Defensive Back Techniques – Backpedal, Slide Step, Jam

1 Aug

Shakin’ the Southland

There are a few basic techniques that a DB will use on any given play to get into pass coverage.

At the snap of the ball, a DB will either jam a receiver and or he will drop immediately into coverage.  There are typically two techniques to dropping into coverage: the backpedal and the slide step.  These concepts apply to all pass defenders even though we will mainly focus on the defensive backs (DBs).


Backpedaling is usually the first move that a defensive back (especially a Corner) will make when the ball is snapped.  A straight backpedal is extremely common for man coverage techniques.

In a backpedal, the DB’s body is squared up with the receiver.   He will try to maintain as low a center of gravity as possible and still keep his weight over the balls of his feet.   This allows the defender to move quickly backwards yet still be in a position to change direction either forward or laterally.

Slide Step Technique

An alternative technique to the backpedal is the slide step.  The slide step is routinely used when a defense is playing zone.

The slide step is similar to a defensive basketball move.  The DB maintains a low center of gravity and moves laterally, side to side, by sliding down the field until the receiver puts him in a position to turn and run or to make a break. The main thing here is to never let the feet cross over one another.

The slide step technique allows the defender to look into the backfield and, at the same, watch the WR he’s defending peripherally (or vice-versa, depending on how good the DB really is).

This technique also allows the DB to better see receivers running in or out of a particular zone.

The step-slide technique requires the DB to have good body control, as he may need to open his hips nearly 180 degrees, if necessary, to run with a receiver. This is why, when looking at DB recruits, you will often hear coaches talk about a prospect’s hip flexibility.

Using a Cushion

When using these techniques, DB’s will typically give the receiver a cushion which translates into a space between the DB and the receiver.  A cushion is typically 5-10 yards wide, depending on the coverage being played as well as the skill levels of the players involved.

At the snap of the ball, the DB will typically move backward using either the backpedal or slide-step technique, allowing the receiver to shrink the cushion between them. The DB will then play his assigned coverage.

Who uses the above techniques?

All DBs in pass coverage will use the backpedal in some fashion.  They often use this technique in both man and zone coverages.

Cornerbacks typically use the slide step when they are located in the perimeter (outside) of an offensive formation. Linebackers, too, will sometimes use the backpedal but most often mix the two by opening their hips and sliding to drop to their proper position in a zone defense.


A jam is essentially a bump or chuck at the line of scrimmage (LOS). Its purpose is to throw the receiver off his route.   What coaches call “rerouting”.

This “bump” can easily disrupt a timing route or, as mentioned, force a receiver out of his original route.

Depending on the coverage, the DB can jam or bump in several ways.  Jamming a receiver, however, is a risk reward tactic.  If the jam is successful, the receiver will be severely handicapped in running the correct route.  If the jam, however, is not executed correctly, the receiver will get a good release and the DB will be out of position.

When initiating the jam, it is important for the DB to stay in a good football position:

— Weight over balls of the feet.
— Feet separated roughly shoulder width.
— Shoulders parallel to the LOS.
— Outside foot forward.
— More weight on the forward foot.

A good football position puts the DB’s upper body over his toes while maintaining a low center of gravity and keeping his head up at all times. He must line up as close to the LOS as possible without being in the neutral zone — what coaches sometimes call “press coverage”.  This is critical as it gives the DB the best chance to get a good jam on the receiver.

Bump or "Press" Coverage

When the receiver makes his initial move off the LOS, the DB wants to jam the receiver while maintaining control of his own body.  This jam will involve a swift motion with one or both open hands rapidly stabbing into the receiver’s torso.

The DB should not reach for the receiver, as reaching will get the DB out of balance and cause him to miss the jam, leaving the receiver open.

As stated before, the overall coverage call will dictate individual jam circumstances and how aggressive the defender can be trying to throw the offensive player off his game.

The first instance we’ll discuss of a jam being used is in helping a zone defense. Here, the defender will jam the receiver then drop into zone coverage.

