position training and follow us on social media for future virtual film study sessions.
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