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Reading Quarterbacks

Another tool in your Cornerback I.Q. tool kit is reading quarterbacks. Just before a play, and in the first couple seconds of a play, quarterbacks can sometimes give away what they want do with the ball.

They do this with their audibles--a last second play call--or drop steps.

Quarterback Audibles

When quarterbacks go through their pre-snap reads, there are times when they don't like what they see from the defense. They may feel like the play they're about to run isn't good enough, or is outright doomed to failure based on what they "suspect" the defense is doing.

For example, the play may be a bubble to the slot receiver, but the quarterback sees the defense is in a Cover 2 and he knows that if he throws that bubble, his receiver is gonna get smashed.

So he "audibles", and switches to a play that takes advantage of Cover 2.

Sometimes teams have preset audibles, and you can see this if you watch film. Other times they are on-the-fly adjustments. In either case you can use your knowlege from film study to anticipate what the QB may have checked to.

Quarterback Drop-Step Reads

When a QB snaps the ball, on a pass play, he has to distance himself away from the defense in order to give him time away from pressure, and time to go through his progressions and read the defense.

This also gives the wide retrievers (okay, I won't use it anymore) time to run their routes. Depending on the type of routes they are gonna run, the QB will drop back accordingly.

The QB drop will either be a

Each of these distances correspond with the type and length of the route your receiver will run.

1-Step Drop

On a quick two-yard route, he takes one step and then fires the ball. This is often a timed route where he doesn't read but expects the receivers to be at a certain point.

If you can anticipate this route and react very quickly, there's a good chance you can take this bad boy the to the house.

If you don't get the pick, though, its best to make the hit. Retrievers sometimes like to move toward the QB to make reckless defensive backs miss, so come fast, but under control.

3-Step Drop

A three-step drop usually gives away to a quick 5-yard route. When reading the QB in anything over a one-step drop, you should never see him throw the ball.

This is because he may give a pump fake, and if you're looking at the QB, you'll break on the route. The problem is you can't see the receiver's second move that is surely coming (see technique and mechanics).

To go a little further, you should almost never see the QB totally stop his momentum before setting his feet. As soon as you see him slow his backward momentum to set his feet, your eyes should immediately go back to the receiver (who you are peripherally watching the whole time).

If he begins to break down and turn into his route, jump it.

Remember that you are reading quarterbacks' drop steps in conjunction with the other pre-snap reads, so you should know beforehand if the team runs double routes.

Also remember that receivers, QBs, and coaches will take note of your patterns, so don't fall into one.If they see you continuously reading quarterbacks, they will set you up for the double move.

5-Step Drop

In a five-step drop, the QB is most likely throwing a post, corner, post-corner, deep out, deep hitch, deep comeback toward the sideline, or any other 10-15-yard route.

This is where many defensive backs get tricked into thinking a deep route is coming. Instead of staying in their backpedal, they turn and open up their hips to run.

Receivers then use that opportunity to break into their routes in the opposite direction from which the cornerbacks open up. So stay in your backpedal until the receiver breaks your 3-yard cushion.

7-Step Drop

A 7-step drop is a hail mary.

So to summarize, a one-step drop is a quick snap-and-throw, most likely a quick hitch or an inside screen pass; a three-step drop is most likely a 5-yard route, or a quick slant; Five drop steps usually throw to 10-yard routes like posts, deep outs and deep comebacks. A 7-step drop is obviously a Hail Mary, or any other route where the offense wants to go deep for the end zone.

This is, nine times out of ten, the best way to know the length of the route your receiver is gonna be running .


Reading quarterbacks' drop-steps is easier when they're under center, but they can also be read out of the shotgun. The rule of thumb when reading QBs in the shotgun is to add 3-steps to their drop.

So if they catch the snap and drop two steps, that is considered a 5-step drop.

Read steps

While he is making his drops, you should be backing out with what is called your read steps.

Read steps are basically two to three quick steps backward, slightly slower than a backpedal, that give you time to read the QB's drop steps.

Read steps provide a cushion between you and the receiver, preparing you to either:

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