In this scenario, the defender can be a little more aggressive with the initial jam because he will eventually let the receiver go so that the defender can cover his zone. As soon as the receiver gets through the jam, the DB will immediately drop into his designated zone.

Using a jam in man coverage is commonly referred to as bump and run coverage. This coverage is typically used with a larger and more physical defender.

At the snap of the ball, the defender will jam (or bump) the receiver. This throws off the initial timing of the receiver and moves him off of his route.

After the bump, the DB will not be allowed to touch the offensive player, so the DB will immediately turn and run with the receiver.  This makes the defender’s fundamentals coupled with a good bump critical for this strategy to work.

A final item to keep in mind is that the DB must align and fight for inside position when playing man defense. It is critical that the DB line up on the receiver’s inside shoulder and work him towards the boundary.  This is called “inside technique”.

One-handed jam, inside alignment, forcing WR to the boundary

By forcing the receiver to the outside, the DB effectively puts himself between the QB and his target, thus making a completion more difficult. This technique will also take away the quick slant and make running a dig or stop route a little more challenging.  It also gives the deep Safety time to read and adjust to the pattern.

In Cover 1 — or “Man Free” coverage — you will sometimes see the DB take an outside shoulder (technique) because his job is to funnel the WR inside towards his Safety help, which leaves the Corner with primary responsibility for the outside and deep routes.

Man Free coverage with DBs bumping to the boundary at the top and the DB at bottom playing outside technique because he has inside help.

So who utilizes a jam?

A jam is utilized by a defender covering a receiver.  The receiver is usually split outside of the TE/Tackle either as the split end, flanker, or slot receiver.

Another key item to remember is that the easiest of the three to jam is the split end, as the SE is lined up on the LOS. Being on the LOS reduces the space between the defender and the receiver and increases the likelihood that the defender gets a good jam on the receiver.

What are ideal situations to utilize a jam?

In our opinion, goal line situations are great opportunities to jam the receiver. In man coverage inside your own 10, there is no excuse for a team not to jam the crap out of the receiver.

The defender must do everything that he can to take away the quick slant in this situation because — on the goal line — giving up a quick slant essentially gives up 7 points.

The defender MUST — we say again — MUST cheat inside, almost to the point of having his back to the QB, if necessary, and jam the piss out of the receiver, forcing him outside. With the field compressed at the goal-line, and by forcing the receiver outside, only a perfect toss to the pylon should beat the DB.

Other situations in which you may want to use a jam is when faced with a weak or slow receiver. These two items are fairly simple.  A weak receiver will not be able to fight through the jam to get to where he needs to go, while a slow receiver who lacks quickness (notice the word quickness, not speed) will not be able to make an initial move to get around the jam.

The final situation is with a speed guy who can beat you deep.  Often DC’s will try to jam this guy and provide umbrella coverage over the top, obviously hoping the jam will slow the receiver down but still having a safety valve if the DB cannot jump the receiver at the LOS.

Physical play also has its place in zone coverage as well.  When a defense plays Cover 2, the defense can play hard Corners on the perimeter.  A hard Corner is a DB who has flats responsibility, so has to play fairly close to the LOS.

Cover 2 from a 4-3 defense

Cover 2 defense with receivers getting picked as they enter the underneath zones.

In this case, it is common to see some physical play out of the CB as he tries to create turmoil for the receiver and funnel him back into the field where he has more help from other zone defenders.

In C2 Zone, the CB will generally play an outside technique, as opposed to C2 Man, where he will play inside technique usually. However, if playing “off” instead of “bump”, a coach may elect to not showcase the coverage and play the same leverage for both coverages.

Another zone scenario involves creeping the SS into the box against a twins formation. A “twins” formation has two receivers on the same side of a formation. With essentially eight men in the box, it is easy for the defense to play a Cover 3 scheme to stop the run.

Cover 3 from a 4-3 defense.

Cover 3 with 3 on top and 3 underneath.


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