Eye In The Sky: To Turn Or Not To Turn For The Notre Dame Corners

Nick Watkins - Notre Dame CB

Notre Dame has struggled this season, across starting cornerbacks Nick Watkins and Julian Love, in jump ball situations. They hurt them against Georgia for a few big plays, Love gave up a touchdown against Michigan State, and Watkins was beaten repeatedly last week.

Brian Kelly was asked during his Tuesday press conference about how they teach their defensive backs to handle those types of plays, when to turn and when not to. He went pretty in depth in his response.

He talks a lot about the different coverages they use, press vs. off coverage, where they want the corners to be in those coverages etc. I always find explaining these things do a lot better with visuals because it brings his descriptions to life so to speak. I compiled some clips from the games to assist in explaining what Kelly is talking about here. I’ll just go in order from the video.

When To Turn In Press

Kelly spoke first about press coverage versus off-man and I’ll tackle press first here. He emphasized the importance of a good jam when in press to re-route the receiver to hurt timing. That’s always step one in press defense. It’s also important to stay in touch with the receiver, which will eventually lead to a player being in position to turn and make a play on the ball.

If playing press and the receiver breaks away and the corner finds himself chasing, turning and looking goes out the window, from a technique standpoint. First, this isn’t high school, quarterbacks at the Power 5 level are pretty darn good, so the chances of a throw so poor a play can be made while trailing aren’t very good. Sure, they come up from time to time, but it will get you beaten, badly, more often than not. So from a best practices standpoint, if a corner is in chase mode, it’s better to keep the eyes focused on the receiver and get your hands inside of his to break up the pass. Julian Love showed this against Michigan State, when he lost touch with his receiver and recovered without turning.

When To Turn In Off-Man

This one is a little more tricky because you’re playing off and as Kelly states in the presser, you want to stay on top of the route at all times, which is why you play off. So it’s a question of turning and running and which way to face the receiver. A corner can choose to go chest to chest as Watkins did in giving up his first quarter touchdown last weekend. Or he can turn to the inside and attempt to pin the receiver to his hip and with his outside arm, essentially cutting the receiver off. I’ve seen Watkins do both and in each instance give up a long reception. It’s tricky, because decisions have to be made in the moment and there are no hard fast rules on this stuff. And in both cases you could make the case these passes shouldn’t even be thrown, because the receiver is covered.

In the case of last weekend, Watkins got caught in between turning and playing the ball, and playing the receiver’s eyes. He diagnoses the route, the receiver gives him a rather weak slant and go, and Watkins is in position to pin the receiver, cut him off, and look inside to make the play. But, he didn’t do that. Instead, he chose to engage the receiver with both arms, something I never like because it allows the receiver to be much more aggressive with him than he can be with the receiver, and awkwardly takes glances over his outside shoulder. As a result, he’s never able to locate the ball flight, loses the receiver, who is able to track the ball and make the play.

Against Georgia, Watkins finds himself in a similar situation and plays the way I think will lead him to long term success, even though it ended up as a reception. He again diagnoses the route, stays on top of the receiver, and is ready to make a play. The only nit pick here is he never pins the receiver with his outside arm, and never cuts him off. That allowed the receiver space to gather his body to jump, and use his hands on Watkins’ back to brace his leap and to keep Watkins on the ground. That said, as you’ll see on the second half of the replay, Watkins really does well here, the Georgia player just made a great play.

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Playing The Back Shoulder Throw

As a player in the early 2000’s, back shoulder throws were not a thing. There was only one way fades were thrown and therefore much easier to cover. Or at least to teach to cover. Now with back shoulder passes things get a little more tricky, as Kelly eluded to in his presser. It makes the rules of turning for the ball more complicated.

Kelly stated there are times and areas of the field when the back shoulder throw is something to you have to play for. For example, if you’re on the short side of the field in press and the receiver runs vertical, a corner has to be a little more careful about turning and running, because on the short side it is a lot easier for the quarterback to throw it behind you. This was illustrated when Watkins picked up his pass interference penalty in the first quarter. (A call I hated by the way. Both players had two hands on each other. When the receiver let go, so did Watkins. You can’t call this and then let the receiver push off of Watkins later for a touchdown. Freakin receiver bias, man.)

Watkins plays this one correct, wasn’t rewarded for it, and it likely got into his head as to what the boundaries were in terms of physical play.

