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The Drills Report: Defensive Backs: Drills & Techniques

by: Torrian Gray
Defensive Backs Coach, Virginia Tech
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As a former player at Virginia Tech, I feel honored and privileged to have the opportunity to coach at my alma mater and work with such great people, coaches and players. I want to discuss our base footwork drills, the movements within the drills and how they coincide with the movements we perform during practices and games on a regular basis.

I truly believe that repetition is the mother of learning. I try to have our base footwork drills mimic the movements that through repetitions naturally occur during practice and game situations. When we watch practices, games or one-on-one drills, I like to point out to our defensive backs the movements they have made while covering the receivers. Often, they will see that their movements and natural reactions are the same movements they do during our footwork progression drills. Pointing out those examples helps to reinforce the drills and good habits we develop. When your players can relate what they see on video to the drills we do during individual periods, they tend to do the drills with more purpose and vigor.

We break our base footwork drills down into two segments:

1. To the football.
2. Away from the football.

To the Football

When breaking to the football we would like to keep a good shoulder-over-toes position in our backpedal. We take one long plant and drive step off our back foot when driving forward toward the football. The shoulder over toes position also keeps us balanced. It makes for an easier transition to turn and run with receivers once our cushions are broken. We do not foot replace nor foot fire when we drive towards the football out of our breaks.

During our footwork progression drills, we use ‘Drive Steps’ when we break toward the football vs. digs or out cuts. ‘Drive Steps’ are steps in which we put our heads down at the angle we are driving when we come out of our breaks. I reinforce and emphasize drive steps until it becomes a habit. For example, if a player looks at me as soon as he drives the LOS, I will not throw him the ball. Reinforcing these steps helps us to drive and close the distance to the receiver quicker out of our breaks. It also helps us vs. gadget routes as we train ourselves to find the receiver first and not the ball out of our breaks. Here are some diagrams to illustrate footwork progression drills toward the football:

Diagram 1: Backpedal Curl

Diagram 2: Backpedal Out/Dig

1. Backpedal Curl: The coach pushes DB's off the football and then brings them back in a straight line.

2. Backpedal Out/Dig: The coach pushes DB's back off the football and then brings them downhill at a 45 degree angle. Drive steps out of break should be emphasized.

3. Backpedal Open Curl: The coach pushes DB’s back off the football, opens their hips away from him in a straight line, then brings them back forward in that straight line.

Diagram 3: Backpedal Open Curl

4. Backpedal Open Out/Dig: Coach pushes DB's back off the football. He opens hips away from him in a straight line and then brings them back downhill at a 45 degree angle. Again, drive steps should be emphasized.

Diagram 4: Backpedal Open/Out Dig

5. Backpedal 3 Hip Turn: Coach pushes DB's back off football, In rhythm he turns the ball three times, causing the DB's to flip their hips from one side to the other. After the third turn he brings them back forward in a straight line.

Diagram 5: Backpedal 3 Hip Turn

Away From The Football

The second component of our base footwork drills is our movements away from the football. We try to emulate attacking the football away from the LOS with both zone turn and man turn emphasis by putting the DB's in both positions during drills. I hope to train their bodies how to react naturally and normally from either position. The most important thing I emphasize when attacking the ball away from the LOS is to ‘high point’ the football. High pointing the football is largely the difference between the ball being caught by the receiver or a play being made by the defensive back.

The following diagrams will be examples of footwork progression drills away from the football:

6. Backpedal Zone Turn/High Point: The coach pushes DB’s back off the football. With open hips away from him in a straight line he then throws the ball to an outside defender. Emphasize high point with this drill.

Diagram 6: Backpedal Zone Turn/High Point

7. Backpedal Man Turn/High Point: The coach pushes DB’s back off football. Open hips away from him in a straight line as he then throws to an outside defender. Again, emphasize high point with the drill.

Diagram 7: Backpedal Man Turn/High Point

8. Backpedal Everything/High Point: The coach pushes defender off the football, 45 degree angle from the LOS. He straightens up in a backpedal, then 45 degree angle away from the LOS in the opposite direction away from the football. He then speed turns at a deep angle away from the LOS and high points the football. Emphasize good angles and high point.

Diagram 8: Backpedal Everything/High Point


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