Turnovers have the chance to win or lose a game. Every weekend, I hear coaches from all ranks discuss this concept in their press conferences. They talk about how a certain turnover here and there or the total differential impacted the final result of the game. It’s tough to say one or two plays can decide a game, but the influence turnovers have on momentum put them in that type of place. Throughout this piece, I’ll give young defensive backs an idea of how they can make these game-changing plays.
After a game, former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said, “I thought the offense did ok at the start. But the biggest thing is the turnovers, and not protecting the football, whether it’s in the pocket or the interception…it’s tough to win when the defense is scoring off your offense.” One of a football coach’s biggest pet peeves for the offensive unit is turning the ball over. No matter where the ball is turned over, it kills any momentum for an offense. If it’s turned over in the red zone, then points are basically taken off the board. Meanwhile, if it’s given away in your own territory, then points are handed over to the opponent. Essentially, there is nothing good that comes away from turnovers for the offense. However, with this, we’ve seen more and more defensive coaches stress their players to force these turnovers at all costs, whether it be an interception or a forced fumble!
The most common way defensive backs will create turnovers is through interceptions, or INT’s. These not only help in winning that elusive turnover battle, but they also have the ability to get in a quarterback’s head. If the QB throws an INT when targeting a certain receiver, he might be hesitant when the situation presents itself later on knowing the defensive back is looming. An INT can occur anywhere on the field. Throughout the next few sections, I’ll provide drills in forcing the turnover on different routes. Along with this, defensive backs need to work on their pure catching skills. It isn’t their primary responsibility, although it is increasingly necessary to capitalize on your opportunities because you never know when the next one will come. To add on to this, remember that the play doesn’t end when an interception occurs. Rather, try to make something more happen. If you are the interceptor, then begin to look up-field for blocks and get some yardage back. Meanwhile, if you’re just another defensive back on the field, start setting up the blocks and create a lane.
If you’re going up against some big or athletic receivers, then the quarterback is likely going to trust their ability and toss up a pass for them to go get. This jump ball drill is designed to not only defend the pass, but also possibly nab it out of the air. Start with a QB at midfield with a receiver covered by a defensive back on one side. For this drill, I recommend playing from about the 10 to 15 yard line since jump balls are often tossed in the red zone. Then, have the QB receive the snap and take a one-step drop before lobbing it into the corner. It is the defensive back’s reasonability to backpedal, maintain leverage and then leap to grab the ball at the high point. The key throughout this is to keep the passes high enough where the defensive back has to jump. At the same time, make sure the receivers are making a realistic effort to do the same, while it’s the defensive back’s job to hold position and get there first.
Every team loves to try a few deep passes in an attempt to catch the defense sleeping or take advantage of a speedster on the outside. Likewise, the cornerback might not always have safety help in case he gets beat. This puts the corner in an interesting position as he must play off a little to avoid getting beat early, along with staying mindful of the potential short cross. Defending the deep ball is all about body control, which this drill will emphasize. The defensive back will line up approximately five yards off the line of scrimmage. Then, upon snap of the football, the defensive back will backpedal five yards. At this time, he should be reading the eyes of the quarterback. If they stay on that receiver, prepare to turn, drive your feet into the ground and sprint deep at which point you’ll nab the ball at its highest point. While sprinting deep, try to maintain an idea of where the ball is out. Occasionally, the ball will be underthrown, which will force you to quickly halt movement and make a play on the ball. In the end, this drill should teach you the basics of body control!
If you do opt to play bump ’n’ run coverage, I’ve included a link to a course from CoachTube. It is taught by college football coach Grant Cain and goes through a number of different defensive back drills, with the bump ‘n’ run one coming into play with defending the deep ball.
In the majority of games, there will be a few tipped passes. These aren’t always the easiest to intercept, but they are still opportunities nonetheless. The core trait to learn here is concentration. Even though the trajectory of the ball might change slightly, try your best to maintain focus on the ball.
The tipped pass drill starts with a defensive back on one specific yard line on the sideline, a coach in the middle of the field on that same yard line, and a tipper in-between the two. The defensive back will start running toward the coach, who will throw a pass. The tipper must get a slight hand to the ball to change the movement slightly. As a side note, try to avoid having the tipper completely bat the ball up or something of that sort. Those situations won’t arise nearly as often in an actual game as a minor deflection would. At the point of the tip, the defensive back should adjust and complete the interception before running it past the coach to complete the drill.
Although interceptions are the more common avenue for defensive backs to record turnovers, forcing fumbles is another possibility. The tip I usually have for this is to urge defensive backs to secure the tackle first. Make sure that you’re confident you can bring the ball carrier down. Then, while they’re going down, get a hand in there and try to rip the ball out. There are many ways for players to practice this, but a lot of it comes from game experience. Based on what I’ve always seen and learned, this is the best course of action. Forcing a fumble as a defensive back shouldn’t be your primary goal. Chances are unless the situation is perfect, it will be a tough task to complete and could even lead to the ball carrier breaking the tackle. So, with this said, remember to wrap up first because you never know if one of your teammates may get in there to help finish the tackle and lead to a forced fumble.
Throughout the entirety of this article, a common theme I’ve attempted to portray is this idea of momentum. Football is truly a game of changing momentum. One minute, it may seem like your team is in control and before you know it, the opposition seems to have the upper hand. One of the main shifters of this is turnovers. They can disrupt rhythm, confidence and affect a complete game. The key is to capitalize on your opportunities and don’t let them slip away!