Ask Coach Koetter

Nov. 8, 2002

Two quick topics:

The Pac-10 has a rule that the home team's bench must be opposite from the press box. This is why our team is in the sun at Sun Devil Stadium and also why we were in the shade at WSU.

Next, as is common for this time of year, I get lots of e-mails about play selection. I haven't quite figured out a formula yet to please everyone, but I am working on it! Some points to consider:

We would like to have a 50/50 run to pass ratio on what we call 'run-downs.' We define 'run-downs' as all 1st and 10's, plus all 2nd and 1-6.So far this season we have called 142 passes and 119 runs on 'run-downs' in the open field.In the 'red zone,' (+25 to +4), we have called 72 runs and 64 passes.We treat the +3 to the GL as a separate category, and that is where we usually use our 'jumbo' package (two TE and three RB).As the season goes along, we are constantly monitoring our run/pass ratio, as well as how 'efficient' those individual plays are. For example, after the Oregon game, our overall 'run-down' efficiency stood at 59% for all plays (efficiency in this case = a gain of over four yards.) Our 'run-down' running plays were 45% efficient, while our 'run-down' passes have been efficient 53% of the time.I know you will all have some real fun with those numbers! This week, our Cornerback Coach, Ron English, will discuss maybe the #1 question I am asked about DB play - 'why don't the DB's ever look for the ball?' Take it away, Coach E!

I've been coaching defensive backs for 10 years and that is definitely the most frequently asked question. Therefore, I was delighted when Coach Koetter asked me to respond to the aforementioned question in a column for the website. Let's briefly talk about the teaching progression of a defensive back as he closes on a receiver, and puts himself in position to play the ball.

Here at ASU, we teach man-to-man coverage techniques daily. The first thing that I teach a defensive back is his alignment, then what he should see, or in other words, his eye progression. We teach both 'bump and run' and 'off' man-to-man alignments, but for the sake of time, let's concentrate on 'bump and run' vs. the fade route.

Initially, I have the defender align as close to the WR as possible without being off-sides. The horizontal alignment that I begin with is the defender's outside foot in front of the WR's inside foot. Without getting into great detail, the premise is to stay in front of the receiver and stay square as long as possible.

Remember the eye progression that I mentioned earlier? Let's bring that into focus before we move any further. I ask the defender to see the belt buckle or a tiny spot in that area. This allows the defender the opportunity to narrow his focus enough to 'feel' the receiver's initial movement and release.

Once the defender can no longer stay in front of the receiver, and his eyes can no longer see the belt buckle, I ask him to transfer his eyes to the hip or back pocket as he closes the separation that often occurs.

Once the defender closes to the receiver (hip to hip), I ask him to look for the ball; if he sees no ball, I ask him to get his eyes immediately back to the man. The receivers are well schooled at this level. They will adjust and the defender must adjust to maintain coverage. Therein lies the difficulty.

You see the eye progression is just that - A PROGRESSION - a process that must be repeated instinctively, quickly, and accurately. Our inability to execute our eye progression really hurt us in the North Carolina game when we did not transfer our eyes back to the man quickly enough after looking for the ball at times.

Let's return to our focus at the line of scrimmage. We ask the defender to narrow his focus and find a tiny spot near the receivers mid-section and mirror his movement to stay in front of the receiver as long as possible. Once the defender can no longer stay in front of the receiver, we ask the defender to transfer his eyes to the hip/back pocket and close to the hip of the receiver.

We define 'pinning the hip of the receiver' as the defender putting his hip in a position next to the receiver's hip. From the line of scrimmage (LOS) until the point where the defender closes to the hip of the receiver varies in distance. There are two rules that we use based on how quickly we pin the hip of the receiver. If this happens within a ten-yard distance of the LOS, we ask the defender to sink his hips, get his helmet and shoulder pads in the chest of the receiver to control and angle run (force) him to the sideline - remember we are discussing the fade release. Once the defender has control of the receiver, we ask him to snap his eyes back and become the receiver. 'Go and get the football' is what we preach. WE WANT INTERCEPTIONS! We ask him to look away from the receiver for the ball. We call this being 'in phase.'

Unfortunately, the defender will occasionally get beat at the LOS to the extent where he can't pin the hip until he's more than 10 yards from the LOS. We call this 'out of phase.' In this instance, we ask the defender to run through the chest of the receiver and to turn to the receiver as he looks for the ball. How often have you seen the defender look the wrong way and have the pass completed when he should seemingly make the play? If the defender does everything correctly at the end of the route whether he's in phase or out of phase, he should be the player with the best opportunity to catch the ball.

There are a couple of reasons why the defenders don't look for the football. The easiest and most obvious to explain is the defender just doesn't get to the man fast enough. He closes to get there so late that he can't turn to find the ball, so he plays the receiver's hands. More often, the defender doesn't have the confidence to look when he should. You will see this with young players the most. It takes time for them to feel comfortable enough in the fact that they have the man covered and controlled enough to look for the ball. Once they cross this hurdle, they're usually consistent in playing the ball. R.J. Oliver is pretty consistent this year. Last year he didn't play the ball consistently.

The Devils lead the league in interceptions as a defensive unit and we have a player leading the league in passes defended (including 4 interceptions). We are getting better and better at playing the football. In reality, we know we should have four or five more interceptions because we've dropped some balls and/or not looked at times that we should have. On defense, we have a system where we calculate a ratio or number of big plays that we make defensively opposed to the number of big plays that the opposing offense makes (that's another discussion). Interceptions figure in heavily as we determine the ratio after each game. We coach our players to attack the ball and get it back for our own very explosive offense.

Hopefully, this column makes sense in terms of the defensive back and his opportunity to play the ball. Thanks for being so great, SUN DEVIL FANS!

Thanks for reading. Please get out and see our team's last home game this Saturday against Cal. This is the last opportunity for this senior class to display their talent at Sun Devil Stadium. Let's send them out right! GO DEVILS!



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