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Inside the play: Man coverage


Most teams in the NFL run a form of man coverage. Texans TV's Brooke Bentley teamed up with defensive backs coach Jon Hoke to go inside the play and break down how cornerbacks cover a receiver man-to-man.

Brooke Bentley (Texans TV): What are the basic principles of man coverage?

Defensive back coach Jon Hoke: Man coverage is, "I've got that man," just like you said. Where it becomes difficult is that it takes a very good skill level to do it. Then, you always run into types of formation problems where they give you receivers close together, bunches, two-man stacks, those types of things that can make it very, very difficult. It's easy to say, "I've got that man," but at the end of the day, it can be quite difficult physically and mentally, depending on the formation.

Brooke Bentley: As a fan awatching in the stands, how can I tell if team is lined up in man or zone?

Coach Hoke: The biggest way to tell is by the alignment. A lot of times, the defender will be right on top of him. But then if a play continues down the field, if a defender runs with the receiver and follows him all over the field, that would be a man concept. If you see him lined up on a receiver and all of a sudden the receiver moves inside but he stays where he's at, that would be more of a zone concept.

{QUOTE}Brooke Bentley: It seems like a lot of teams try to disguise coverages, so a team will put a man in motion to determine what kind of coverage the defense is in. Do teams play those sorts of cat-and-mouse games?

Coach Hoke: They'll do that at times. They'll put you in motion; most of the times it's a wide receiver, could be a running back. And if they see a defender leave the core of the defense to go cover him, then that gives the quarterback a little bit of a head's up that it could be man coverage.

Brooke Bentley: What are the core techniques you coach your players in man coverage?

Coach Hoke: There are three words we really use a lot. We talk about my eyes, my feet and my hands. I've got to be good with my eyes to see him and watch him move and see what foot he steps with. And then it becomes my feet. I've got to move my feet as I see him move. And the last component is hands. I've got to have hand placement, but you can't get your hand placement done unless you move your feet. So it always goes eyes, feet and hands in that progression.

Brooke Bentley: In practice, I see you talk to corners a lot about where to keep their eyes. Why is that so important?

Coach Hoke: The problem is a lot of guys will cheat or they'll try to cheat and they'll be playing man coverage and they'll look at the quarterback, and then all of a sudden you see their man run away from them. Well, that's because they've got their eyes in the backfield. It's a tough deal because at some point in their career they've been rewarded, they've gotten an interception because they saw the quarterback throw the ball. Now that they've gotten rewarded for that, they'll do it a lot of times. And you'll get hurt more times than not, because you will look in the backfield and all of a sudden your receiver will move and run away from you and then you have no chance to cover him. So eyes are important. We always talk about looking at a different part of his (receiver's) body, his hips or those type of things to see the route.

Brooke Bentley: There are a couple types of man coverage. Explain them.

Coach Hoke: There are basically two types of man coverage that you will see used and a lot of them are based on the number of safeties. What we call a Cover 1 is basically where we are going to say that the strong safety has the tight end. The corner has the outside receiver. The right corner would have the other receiver. And when you say Cover 1, that means we have a single safety in the middle of the field. So that would be a Cover 1 concept.

If you want to play a two-man concept, that concept is basically what it is. That means now that the linebackers will handle those three core receivers. The WIL (weak side linebacker) will have the tight end. The MIKE (middle linebacker) would have the back. The SAM (strong side linebacker) would have the back. The corners still have the wide receivers. But now instead of Cover 1 where there is one safety deep, in a two-man there are two safeties deep.

Brooke Bentley: Talk about the benefits of having corners spilt the field and each take a half, rather than a corner matching up with the best receiver.

Coach Hoke: It depends on your philosophy. A team will have a left corner and a right corner, and usually in their zone coverages they will stay left and right. In their man's, they will got match up to the guy – both receivers are on one side, they would go match up. A little bit with the left and right, the advantage to it is when they play their zones, their footwork, their vision, their technique all stays the same. If I'm the left corner, I'm used to looking in this way and my footwork will match that. If I'm the right corer, I'm used to seeing this way and my footwork will match that. So that' why people tend to play left and right. If you say, "Hey, go match that guy," then they don't have enough reps at either side to be a master at either side.

Brooke Bentley: The defense is all interconnected. People say a corner's best friend is a good pass rush. Talk about why that's true.

Coach Hoke: These front four guys and the linebackers, they are guys that can affect the quarterback. They are the guys that are that are going to make him get rid of the ball faster, make him make bad decisions and those type of things. A lot of times the saying is, "The front will affect the back more than the back will affect the front." And that just means that in this pass rush up here, these guys have a bigger effect earlier in the down on that quarterback than you do in the back."

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