Alabama is back in the College Football Playoff for the fourth consecutive year.
One reason the Crimson Tide continually compete for National Championships? Stingy pass defense. Alabama is allowing just 163.7 passing yards per game this season, which ranks seventh-best in the nation. This isn’t new—the Crimson Tide have had a top-20 pass defense in eight of the past nine seasons.
Ray Glier recently wrote an excellent profile on Alabama senior cornerback Levi Wallace for Bleacher Report. Wallace is a former walk-on who’s evolved into an indispensable player on the team’s defense thanks to his impeccable technique. It’s certainly worth a read, but one section, in particular, caught our eye. Nick Saban has long been regarded as a defensive backs guru. He played the position himself at Kent State, he coached it in the NFL, and he’s very hands-on with the position group at every Alabama practice:
In the aforementioned piece, Rick Venturi, who coached for 27 years in the NFL and worked under Saban for the Cleveland Browns, details Saban’s “golden rules” for defensive backs. From Glier:
Under Saban, Venturi says there are strict rules every cornerback has to follow. Wallace has mastered them. He and the other cornerbacks must keep their feet close together in their initial stance, which allows them to take shorter strides to match the receivers. Their hands must be raised and ready to punch and cut off receivers who want to go deep. They’re taught to reach across receivers and touch their thigh pad, a subtle technique to slow them down and remain attached. And they are trained to pin receivers inside an imaginary “red line” drawn 6 yards from the sideline. That cuts down the space the receiver has to work with along the sideline and puts the cornerback in a better position to defend against the deep pass thrown down the sideline.
It’s some fascinating insight into Saban’s coaching philosophy. Keeping a base that’s no wider than shoulder-width, particularly around the line of scrimmage, seems to be especially important in his teachings. “I don’t see anybody in any athletic sports playing without balance and body control,” Saban told AL.com in 2012. “If you keep your feet wider than your shoulders, you don’t have very good balance and body control, and you certainly can’t take the next step.”
If you’re interested, there are tons of videos on YouTube showing Saban coaching his defensive backs.
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