Why Don’t Ohio State Cornerbacks Look Back for the Ball?

Denzel Ward Indiana Ohio State

It’s a question as old as time — why don’t the Buckeye cornerbacks look back for the football!?

When you’re watching Ohio State and you see a pass headed for an opposing receiver and the OSU cornerback never turns his head to look for the ball, you get understandably upset.

They’re right there with great coverage, yet a completion happens right in front of them because they never bothered to look back for the ball.

The only thing more frustrating in sports is a quarterback who can’t throw the ball downfield.

But there is method that breeds your madness.

Ignoring the fact that just because you know the ball is coming doesn’t mean the cornerback knows it, there is also coaching and technique that goes into when a corner should be looking back.

How does Ohio State coach the situation? When are they supposed to be looking back for the ball?

“If you are in position where – we call it an ‘advantaged position’, so you’re even with the receiver or you’re over the top of the receiver, then you ‘lean and locate.’ That’s the verbiage,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano explained.

It is the instances when a corner is not in an advantaged position, however, where they are not supposed to be looking back.

“If you’re behind him, you don’t, because all you’re going to get to see is somebody celebrating over your shoulder because the guy is going to catch the ball,” he said. “Now, part of it is ‘why are you behind?’ ‘Why are you trailing?’ Some coverages are designed that way and others aren’t. So the ones that aren’t, you have to be on top, and that helps a little bit.

“So there’s not a single issue, but I’ve watched every play that our corners have played this year very closely – in addition to what we’ve already watched, and I sat down with Coach Coombs because if there’s an issue, we’re going to fix it. But I don’t think we’re far off.”

19 Responses

  1. Maybe they could wear their helmets backwards.

  2. I was just talking to a guy who played corner at the JUCO level. His comment was that the Buckeyes have great corners. They’re just young and developing press man skills. Not getting beat deep he says means that the offense doesn’t believe they can outrun the Buckeye corners, or the quarterback doesn’t have enough time to for deep routes to uncover. Positives that he took from the coverage from the Buckeyes is that they aren’t giving up much in the way of YAC. By seasons end these guys should be among the Nations best if they can clean up gaining early technique advantage. He also said against OU the Buckeye secondary was baited into tipping tendency and the OU playcaller kept them off balance with their adjustments. OU should celebrate that game because it wouldn’t happen again if they met again at the end of the season.

    1. Which is why Schiano isn’t all that worried.

  3. Press man coverage is difficult because most teams don’t have the skilled athletes to operate it at the College level. Not every corner or safety develops the skill techniques to run it smoothly. Sometimes the offense just has skilled receivers who can match the talent of the corners. Sometimes the offense just has bigger men of equal talent matched up in coverages. It’s not always easy to stay “in phase” with good and fast receivers. In phase means the corner or safety is locked onto the inside hip of the receiver. At that point he’s reasonable safe to turn and look for the ball. If he’s NOT in phase he is taught to focus his eyes at the belt or bottom of the receivers numbers and run to make up that ground to get back into phase. We’re talking about a 3 – 5 second window. Offensive coordinators will also make quarterback adjustments to throw back shoulder throws or fades to take advantage of man technique. If they don’t get a catch, maybe they get an interference call for the receiver when the receiver turns to come back to the ball.

    If you’ve got 2 corners (Lattimore and Conley) who are legit lockdown corners with great technique, you’ve got a really good defense. You literally get to have 8 or 9 defenders swarming the running game. But expecting first year starters to all be like Lattimore and developed starters like Conley every year isn’t realistic.

    I learned my lesson of not believing that Coach Coombs could get his unit playing at a high level. Before this season is out he’ll have at least 3 guys who are very good man corners.

  4. No look back = 0% interception which means only risk of pass is reduced to incomplete, and since you are not looking back, if I have a high baller for receiver, the risk of incomplete is even more diminished.
    Incomplete, interference, completion…2 out of 3 is high reward, low risk which I would take any day. Interception and return and momentum shift is the biggest deterrent.

