Increasing your Cornerback I.Q. by reading receivers--studying them before games, reading their alignment, and knowing how to recognize the routes they're going to run--is another tool you can use to dominate opposing teams.
During the week before a game, you can get a good feel for the receivers you're gonna play on game day.
Once again, this is achieved through film study.
When you're watching film, on top reading the offense, you should also be studying the opposing teams' receivers to get a bead on how they play and what you can do to beat them.
Here are some things you should pay attention to:
- How fast are they?
- Who is the go-to guy?
- Do they run their routes consistently?
- How big and, more importantly, how physical are they?
How Fast Are They?
This is important when reading receivers because it tells you how close or far you can play away from them. Fast is a relative term, so when you judge a receiver's speed, it is in relation to your own.
If they're fast you might have to give bit more cusion when playing off. And its that much more important that you get a hand on them when you press. If you miss the jam, and the open the gate, fast receivers will take advantage.
If they're not that fast you can play a bit closer, and be more aggressive when you break on routes. You'll also be able to recover better if they run a double move.
Who Is the Go-To Guy?
Knowing who the opposing team's go-to guy is lets you know how you can play him in certain situations. For example, if the offense is in the red zone and going in to score, they may want to hit their guy on a fade. If you're playing him one-on-one you can fake the press and then bail at the last minute and snag the pick.
You can also count on them dialing up their go-to guy when they're in trouble situations like 3rd and long. You can use this knowledge to break on routes that you know are coming.
Do They Run Routes Consistently?
Reading receivers who don't run consistent routes will easily tell you in the first half-second if they're getting the ball.
If they only go full speed or run good routes only when they're getting the ball, you can tell right away when its coming.
How Big and Physical Are They?
If you know you're gonna be playing a tall receiver, it helps to know if you can be physical or play off. You should be strong enough to handle anyone who lines up, but receivers can get away with a lot and you don't to get caught up in a penalty battle that defensive backs almost always lose.
If a receiver is big but not necessarily physical, you can use your body a bit more to take his mind out the game. If he is physical, sometimes its best to win with your finesse.
Another element in your arsenal of pre-snap reads is receiver alignment. If knowing their schemes and tendencies can give a sense of mastery, adding knowledge of the routes their going to run can damn near give you clairvoyance.
You can basically use the numbers on the field as point of reference for reading receiver alignment. For example, receivers lined up outside the numbers are restricted by the sideline, so defensive backs should watch for inside routes.
A receiver lined up slightly inside the numbers can still run inside routes, but also has action at the fade. Even more inside, closer to the formation, and the receiver has a lot of space for outside routes.
Use your better judgment when trying to read alignment for telltale signs of the route.
For example: A "retriever" (as I like to call them) lines up tight to the formation, and from film study you know that this team never runs slants, ins, or comebacks out of that formation; well, you should be licking your chops, waiting to jump the outside route.
The final piece of the puzzle in reading receivers is route recognition. Any great cornerback, after having covered hundreds of routes, run by dozens of receivers, can often anticipate what route a receiver is gonna run against him.
How do you do this?
Well, many receivers themselves will actually telegraph what they want to do.
Stemming and Mirroring
Just as defensive backs are taught to keep a certain leverage--either inside or outside--on a receiver, receivers are taught to beat that leverage whenever they run a route.
For example, if a receiver wants to run an inside route on you, like a post, dig or a quick slant, at the snap of the ball he will immediately try to “stem” you inside. That is, he will drive hard and try to get inside leverage on you so that he has an advantage when he breaks into his route.
If you can keep your inside leverage when he stems by mirroring him (but staying square) he he will be hard pressed to get a step on you while breaking into his route.
Most of the time when a receiver stems in a certain direction, he is going in that direction. Sometimes, though, good receivers will try to make you think they're going inside and then suddenly break to the outside.
Others will sell a double route very well: stemming inside, breaking inside, and then breaking back out.
But a receiver should not be able to sell you anything if you already know what he's going to do. After having read all the other pre- and post-snap keys, you should be to the point of anticipating receivers' routes.
And after having worked on your footwork and agility, reacting to any surprises should come as second nature. It is very hard to beat someone who knows your every move and can't be surprised.
If receivers run a corner route, I suggest blanketing the receiver, staying on top of the route, and undercutting. If you can't play the ball because the receiver is using his body to shield you from the ball, you can punch through or swing down on his arm to knock the ball loose.
Make sure you make the tackle, in any case.
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