Wide Receiver Handbook: Beating Press Coverage

Photo: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I think about this saying a lot: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” I’m going to be completely honest, I have no idea what skinning a cat means or involves. But we all know what the ultimate point of that saying is, that there is always more than one path to achieving a specific goal.

One example is the grand scope of winning football games. You’ll see different personnel, play styles and schemes from Alabama, Wisconsin and Oklahoma, but they’re all successful programs. With a more micro outlook in football, there are various ways for a wide receiver to release against press coverage.

Press coverage involves the defensive back playing tight and close to the line of scrimmage, attempting to jam up or slow down the wide receiver during their route stem. When facing press coverage, the wide receiver’s ultimate goal is to get into their route stem and breaks uncontested. Many times, this means “clearing their pads,” or creating a path that isn’t opposed by the defensive back.

Realistically, there are an innumerable amount of releases that a wide receiver can create. However, in order to be a successful route runner, receivers need to operate at a certain pace that limits the number of moves that they can perform at the line of scrimmage. Below, I’ll detail the entire release “set” that I coach into my wide receivers. Depending on the group, this list can change or be added to year by year. While there may be other releases, this is a great starting point for identifying the different types of releases that you’ll see during college and pro football. On top of that, I’ll look at different types of hand usage that wide receivers can use to defeat jams during the contact window. Lastly, I’ll go in-depth on major coaching points that translate into all types of releases, which will make identifying crisp releases easier for fellow evaluators.

Release Moves

Basic / Speed

The “basic” release involves the wide receiver using their speed off of the line of scrimmage to get by the defensive back. While this doesn’t involve any particular move, the main coaching point is for the wide receiver to keep their pads down and limit the surface area where the defensive back can jam them up.

One Step / Stretch

The “stretch” or “one step” release is a single move that is mostly used for inside releases. It’s a simple idea, as the trail leg moves at an angle to get the defensive back anticipating an outside move. Once that “stretch” step is made, the wide receiver will move laterally back to the inside. It’s important for wide receivers to step a bit vertically to take away any path that the defensive back could take to recover.

Two Step / Blade

The two step release is exactly as it sounds, as it involves two consecutive steps with a wider base. The key to this release is for the wide receiver to drive off the in-steps of their feet and gain ground into the defensive back.

I picked up the name of the “blade” release from @Sideline_Hustle, and it’s a perfect description. The footwork of the blade release is similar to the two step, but the difference comes in the upper body. With the blade release, the wide receiver should dip their shoulder and show the defensive back their shoulder blade with an explosive movement.

Three Step (Hesitation and Quick 3)

Similar to the “two step” release, the “three step” release involves gaining ground with three consective steps, but maintaining that wider base for better lateral movement. There are two different types of three-step release, which I label as the “hesitation” and “quick 3.” With the hesitation move, a receiver will take his time getting out of his stance, only to change speed on the last two steps. That action generally gets the defensive back on their heels.

With the quick 3, the receiver comes off of the line of scrimmage with better pace, working to eat up grass on the defensive back and win with speed.

Squirt (Three Step and Five Step)

I differentiate between the “diamond” and “squirt” release by the wide receiver either going over or under the defensive back out of the break. With the squirt release, a wide receiver will take a flatter initial angle and then slip underneath the defensive back. It’s important for the wide receiver to come off the line of scrimmage at a speed that forces the defensive back to open their hips towards the sideline. This can be done in three or five steps, or with a hesitation out of their stance.

Shuffle

The “shuffle” release involves immediate lateral movements while the wide receiver keeps their feet in a staggered position. The purpose of this is to constantly be threatening a release in either direction while moving the defensive back further inside.

Motor / Foot Fire

The “motor” or “foot fire” release involves multiple quick, choppy steps while the wide receiver gains ground towards the defensive back. This release is commonly used when defensive backs are varying their press coverages, as it works to gather information on their coverage while keeping the proper body position to break in either direction.

Dead Leg

The “dead leg” release involves the wide receiver taking their typical first step, but keeping that staggered position during the subsequent movements. The purpose of this is to allow the wide receiver the ability to extend their “one step” release while changing their get-off speed to keep the defensive back off guard.

Step Back

A wide receiver has to have special talent at the line of scrimmage in order to pull off this release move. It’s well-known enough to include, but I’ll let the master Stevie Johnson take it away:

Attack + Slip

The “attack and slip” can be either an inside or outside move, and is mostly used when a defensive back is playing aggressive but a few yards off the line of scrimmage. The wide receiver should run at an immediate angle that threatens the leverage of the defensive back, then get vertical right by them. The key to this for a wide receiver is to either “grab grass” or limit their surface area, or fight through contact with their hands. It’s important for the wide receiver to be conscious of the fact that they may need to “recycle” their hands to fully discard of the defensive back’s jam.

