Rookie Scouting Portfolio contributor David Igono examines the two different races being run at the same time when a cornerback like 2019 NFL Draft prospect Greedy Williams is covering a deep route.
“Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.”
– John Wooden
Lockdown corner. Shutdown cover corner. Seventy-one percent of the Earth is covered by water, the rest is covered by (insert favorite cornerback).
I could go on. The point is that opinions on good cornerbacks tend to be fueled more by hyperbole than on the craft of the position.
The nuances of good cornerback play are often hidden by height, speed and arm length conversations that negate a simple truth about playing cornerback at the highest level: measurables may get you to the league, but sound technique will keep you there.
One skill that top tier cornerbacks must develop is the ability to track the ball. Tracking the ball is challenging because the defensive back has to also account for the receiver to avoid inducing a penalty in coverage. High-flying offenses converging against heralded secondaries generally produces an analogy to a track meet on grass.
This sprint on grass is mostly true. It’s not a fair or open competition in all honesty. The only way the defensive back has a shot to win, barring an errant throw, is by initiating contact.
There are two different races being run. The receiver is running as fast as he can to make a catch inbounds. The cornerback may be in the next lane over but his race is altogether a different proposition. He’s trying to beat the ball to the receiver. The only way he can do that is by leveraging contact.
The following two clips paint this picture with LSU cornerback prospect Greedy Williams playing a starring role. The first clip is a general television angle of strong man coverage by Williams of a go route.
The second clip zooms to the sideline view.
It’s subtle but Williams lean into the receiver allows him to do a few things:
- Find his man.
- Locate the football.
- Slow down the receiver so Williams can leverage his jump on the ball.
Watching this competition downfield reminds me of track and field, specifically sprints. To finish a tight race, especially a qualifying heat, you have to time your lunge at the finish line to beat out the pack. In the clip below notice how crucial it is for each sprinter to time their forward lean at the finish line.
It’s the details that propel defensive backs into being able to cover “anyone”, not solely athleticism. Details lead to pass breakups and interceptions. Williams hand placement and timing of the lunge enables him to spot the ball and make a big play. Technique and details do not prefer zone or man coverage; they thrive on execution. Perfect the details, celebrate the opportunities.
Author David Igono, a former defensive back at West Virginia, analyzes quarterbacks and defensive backs for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio site. You can contact him on Twitter (@d1gono).
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