Of all the changes new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash brought to Ohio State, the one that most excites players and fans alike is his promised use of press coverage. In Spring practice the Buckeye cornerbacks repped play after play up tight on wide receivers, demonstrating Ohio State's new commitment to pressing.
Here's just one example:
Press coverage will undoubtedly be a major feature come fall. It is therefore worth exploring how and why Ash deploys press coverage.
It's All in the Technique
The first thing to recognize is that press coverage is not actually a coverage—it's a technique. Press is not only utilized with man coverage, either. It can also be deployed within zone or matchup coverages like cover 4.
Perhaps no team has combined the cover 4 with press coverage better then Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi's Michigan State defense. Like Ash, Narduzzi deploys press coverage for two reasons: limiting the offense's options and establishing an attitude.
Dictating to the Offense
As Narduzzi sees it, his defense can limit an offense's options with press corners. With a softer alignment a receiver can release straight downfield and has every route at his disposal.
But press forces a receiver to take an inside or outside release. This affects a route in several ways:
- Forces a receiver's route to take more time;
- Throws off a route's timing;
- Gives clues to what route is coming by the release;
- And forces quick throws to secondary receivers.
It also limits the type of routes used. Narduzzi tracked the pattern Big Ten opponents ran against his press corners from 2007-2011. Fades were always the most utilized route. In fact, they were often run twice as often as the the next most frequent pattern; a curl.
Press coverage does provide an offense the opportunity to throw vertically. But it is easier said then done. Such throws are low-percentage. According to Narduzzi, Big Ten offenses never completed more than two such throws in a season against his defense.
More generally, by having an identity, cover 4 press coaches such as Narduzzi and Ash know what type of routes opposing offenses will attempt against their defense. They can use practice time to consistently work with their secondary against such routes.
And by using press corners ,Narduzzi and Ash can set the rest of the defense. Most specifically, the safeties. The press technique keeps wide receivers off the cover 4 safeties. The safeties can set their feet at 10 yards and play downhill against the run. Upon run action, can place nine defenders in the box.
Setting the Table
The second reason coaches like Ash utilize press corners is far less technical – attitude. Narduzzi believes that press coverage:
- installs an aggressive attitude across the entire defense;
- gets into the mind of wide receivers;
- and players love it.
The last sentiment was certainly echoed throughout the spring by Buckeye defenders. It will likely take time until the Buckeye defense executes press coverage to the level of Narduzzi's troops. But having an identity will pay immediate dividends for Ash and his Ohio State defense.