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Tricks and Techniques of a Football Secondary

When defensive backs line up as part of an American football team’s secondary, they rarely know whether the play will be a pass or a run. In a split second, after the ball is snapped, the secondary must determine the offense’s intentions. The defensive backs use these tricks and techniques to figure out what the offense has planned.

Doing a bump and run

In the bump and run, defensive backs want to get in the faces of the receivers and chuck them or jam them (using both hands) as they come off the line of scrimmage. The idea is to disrupt the timing of the pass play by hitting the receiver in the chest with both hands, thereby forcing the receiver to take a bad step. Often, the defensive back pushes the receiver in order to redirect him. A defensive back generally knows which way a receiver wants to go. By bumping him to one side, the defensive back may force the receiver to alter his pass route.

Defensive backs walk a fine line with the bump and run: They’re allowed to hit receivers within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, but beyond that, hitting a receiver is a penalty. You may see defensive backs with their hands on receivers beyond 5 yards. Sometimes the officials catch them, and sometimes they don’t.

Staying with a receiver

After bumping or attempting to jam a receiver, a defensive back must be able to turn and run with the receiver. Sometimes, the defensive back (especially a cornerback) ends up chasing the receiver. When he needs to turn, the defensive back should make half-turns, rotating his upper body to the same side as the receiver. When the receiver turns to face the ball in the air, the defensive player should turn his body to the side of the receiver to which his arms are extended.

A defensive back must practice his footwork so he can take long strides when backpedaling away from the line of scrimmage while covering a receiver. When he turns, he should be able to take a long crossover step with his feet while keeping his upper body erect. This technique is difficult because the defensive back often has to move backward as quickly as the receiver runs forward. When he turns to meet the receiver and the pass, the defensive back should be running as fast as he can to maintain close contact with the receiver.

Stemming around

The term stemming around sounds foolish, and, in all honesty, defensive backs may look foolish while they’re stemming around. Stemming describes the action of the defensive backs when they move around after appearing to be settled in their alignments prior to the offense’s snap of the ball. By stemming, they attempt to fool the quarterback and force him into making a bad decision about where to throw the football. This tactic is becoming quite popular in defensive football (all players can do it, but it’s most noticeable in defensive backs and linebackers) because it creates an uncertainty in the quarterback’s mind, thus disrupting his decision-making.

The most successful stemming ploy by the secondary is to give the quarterback the impression that they’re playing man-to-man coverage when they’re really playing zone coverage. This ploy usually results in a poor read (an inaccurate interpretation of the defense) by the quarterback. A poor read can lead to a deflected pass, an incomplete pass, or an interception — the secondary’s ultimate goal.

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