Defensive Back Tips: Man-to-Man Pass Coverage

Learn how to cover a receiver one-on-one and read his next move on short and long routes.

August 25, 2017

When playing man-to-man coverage, the defensive back’s mentality should be to lock down the wide receiver. Breaking down man-to-man coverage based on the receiver running a short and long route and running drills for both scenarios can hone your skills and help you react to your opponent’s next move.


The receiver can run a variety of short routes including a slant route or a quick out. To react, start in your proper athletic stance, ready for the snap. Get your initial read and identify the receiver’s route during the first three steps of your backpedal. Keep your eyes focused on the receiver’s hips, making sure to keep the receiver in front of you.

Once the receiver makes a cut, plant your foot and run at the receiver’s hips, closing down any gap so you are next to the receiver, running with them.  As the pass is thrown, you’ll want to swipe your arm over the receiver’s shoulder closest to the ball to try and defend the pass.  Place your opposite arm on the other side of the receiver. Don’t grab them, but be ready to wrap your arm around the receiver in case they do catch the pass.


If the receiver runs a long route, such as a go or corner route, look to read the route off the initial three step backpedal. If you take your third backpedal step and the receiver continues to push hard up field, turn and run with them, getting your elbow on the hip of the receiver to help keep in tight. At the same time, throw your arm closest to the football up into the air to make a play on the ball. If the receiver happens to catch the football, your other arm is free to help make the tackle.


This drill is great to help defensive backs create first step quickness in man-to-man coverage. It’s also excellent for practicing recovery speed and technique for defending the pass once it’s been thrown to a receiver.

Start with two defensive backs standing next to each other on a line, facing forward toward a coach. On a signal from the coach, both players will backpedal approximately five yards. Your coach will point right or left to signal which way the pass will be thrown. If your coach points to the left, the player on the left immediately becomes the receiver, while the player on the right becomes the defensive back. Reverse when pointing to the right.

Both players will need to react to the signal from the coach and begin running parallel across the field in that direction. Your coach will pass the ball to the receiver as the defensive back works to stay close to them, getting the arm closest to the ball up and across the receiver’s shoulder to make a play. Run this drill multiple times in both directions, so each player gets a chance to play defensive back. The direction should be random to keep each player on their toes.


Again, start with the players next to each other, backpedaling approximately five yards. At that point, the coach will again point to the right or left. The players will turn into a receiver and defensive back, based on the direction in which the coach points. They will run at a 45-degree angle as the defensive back works to defend the pass. The defensive back should again get their arm closest to the ball up to help block the pass, while their other arm is free in case they need to make a tackle.

Perfect practice makes perfect, so work hard on man-to-man coverage using these drills and general repetition. Making the play in the game will come easier when you have made it hundreds of times during practice.