Monday, May 31, 2010

Defensive Fundamentals: Training the Eyes

In my post about "Pattern Reading vs Spot Dropping" I briefly talked about the importance of training a defenders eyes.

When making any type of "reads" in football, it all boils down to the eyes. There needs to be methodology to where a players eyes are supposed to be looking and how they respond to what they see. The more clear we can be with the progression of a players eyes, their ability to diagnose a situation, and trigger the appropriate response; the better we can all be at coaching defense.
Determining a progression for the eyes to follow coupled with a set of movements (responses) is the key to effective defensive football. All positions on defense can involve this principal. In this post, I will look at different positions and describe possible eye movements and progressions.

Why the Eyes?

The #1 mistake on defense is a player having his eyes in the wrong place. No matter how well a player is taught to shed blocks, break and intercept passes, or form tackle, it can all be for nothing if the players eyes are in the wrong place. The various techniques we teach to our players are intended to be used during a particular situation. Few techniques (like back pedal steps) are used on every play. The majority of these techniques are situational. What good is squeezing a down block on a pass play? Or dropping to the flat on a run play? Neither of these techniques would be good because they are inappropriate for the situation.

What tells a player the appropriate technique for a particular situation? Some type of visual cue. Players execute their techniques more effectively when they begin to make the connection of a visual cue with the desired technique to execute at a faster rate. The single most important point to training the eyes, is it will allow a player to execute their various techniques in the appropriate situations at a fast rate. This type of mental/physical conditioning process is what allows players to play fast, and the key to consistent execution come game time.

In this post, I will look at 3 different positions and describe possible eye movements and progressions.

1. Middle Field Coverage-Free Safety

Run: Alley Player Inside Out
Pass: Middle 1/3

I have discussed part of this technique already, but I will begin here with initial pre-snap eye keys. Player should align in the middle of the field and then get his eyes on the center or most visible offensive linemen. At the snap the FS should get into a backpedal and read the center for run/pass.

Eyes on Run Plays : If the linemen attacks aggressively forward, the safety should immediately get his eyes in the backfield to diagnose the direction of the run flow. Upon identifying the flow, he should Plant, point, and drive towards the ball carrier on an inside out path. On his pursuit he should keep his eyes on the ball carriers inside hip and maintain vision on a path that has the ball carrier inside and in front of him.

Eyes on Pass Plays: When the linemen key works backward (indicating a pass) The FS should maintain his backpedal and immediately get his eyes on the QB's non-throwing arm. He is looking for the long-arm of the QB. Upon Reading the long-arm the FS must intercept the pass with his eyes. This means he needs to locate the place on the field he needs to break to in order to make a play at the pass. Upon locating this position he should take a straight line to this spot. While in pursuit he should swivel his eye's from his aiming point back to the ball.

---- This is a simple progression of eyes that will keep the Safety in proper position. Must busts that the free safety makes will be one of two things. A. The player did not have his eyes on the proper place. B. A misread will prevent the player from executing the proper technique.

2. Press-Man-- Corner

After aligning properly inside, the corner will put his eyes on the inside hip of the WR. The corner is a dedicate pass player and will only play the run if #1 he FEELS the WR trying to block him (a good WR will run him off, so I don't plan for this too often) or he hears his FS or coach yell "Run, Run." Baring those non visual exceptions the corner will have eyes on the inside hip initially. He has 4 different techniques to execute in man coverage.

- Release

The release phase begins with initial steps by the WR. During this phase the corner will use slide steps to move vertically and replace steps to move laterally. These steps are used to keep in the proper inside relationship with the WR. The corner is keying the hip because it is a true read for him. The WR's feet, chest, and head are all more misleading than the inside hip. What he is looking for from the hip, is for it to commit. When the hip commits the corner is now in the jam phase. When the hip commits it turns and breaks a 45 Degree barrier. Upon reading a commitment of the hip, the corner gets his eyes on the near number (pec) of the WR and jams it with his off hand while opening his hips. The opening of the hips and off-hand jam are designed to keep the corner on top of the WR.