Hand To Hand Combat

While footwork differentiates release moves, they generally need to be accompanied by hand usage to defeat the jam of the defensive back.

The first thing to look for when it comes to hand to hand combat is anticipation and reaction. When engaging in hand to hand combat, wide receivers shouldn’t be the ones to initiate it. In a way, wide receivers are the counter punchers of the boxing match.

The reason for this is because wide receivers don’t want to waste motion in their releases, which means whiffing with their hands is a borderline sin. On top of that, whiffing would leave the wide receiver more exposed to jams from the defensive back.

One major coaching point when it comes to hand usage is the aiming point for the wide receiver. In many cases, the aiming point is the upper forearm to the elbow of the defensive back. When a wide receiver is able to land on the defensive back’s elbow, they’re in control of their arm. Additionally, I want you to look down at your arm right now. The upper forearm and elbow area is thicker than your wrist. From a surface area perspective, the wide receiver wants to aim for that spot to increase their margin for error.

Here are the different types of hand to hand combat moves that a wide receiver will utilize:

Club / Swipe

The “club” or “swipe” is the basic initial hand usage to discard of the defensive back’s jam. The wide receiver wants to keep their hands tight to their frame to not expose their chest, then swipe across the front of their body at the elbow of the defensive back. It’s important for a wide receiver to not leave their arm completely horizontal, which limits the margin for error. Keeping the forearm and hand vertical increases the surface area of the swipe. The aiming point is the wide receiver’s palm right on the upper forearm or elbow of the defensive back.

Forearm Pull / Wipe

The “forearm pull” is generally used when the wide receiver moves laterally to clear their pads, or when the defensive back attempts to jam their shoulder. The key to this movement is to make sure the wide receiver’s arm is vertical from elbow to hand, which increases the likelihood that their forearm makes contact with the jam, discarding it.

Chop

The downward “chop” is used when a defensive back attempts to jam the wide receiver from the chest or lower. Once again, the wide receiver will be aiming for the elbow or upper forearm of the defensive back. The important coaching point is to finish the chop “through the back hip,” which assures that the jam of the defensive back has been completely discarded away from the wide receiver’s frame.

Punch

I label this as a “punch” rather than a “swim” because a swim move infers a hand that reaches high up towards the sky. The punch is usually used after the club/swipe, and the key is to punch downward right over the shoulder pads of the defensive back. Keeping it tight and downward limits the surface area where the defensive back can place their jam.

Rip

Similar to the “rip” move for pass rushers, the wide receiver’s main objective is to get low and rip through the contact window of the defensive back. This move protects the chestplate of the wide receiver while maintaining a low pad level.

Sheds

It’s important for wide receivers to understand that their initial hand usage may not be enough to fully discard the jam of the defensive back. The defensive back is taught to continue disrupting the wide receiver’s route with their hands if they’re within arms reach. Wide receivers need to be mindful of this, and continue shedding the hands of defensive backs to make sure they’re not being slowed down or contested during their route.

There are certain coaching points that translate throughout all different types of releases, stems and hand to hand combat moves. I detailed the 8 most important coaching points to identify.

Coaching Points

1. Get Into The Defensive Back’s Kitchen

The first coaching point on press release moves is to “always be cutting from the defensive back’s toes.” Meaning, throughout the wide receiver’s release move, they want to be in close quarters with the defensive back. This is for multiple reasons:

Defensive backs are first taught to prevent vertical routes, which means they want to always be in position to flip their hips and match a vertical route step for step. When a wide receiver gets into in the defensive back’s “kitchen,” it makes that defensive back uncomfortable, on their heels and in a position where they need to initiate their jam in order to not get beaten vertically. On top of that, the wide receiver has reset the line of scrimmage in their favor, already gaining extra yardage in their route depth.

When a wide receiver is able to square up the defensive back, the defender will be without an immediate answer to which way they’ll be flipping their hips. That added discomfort can make the defensive back half a step slow out of their break.

2. Hold The Red Line

The old story goes, a wide receiver coach was once so discouraged by his player’s ability to stay on their vertical “line,” that he took red paint and painted a line down the entire field right through the middle of the #’s along the boundary. The purpose of this was the give a visual cue for the vertical line of the wide receiver’s route tree. Nearly every route that a boundary wide receiver will perform starts with vertical movement, and maintaining space to both the inside and outside is paramount. When a wide receiver gets pushed too far towards the boundary, any throw his way will be in the air longer than necessary, and the accuracy and touch of the throw suddenly needs to be perfect.