Back Shoulder Throw In The Red Zone

The thing about the red zone is the end line provides an extra defender. You know they can’t throw it over your head because there is not room. So there is no need to stay on the upfield shoulder of the receiver, because they can’t go anywhere. This is where Watkins lost a little bit of where he was on the field last week on the second touchdown. He plays it perfect if they were at midfield, but they are at the 14. He stays on top of the route, and allows space to the outside for the quarterback to fit it in. He was also hindered by a push off that would never be allowed by the defender.

It’s too bad because Watkins is playing good coverage in all of these clips. There isn’t a single one where he is obviously beaten. But, he’s shown to be uncomfortable with the ball in the air, and the offense has been reinforced to throw it his way, even when he displays good coverage. This is something he is going to get tested on until he proves he’s more comfortable in those situations.

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19 comments

  1. Greg Kelly 2 months ago

    BGC, In the day would the Gipper be classified as a student athlete or Student Professional?

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  2. Greg Kelly 2 months ago

    Karamelllo,
    Seems you speak from experience. Off the top I can only remember three outstanding Notre Dame db’s Stacey Toran, Todd Lyght, Nick Rassas, they were real Gems.

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    1. duranko 2 months ago

      Bobby Taylor, Clarence Ellis, Harrison Smith, Jeff Burris.

      Luther Bradley is on the official UHND list of the top 25 Notre Dame players of all time.
      Former All-American and former trustee, the late great Dave Duerson, was pretty good.

      While he played on both sides of the ball, the contemporaries of that era felt that John Lattner was playing cornerback at an all America level in his two upper class years.

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      1. southside 2 months ago

        Wondering why ND fans always forget about Tom Schoen ? A highly recruited QB out of Ohio high school. Ara switched him to D-back/Safety in ’66. He started for that 1966 Championship team. In ’67 Schoen was selected to the first team All-American team as a defensive back–although played mostly safety for the Irish. Ara was a genious at switching players to different positions. Like Schoen , buried behind Hanratty and O’Brian at QB — so was Rassas as a running back buried behind Nick Eddy , Larry Conjar , Bob Gladiuoux (spelling). Ara switched Rassas to D-back and punt returner. Rassas became an All-American. But , best all round player in ND history , is Paul Hornung , Heisman Troph winner in ’57. He was the QB , He was a running back , He kicked off , kicked xtra points after touch downs. He went on to star as a running back for the great Green Bay Packer teams coached by legend Vince Lombardi.

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      2. Jeff 2 months ago

        Tee Sheppard?

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    2. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 months ago

      Ever hear of a guy named Luther Bradley? He still holds the career interception record, I think.

      BGC

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 months ago

        Reggie Barnett…’76?

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    3. Karamelllo 2 months ago

      Hey Greg,

      Yea I’ve been on a collegiate field and butt-hair exp on a pro field and have coached a ton. And it’s very noticeable on TV who you
      throw at and who you don’t on this team. And it’s been that way for awhile. DBs have arguably the hardest job after QB. You have to
      encourage them to do what they were put on that field to do. I personally would never put them 7-8yds away from the guy you’re either decoyed
      to cover or are assigned too. YOu think you’re playing head games with the QB as if he won’t know if it’s man or zone. Dumb…if youre
      disguising as man…8yds off the ball…you’ve LOST! THE WR IS ALREADY OPEN! Playing tight allows for way more possibilities.

      And off the dome…I can remember as “outstanding” Lyght, Taylor, Walton,

      Really good Rossum, Brock Williams, Vontez Duff, Darrin Walls,

      I think Crawford has a chance to be great. Love has that make up as well. At this point, I’d like to see Vaughn on the field more…
      he has natural hips and turns and looks instinctually. And how many 6-3 dbs you see doing that. That adjustment shouldve been made
      in the Miami game super early on. Wouldn’t have jeopardized a thing and would’ve been great exp for Vaughn and teaching moment for
      wWatkins. Instead of loooking the way he did…why do that to the kid. Get him out..coach him up.

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 months ago

        Yeah! Wasn’t it Walton who (possibly) cost Drew Brees the Heisman with a pick six?

        BGC ’77 ’82

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  3. Karamelllo 2 months ago

    Kelly didn’t give a good answer. His answer is riddle with IF and IF and IF…

    That’s the problem. These guys are being taught IF instead of DO.

    It’s about confidence most — most of the successful defense we see perennially are taught confidence. You dictate what you want the

    WR to do. Kellly opens up the first stinking answer with if the DB gets beat…already expecting the worst.

