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Great Cornerbacks

Study these guys...

  • Deion Sanders
  • Charles Woodson
  • Darrell Revis
  • Champ Bailey
  • Darryl Green
  • Nnamdi Asomugha
  • Asante Samuel
  • Al Harris

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Cornerback Ball Skills

It isn't stressed enough how important ball skills are to being a Great Cornerback. I've heard too many times, after a cornerback drops a pick, "That's why he's a cornerback: no hands."

I dislike when people make comments like that. It is a cornerback's responsibility to make that play.

Your ultimate goal as a Great Cornerback is to not only cover a receiver or a zone, but to also pick any ball thrown your way and take it to the house (dance in the endzone with it, and then take it home and put it on your wall).

So developing the ball skills to get a ball even in the most difficult positions and take it from the receiver separates you from the average DBs and elevates your game to a new level.

You can always be better than you are now. I'm sure you've seen great receivers make incredible catches, and thought to yourself, "Wow, how did he do that?"

The reality is that he wasn't born with those ball skills.

Maybe he's more inclined as a gifted athlete, but ball skills like that are a specialized skill and have to be practiced...

...And there are things you can do to develop those amazing ball skills.


Catching was an issue for me. The first pass ever thrown to me in junior pee wees snuck through my hands and hit me right in the face (ouch). So I realized early on that my ball skills were something that I needed to work a little extra at.

I got together with my quarterback, and we worked on catching and timing. In about two weeks I was snatching almost everything.

That taught me a lesson: if you want to be better at something, work on it, and you will improve.

If you take nothing else from this site, take that.

Catching is just like every other skill: everyone can improve if they put forth the effort.

So perfect your ball skills. Catch 100 balls a day, from different angles. You can alsothrow to yourself or have your quarterback throw you some balls.

If you have a helmet, practice catching with it on to add a realistic challenge.

If you have access to your schools equipment or can afford it, hit up the JUGS machine.

Here's another great tool you can use to work on your hands It forces you to use spead your fingers and use your hands to catch the ball the right way.

Having the Mindset

In order to be able to go get that ball, either from a difficult spot or from a receiver, you have to first believe and know you're gonna win that battle. We're talking about split second decisions here. You don't have time to second guess yourself.

You have to have confidence in your ball skills. That confidence comes from know how hard you've worked on them.

Visualization and Positive Self-Talk

Cement in your mind that it's gonna be yours. Do this before each play in practice and in the game: get in your head an "if they throw it, it's mine" type of mindset.

Visualize yourself catching the ball the night before every game. Knowing that you'll be in position and that you'll make the play is paramount.

For defensive backs, knowing when to look for the ball is also an important part of your ball skills.

When To Look For the Ball

"Ball" Call

You can listen for your teammates, who should be giving you a "ball" call if and when ball comes.

Receiver's Queues

Knowing when to look for the ball in the air basically comes to knowing what route the receiver is running and having that route covered (see covering tips, reading receivers). Then you can look to see if the ball is coming.

Receivers will sometimes give signs that tell you when the ball is gonna be thrown to them. Before the play, you'll see that they get really focused or excited, or they might signal to the QB that they have a mismatch by tapping the top of their helmets (a supreme show of disrespect, by the way).

Many times, if you're running with your receiver, he'll tell you with his eyes: when the ball is in the air, his eyes will get big in his anticipation of a catch. You can then turn around a and play the ball or you can wait for his arms to go up and play through is hands.

Tricky Bas***ds

Be warned, though, that great receivers don't make these mistakes too often. The great ones line up and run their routes the same way every time so that you can't read them.

They can also fool you with their eyes when the ball is in the air: instead of their eyes getting big, they will pretend like the ball isn't coming and then, at the last minute, go up and snag the ball real fast.

Thats why it's so important to have the receiver covered, so that you don't have to play their eyes. If you're on their hip, you can play the ball with your own eyes and use your ball skills to come down with it.

Remember that you should only look for the ball when you are on you your receiver's hip, unless you are confident you can make up any space he has on you and still make the play (i.e. speed work).

Judging Balls

When it comes to judging balls you preferably want to be able to come back downhill toward the ball instead of having to catch up to it. Then make sure you can catch the ball at its highest point.

The player who can get the ball at its highest point, with the ball skills to take it, will most likely be the player to come down with it.

So if your receiver is running a deep route, like a post, you should get on your horse and stay on top of him so that you can come downhill and get the ball at its highest.

Body Positioning and Control

Obviously, body position matters when it comes to going up for balls, especially when you're a 5'10" cornerback, competing with a 6'4" receiver.

As I said before, coming downhill for balls is important, but what do you do when a receiver is coming downhill for that same ball. The short answer is to beat him to the punch and get the ball at its highest point.

Great receivers will try to use their bodies against you by shielding the ball from you and catching it as far away from you as possible.

If they do manage to get in your way, you can use your arm to violently knock the ball out, or you can try to snatch the ball right out of their hands.

If he has position and you can't manage either of those, make him pay for having the audacity to try to catch a ball in your domain.

If you have inside position on a go route, you want to look inside at the ball while using your body to funnel the receiver toward the sideline and wall him off. When the ball comes, it should be easy pickings.

Back-Shoulder Throw

Many times, if you have a receiver covered pretty well downfield and have been doing so for most of the game, the coaches will call for a back-shoulder throw. Basically, the quarterback will throw the ball to the receiver's outside shoulder, away from you.

This throw is normally a pretty quick release, so you don't have much time to make the adjustment.

The best way to play the backshoulder throw is to plant and spin back toward the inside of the field and get position underneath the receiver. This puts you right in front of the ball.

Here's Darrell Revis, displaying a perfect example of how to cover the back-shoulder throw.

Land On Your Feet

On top of all these points, I want to put emphasis a another one: stay on your feet when you pick the ball. So many DBs make nice plays on the ball, just to fall, and have no chance of taking it to the house.

So when you go up for a ball, do it with the intention of landing on your feet.

Fortunately, this a skill that you can improve. Using adjustable hurdles in your drills, you can simulate a need to jump and improve your aerial ball skills.

Make sure you come down with ball instead of your opponent.

I strongly recommend you be at least 3 weeks into your power training phase before doing this. This will ensure you have a good base of strength and power so you don't injure yourself.

If you want to improve aerial ball skills with something less monotonous then drills, play basketball. It's also great for jumping coordination.


Some defensive backs dread going up and competing with 6'4" receivers for the football.

They freeze up, or just can't get up high enough, and they get beat.

Great Cornerbacks don't. Why? Because as a Great Cornerback, you have worked on your ability to go up and snag anything thrown your way.

That's what you DO!

If you're not there yet, this Jump Training Program can complement your strength and power training and help get you there.

Remember, just like a receiver, your job is to catch everything thrown your way (and then take it to the house and dance in the endzone :))

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