The importance of holding the vertical line is why you’ll see so many wide receiver coaches run their drills from the sideline, using the yard-lines to act as the vertical lines for each receiver.

3. Stacking

Once a release move is completed, the wide receiver’s first thought should be to stack the defensive back. This means to get on top of the defensive back vertically by leaning into their frame, forcing them to play through the body of the wide receiver. This is important for a few reasons:

First, stacking takes away any straight path that the defensive back has to recover and contest the catchpoint. Second, it means that any route break won’t be crowded by the defensive back. Third, it allows the quarterback some margin for error on their throw both to the inside and outside, which isn’t afforded if a defensive back is right on the wide receiver’s hip.

4. Patient, But Sudden

While wide receivers need to operate with a certain pace, patience at the line of scrimmage can be an advantage. Defensive backs are taught to be patient with their jam, so it can become a game of chicken at the line of scrimmage with subtle movements. That is where the “sudden” or “explosive” aspect comes in. The moment that a defensive back sits back on to their heels, the wide receiver should be sudden in their release to beat them.

5. Threaten The Short Arm

To me, the “short arm” of the defensive back refers to the arm furthest away from the wide receiver at the snap. When the defensive back is playing with inside leverage, if they were to reach both hands towards the wide receiver, their inside arm would come up shorter. Wide receivers should recognize this, and utilize those extra inches in their release moves. Football is a game of inches, and press coverage is a war of minor details. When the wide receiver attacks the “short arm,” it takes advantage of the defensive back’s initial positioning and leverage.

6. Bring Head And Shoulders

When making an initial fake, wide receivers are taught to bring their head and shoulders with their moves. Defensive backs are taught to focus on the hips of the wide receiver, but a lot of them have poor eye discipline. Shoulder and head fakes will trigger the defensive back to anticipate a release in that direction. Additionally, adding in the head and shoulder fakes will help split the defensive back’s leverage, forcing them to anticipate a move either inside or outside. Once again, it’s all about making the defensive back uncomfortable.

7. Identify Different Types Of Press Coverage

With defenses utilizing multiple types of press coverage, it’s important to understand the differences in order to fully grasp how to attack each one. Wide receivers are taught to “have one eye on the ball and one eye on the defensive back” at the snap. While obviously unrealistic, it speaks to how conscious the wide receiver has to be able the pre and post-snap movements of the defensive back. There are a few rules to choosing a release move based on the position and type of coverage by the defensive back. First, a wide receiver needs to have conviction in their plan. Secondly, if the defensive back isn’t crowding or contesting the release, then the wide receiver doesn’t have to work to “move” them. Lastly, if the defensive back is disrupting the vertical line, the release move has to be one that best moves him off that line to beat and stack them vertically.

8. Proper Stance And Pad Level, Limiting False Steps

Against press coverage, its paramount for the wide receiver to operate out of a proper stance. The wide receiver’s pad level should constantly be low to the ground, and this is the optimal stance for quick initial movements. Additionally, the wide receiver needs to raise their hands in their stance in a “ready to fight” position. This is done for a number of reasons:

First, the wide receiver needs to be conscious of his chestplate when facing press coverage. The ultimate goal of the defender’s jam is to hold up the wide receiver, so the chestplate is their ideal aiming point. The wide receiver should raise their hands while facing press coverage to initially protect their chest, and have a shorter distance to travel if the defensive back is aggressive with their jam.

When possible, the wide receiver should face press coverage with a stance that is more squared. This means taking the trail leg and moving it so the initial base is wider, which allows for better lateral movement. When the wide receiver’s goal is to clear their pads by moving left or right, avoiding any false steps to get into a squared position becomes an immediate goal at the line of scrimmage. Many times, this stance can be utilized in the redzone, when some form of press coverage is almost guaranteed to be played.

Conclusion

The ability to beat press coverage is an important aspect to playing wide receiver along the boundary in the NFL. Getting jammed up at the line of scrimmage prevents receivers from ever getting fully into their route, limiting their ability to separate. Route running begins at the line of scrimmage, and adeptness at operating against all coverages is a necessity.

I hope you were able to take something away from this article when it comes to scouting, evaluating and performing these release moves.

Written By:

Brad Kelly

NFL Draft Analyst

NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Wide Receivers Coach at Salve Regina University. Salve Regina Football ‘15.

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