  5. If you don’t look back, then the refs are more likely to throw a P.I. flag. You aren’t making a play on the ball.

    1. even if looking back is not required, contact that is incidental to playing on the ball is more likely to be overlooked.

    2. You make the play on the ball once it arrives.

      1. If you arent looking at the ball how do get any interceptions. I thought all coaches say turnovers are the most important part of the game.

        1. In theory, you’ll get more interceptions playing off man like they did in 2012 and 2013. But we saw how that pass defense went.

  6. “To be fair, our NFL Production at DB is great!” The reality is that over the past few decades, no other school has placed so many starting DB’s in the NFL as OSU, so we’re known and DBU. I’m afraid that OSU is paying the price for 4 first round and 1 second round DB in the NFL draft the past few years. However, with proper coaching they could be decent when we need them the most in a month!

  7. …either way it’s a penalty if you don’t turn your head…

  8. In fact, it isn’t necessary for a defensive back to look back. Good coaching will teach a receiver to look at the receivers eyes or hands and when that receiver eyes look for the ball or start to put up his hands, then all the defender needs to do is go up with the receiver and try to block the ball or knock it out of his hands, BUT KEEP FROM GRABBING OR PUSHING THE PASS RECEIVER. So you see, good coaching will first teach a defender to do his best to not let a pass receiver get past him. But if he does, it becomes a penalty when the defender in some way disturbs the receiver before the ball arrives. If officials would call it right, there would probably be fewer penalties. AGAIN, A DEFENDER DOES NOT HAVE TO TURN AROUND, BUT OBVIOUSLY CAN DO SO BUT AGAIN MUST NOT INTERFERE WITH THE RECEIVER!!

    1. If you have all that time to analyze the receiver and correctly defend, you must have more than enough time to defend by utilizing your own vision to see where the ball is coming. I am all for using the body language in order to get an idea of what is happening, but at some point, you have to know precisely what is going on. I admit, that does leave open the possibility of the loss between looking at the receiver and looking at the ball coming to the receiver. But that is a lot smaller time to deal with than figuring out what the receiver is doing by watching the receiver and then responding to the responses of the receiver.

  9. In high school, if you have inferior athletes teaching the DBs to not look back and “play through the man” is a prudent technique because its their only shot. However, if you have 4 and 5 * DBs there really is no need to handicap them in such a manner as they should have the quickness, ball skills, and overall athleticism to 1) get in position, 2) maintain leverage, and 3) turn their head. Moreover, the “play through the man” technique is far more effective when you are playing against average or inferior WRs…because ultimately with the “play through the man” technique what you are saying is 1) let him get his hands on the ball and 2) knock it out immediately. Well, when you are playing against good to elite WRs and they get their mitts on the ball IT TYPICALLY AINT COMING OUT. Hence the reason you will rarely see “play through the man” in the NFL unless its a desperation situation where the man is beat. Lastly, “play through the man” invites pass interference calls giving the offense about a 66% success rate on fades and 9 routes (as it will likely either be a catch or a pass interference).

    That said, with the athletes we have, it doesn’t seem to make sense to teach a technique that is 1) for inferior athletes and 2) is best served when you are totally beat and out of position. Why teach a desperation technique for regular use?

    To be fair, our NFL production at DB is great! However, that is more attributable to their size, speed, and athleticism than the great technique they displayed in college.

    1. I believe you made some very good observations. Just one difference really between DB play in the pro’s and in College. In College there’s no such thing as face guarding. As long as while you do play through the receiver before the ball gets there it’s not interference. In the pro’s if you don’t turn your head it’s face guarding and the refs are going to throw a flag.

      1. You confuse me, because a Google says that faceguarding IS legal, both in college and the NFL, provided there is no contact. So, I’m not understanding this is/isn’t legal stuff. Absolutely, I am no football guru, but I have watched, listened and read a lot about cornerback play over the years, and have a high interest in this area. So, please give me it right. Do you now agree that faceguarding IS legal in the pros? Or do you still say it is not.

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