    No…you dictate what you want the WR to do. Get beat doing your best versus get beat waiting for it to happen.

    You have a much better chance of being athletic in intention versus trying to use your athleticism to be reactionary.

    Love and Crawford are playing so instinctual…and it feels like their confidence is growing in that. Nuture that! Watkins looks

    stuck in his head. Help him get out of that…Last week versus a slow, big WR you know you can run with him…he should be turning and looking

    from the snap. Take the guessing game out of it. Remove the IFs…

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    1. southside 2 months ago

      With all due respect Karmello — ahh never mind. Your bottom line is Watkins could have done a better job.

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      1. Karamelllo 2 months ago

        Speak your mind bro…Yes, Watkins could have done a better job and I believe it’s on his coach(es) to help him get there and it feels like they’re not.
        But I’m open to being wrong…Just opinions…And they’re wearing the hats and I”m not.

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  4. Greg Kelly 2 months ago

    Good thing they didn’t have duLac Code of Conduct when the Gipper was there, or did they?

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    1. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 months ago

      Greg, Obviously the Gipper predated even my father, who wasn’t even born until 1926. So I would not know from either first or second hand sources. But I have always thought that maybe Rockne cut GG some slack due to his age…Gipp was already near his mid-twenties when he first enrolled at ND…as was Rockne when he first enrolled ten years or so before that! So Rock may have had reason to treat Gipp a little differently than he might have treated an 18 or 19 year old student.

      BGC ’77 ’82

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  5. Greg Kelly 2 months ago

    Dr. Duranko,, I would hardly call the SoCal loss at Pullman an “arrest” No less than 33 Cougars hail from So Cal. Not to mention the NoCal contingent. They are a facsimile of each other. They do have their left tackle flincher like ours and He must be attacked if the Fighting Irish are to be successful. Can’t figure out ABCD. Give a hint.

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    1. duranko 2 months ago

      USC player investigated in possible assault on fan at Washington St

      by The Associated Press|
      Wednesday, October 4th 2017

      Washington State running back Jamal Morrow (25) celebrates his touchdown with offensive lineman Frederick Mauigoa (69) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Southern California in Pullman, Wash., Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

      AA   

      PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Washington State campus police are investigating a Southern California football player who was caught on video knocking a Cougars fan to the turf following Friday’s game in Pullman.

      The Spokesman-Review says campus police have identified the USC player as defensive lineman Liam Jimmons and he is being investigated on suspicion of assault.

      USC coach Clay Helton said Tuesday that he was aware of the incident and that he’d disciplined his player internally.

      The incident occurred after Washington State fans stormed the field following the No. 11 Cougars’ 30-27 upset of No. 14 USC.

      In the video, Jimmons appears to shove the fan to the turf as the Trojans are exiting Martin Stadium. The fan falls to the ground then gets to his feet again.

      Your comment is struck for irrelevance and having no bearing on the case.

      “can’t figure out ABCD?” that’s an incomplete,the way they keep score at du lac

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  6. Greg Kelly 2 months ago

    This has been a glaring weakness of the Fighting Irish for years. Costs us dearly. Only way to cover is to get that premier corner /safety and a ferocious pass rush. I cringe to think when we face the Trojans in a few weeks when they bring in a bevy of 6’5″ tight ends that are not the least bit afraid of reaching for the ball over the middle.

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    1. duranko 2 months ago

      Troy is always a danger, on an uptick or downtick.

      But they are in disarray, just having an arrest in Pullman.

      And Viane Talamaivo (sp) part of the “Samoan Three” (with Toa Lobehndan( (sp?)) and the off to the NFL Damien Mama, is out for the year.

      Helton was a poor fit for the job. But, heck, Kiffin was a poor fit also and he beat us.

      Just ask yourself, which one of these four does not belong with the other (alphabetically)

      (a) Carroll, Pete
      (b) Helton, Clay
      (c) McKay, John
      (d) Robinson, John

      Troy may beat us, as Darnold is the Jared Goff of this crop, but there are problems in Heritage Hall, and the ’17
      Trojans are leading the nation in underachievement.

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  7. duranko 2 months ago

    Ceteris paribus, Nick Saban teaches his CBS not to turn but to rake the arms.

    I am disinclined to argue with Saban.

    Kelly, I thought said something about “breaking the basket” or words to that effect.

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