For example, we will assume the WR releases outside. Once the initial jam is done, the corner must assess his position on the WR. Can he see the near number of the WR or not? If he can, he is in-phase, and his eyes will focus on the WR's eyes with his peripheral vision on the V of the WR's neck. If the WR's eyes turn to look for the ball, the corner turns to play the ball as well. If his eyes and V of the neck turn back, then the ball is under-thrown. The corner needs to basketball block the WR from coming to the ball while making a play on it himself.

If the corner cannot see the near number after the jam phase, then he is out of phase. His eyes will not leave the WR until the whistle. He will key the WR hands. If the hand move to catch the ball, then the corner will wait for a "1000-1" count then rake the WR's hands.

----------- Mistakes like opening the hips the wrong way, wrong hand on the jam, getting beat off the line, and allowing an easy catch are all problems that start with the eyes. Corners get beat inside on slants when their eyes migrate up to the WR's chest. Many catches are made when a corner is out-of phase with a WR and then peeks back to find the ball. These techniques are not very effective if the eyes are undisciplined.

3. Defensive end in a loose 5 technique

C-Gap Player
Technique: Squeeze on down-blocks, does not get reached, Spills the ball on pulling plays, Outside contain on pass.

After he aligns outside the offensive tackle the end will key the feet of the offensive linemen. He is trying to identify which foot the linemen will step with.

If the linemen steps with his inside foot, he is trying to down or scoop block another defender. Upon reading this the d-end should step laterally with his inside foot and squeeze the down-block. While squeezing down the line his eyes should peak down the line for any pulling lineman. If a pull is coming he must attack the inside shoulder of the linemen with his outside arm. If he does not see a puller, he gets his eyes on the backfield, he will take the running back on any read option.

If the linemen steps with his outside foot the end will step with his outside foot. He continue to read the feet for the second step. Is the lineman's feet working backward, toward, or around you. These cues will alert the end to what type of block he is facing. If the feet are working backward it is a pass block, this tells the end to get up-field and rush the passer. If the feet work toward him, he is getting a drive block, he must stay low and hold his ground. Now his eyes flash to the backfield to locate the ball carrier. He will remain in his C-Gap until the ball commits away from it. Finally, if the feet are working to get around him, he is facing a reach block. He must work his hips around the blocker and hold his gap integrity.

--------------Again eyes here are crucial. Defensive ends who run up-field on down-blocks are a major problem for 4 man fronts. This problem opens up huge running lanes for counters and options. This problem is a lack of focus with the eyes. When I see this on film, the d-end usually has his eyes on the backfield and can't see the down-block. Another error is a slow-pass rush. This is a problem that coaches who over-emphasize the need to attack the linemen. Some ends will be so focused on attacking the linemen that they take to long to recognize that it is a pass play. By the time he knows it the QB has had time to settle in the pocket and begin his throwing motion.


These are just 3 quick examples. Every position and technique in defensive football begins with reads. The key to good reads are the eyes. If you focus on the eyes of your players you will see a dramatic improvement. The eyes are the link that we have from reads to techniques. The better we are at coaching this process and emphasizing it to our players, the better our team's overall performances will be.


  1. Coach, read you blog regularly but Gotta tell you coach, Don't like having the DL having their eyes down at the feet..Two reasons..#1 eyes down...#2 we place a premium of striking our can't stike what you can't hit..we watch the V of the neck and strike the breast plate

  2. Can't strike what you can't see...sorry

  3. I have that argument and all the time. I believe that technique is fine and will be good for a defense. I like watching the feet for the initial read only. Also I like playing my guys looser and with more space. If I am facing a team that is trying to crush me up front I will adjust and tighten every thing down. I like what you are saying though

  4. Thanks for the post.

    When playing FS what is the benefit to taking cues from the o-lineman opposed to just taking cues from watching the QB everyplay and then proper eye progression from there?

    Thank you coach.

  5. One thing for sure. They have to be pending or any sign of the formation that the another team is using to prevent it for working. some of online bookmakers are quite into those formation. They know a lot of it.