Gridiron Grit Vol. III: In Football, Defense Wins Championships Part 1

October 27, 2011
by Justin

There is no cliché that has been used more in football than, “defense wins championships.” Honestly, it didn’t matter what sport I was playing; great defense was always the main focus. Football has had some legendary people line up opposite of the offense. Ray Lewis is my favorite linebacker, and someone who I think personifies what defensive football’s all about. As far as defensive linemen go, Reggie White holds the crown in my book. I’m torn at defensive back position; it’s hard for me to put value on the grace of Deion Sanders or the brute viciousness of Ronnie Lott. Both of these defensive backs had differing play-styles, but they effectively shut down a large portion of many offensive coordinators’ playbooks. The one thing that I know is that these men played the game like it was supposed to be played.

Welcome back to Gridiron Grit, your one-stop shop for football training, tips and techniques, provided to you by In volume one ( we explored weight training, while in two (’t-compromise-your-size/) we focused on gaining weight without compromising your lean muscle mass. The next three installments will be dedicated to the defensive side of the ball. All three phases will be highlighted and broken down from top to bottom. This week is all about the defensive backs; they are probably the best athletes on the field without question. I ran across some film of college football’s current number one football team, LSU, running their defensive back practice. Here are some of the great tips and techniques that will turn you into a lockdown defensive back.


Warming up like a pro will help you avoid injuries in real game situations. Here is how the Tigers warm-up for practice.

Back Pedal: A basic backpedal is a great way to start out the defensive drills. Based on the fact that you’ll be backpedaling most of the time you are on the field, perfecting your backpedal is imperative. Your back should be straight, as you bend forward, while moving backwards on the balls of your feet. Your arms should be pumping not just for balance but also to keep you in a ready position to defend the ball.

Stutter:  While backpedaling, have your partner stutter step as if they were running a go route.

Weave: Your Partner should act as if they’re running a hitch-and-go route. Even though you will be moving to the side, be sure not to cross your legs. This should all be done in one fluid motion.

Slalom: The Slalom simulates the movement most receivers will make if the quarterback is unable to complete the pass on the initial route. This is the most difficult aspect of playing the position. This drill will prepare you to stop any improvisation between the quarterback and receiver when the play breaks down.


Transition Drills

These next three drills are the bread and butter of great defensive coverage.

Two Step Progression: From the backpedal, increase your speed then turn into a full sprint. This drill simulates the progression and defensive back has to take when covering a go route. Hold the backpedal as long as you can and create variation by having your partner break off the route. The main goal is to keep you honest as a defender.

Cushion Drill: This drill is perfect for defensive backs that run a zone defensive scheme. Another reason this drill is important is that most defensive coordinators run a variety of man/zone coverages. The cushion gives the appearance of man coverage in the midst of a zone.

Speed Turn: From the backpedal, defend your partner while they run a post corner. This drill is designed to simulate the possibility of you getting beat and will work on your make-up speed. Be sure to have active hip while you are turning them into each direction.

The defensive back position is so reactive that there is often high risk and reward for every assumed movement of the offense. Please review the full film to capture the full understanding of what a college-level football practice is all about. Until next time, this is Gridiron Grit, and this is Yorick Hempstead signing off.



Yorick Hempstead is an ex-college athlete who is a sports blogger for He is always talking sports on twitter @HempsteadHuddle.


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