How do you defeat press coverage when coaching youth football?
Most non-select teams in youth football do not play press coverage with their defensive backs, as it requires very physical and athletic corners. Press coverage almost always has the defensive backs right in the face of your receivers. With the defensive backs playing very physical, they will try to get their hands on your receivers and try to jam them up at the line of scrimmage.
You may run into a team or two a season that may run press coverage part of the time or if you go play in a tournament, you may see a stacked team run press coverage all of the time. In either case if you are a good coach, you want to be prepared.
Press coverage is quite often man coverage in youth football. Remember this isn't the NFL--a defensive back can put his hands on the receiver as long as the ball is not in the air and until the receiver has made it evident he is no longer a potential blocker (after he is behind the defender).
If you throw a lot of timing routes like slants, arrows, short hitches and screens, press coverage often completely disrupts the timing and effectiveness of these plays. On longer routes the defensive strategy is to take receivers off their route paths and slow them down, giving the blitzing linebackers more time to sack the quarterback before the receiver can get open or to his spot.
To beat press coverage, you have to create space between your receiver and the defender. Space gives your receivers an opportunity to make a move and put additional space between themselves and the defender before the press contact can be made.
You do this by alignment, making sure your primary threat receivers are off the line of scrimmage by putting him in a flanker, slot or wing position.
The most effective way to put space between your receivers and press coverage is to then put your biggest threat receiver in motion. The motion creates additional space and if you motion under another receiver or even across the formation, the defenders often have to switch man assignments, creating havoc and creating space for your other receivers as the defense realigns.
Another way to counteract man press coverage is by technique. First your receivers must have their hands where they can do them some good, at chest level, not at their sides. If a receiver wants to get outside, he can use a swim move to get by the defender. If he wants to go inside he can use a rip move, if he wants to run over or go to either side of the defender he can also use a club move. The receiver just uses his outside arm forearm to club the defenders hands.
If you have a dominant athletic pass catcher and the defender is less physical than your man, these are effective techniques to beat press coverage. Even if the defender is physical, he may tire of having his forearms clubbed every time he tries to put his hands on your receiver. I've seen defenders completely stop putting their hands on receivers after getting clubbed a few times in a row.
Calling the Right Plays
Against press coverage teams you always want to take vertical shots downfield early as well as run "shallow" routes.
Shallow routes are routes where the receiver runs parallel to the line of scrimmage at the heels of the defensive linemen and across the formation to the other side. We often match this with slants from both receivers from the opposite side, to create a wide open short zone we can hit the shallow receiver on, on the run. That type of route is usually wide open versus teams that use press coverage, as those teams often like to blitz linebackers as well.
Just run to that open space and make them pay for the blitz with a pass that hits very quickly and usually has some nice yards after catch possibilities. The shallow is extremely effective using motion towards the quarterback.
Many college teams we see today even run receivers behind the line of scrimmage from one side of the formation to the other, after the snap. The receiver then gets the ball in the flat for a nice safe gain. This is often done with tight ends but could easily be done with tight wings or slots.
This is something you want to work on as the season progresses because eventually you are going to run into a team that has the kids to employ press coverage. Our jobs as coaches is to make sure we put our kids are into a position to succeed.
Dave Cisar has more than 15 years of hands-on experience as a youth football coach. His book "Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan" was endorsed by Tom Osborne and Dave Rimington. His DVDs and book have been used by teams in all 50 states and five foreign countries to run integrity-based programs that enhance every player's football experience and win championships. Dave has spoken at over 60 coaching clinics and is always a top-ranked speaker. His web site, WinningYouthFootball.com, is one of the top destinations on the internet for youth coaches.