Speed & Agility Training Zone!

Defensive Back Speed Q & A

By Duane Carlisle,
Speed Development Coach for the San Francisco 49ers & President, Lightning Fast Training Systems


Part I

What better way to find out about the type of speed a defensive back must possess than to ask one. So, I went to our starting right cornerback Shawntae Spencer and asked him a few questions about the subject at hand.

Q: How important is speed at your position?
A: It's extremely important! During the course of a game a defensive back may get out of position when covering a receiver, but if you possess good speed you could possibly get back into position to make a play. I consistently work on my speed during the off-season.

Q: As a DB, how important is straight line speed?
A: Straight line speed is important to a certain degree, particularly on go routes. If a player has great straight line speed, it will allow him to close on the receiver quicker on deeper routes. As a DB, we need to be able to mirror the movement of a wide receiver while initially moving backwards. For example, a wide receiver may run a comeback route. Well, I need to be able to start off in a back pedal and be prepared to run with the receiver as he gets in and out of his breaks.

Q: So, you really need to be able to move efficiently in all directions?
A: Definitely! Personally, I think backpedaling is a lost art form. The key to executing an effective back pedal is possessing good feet and hips. For example, a DB needs to be able to change direction explosively out of a back pedal. A DB needs to be able to react to what they see. Eyes are very important to performing well at the position.

Q: Is it the receivers who are the fastest and the toughest to cover?
A: Not necessarily. Some of the toughest players I have faced haven't been burners. Normally the guys who do not possess great speed possess great technique. I believe proper route running technique is 90% of what contributes to a being good receiver.

Q: By the way, what's your best 40?
A: 4.36

As we just learned, a defensive back must possess an ability to move forward, backward, laterally and start and stop with minimal loss of speed, power, and balance. How do you develop good feet and hips as Spencer alluded to as being extremely important to excelling at the position? That's a question we will answer next week. Go Niners!

Part II

Last week, Shawntae Spencer shared his perspective with 49ers Fitness Corner about the physical characteristics a defensive back must possess to maximize performance on the playing field. This week's column focuses on the 6 critical areas of movement which should be integrated into any defensive backs' training regimen in order to meet the demands of the position at any level.

1. Top End Speed – When a DB is defending a "go route," it is important that he possess the ability to run with a receiver down the field no matter how fast the receiver may be. Top End Speed is developed by improving running mechanics and enhancing stride frequency and stride length. A simple but effective workout is executing a speed ladder. I.e. 10 yard dash, 20 yard dash, 30 yard dash, 40 yard dash each at full effort with full recovery (2-4 minutes) between each sprint.

2. Acceleration – A DB who possesses the ability to generate quick leg turnover within a 10 yard area poses a challenge to a receiver as they try and get in and out of their breaks. One of my favorite drills for improving starting and acceleration ability is learning how to execute a Two Point start. Start in athletic stance, maintaining a positive shin angle while keeping the abs tight. Load the gastrocsloeus complex by pressing the heel toward the ground, while simultaneously extending the hips forward and projecting the center of mass. Explosively punch one knee forward, keeping the toe cocked toward the shin and the opposite side arm backward. Concentrate on pushing the foot back into the ground while maintaining a power line position.

3. Deceleration is the ability to suddenly stop or slow down while being in control. A defensive back has to be able to stop on a dime as a receiver is getting into and out of their breaks while attempting to gain separation. Did you know most lower extremity injuries occur when suddenly stopping? The key to decelerating is learning how to absorb force by sinking the hips while keeping the body in an athletic position.

4. Reacceleration occurs after a DB suddenly stops. Once a DB stops, their ability to explosively accelerate forward again can be the difference of making a play or not. Most players have a tendency to take a long initial step when attempting to reaccelerate forward. An effective approach for eliminating a lunging first-step is to reduce a player's first step by six inches which will ensure that the foot strike is on the ball of the foot at ground contact thereby producing a more explosive first-step.

5. Change of Direction – It is essential that a DB possess the ability to change direction in a smooth and fluid manner with minimal loss of speed, balance, and power. There are many ways to improve a DB's ability to change direction; the most effective is mastering the technique of playing the position itself.

6. Short Area Quickness is often measured by having a DB perform the 3 Cone Drill and the 5-10-5 shuttle drill. They are two tests which require a DB to change direction quickly in a small area. Ladder Drills in combination with position specific drills is an effective approach for developing foot quickness in tight areas.

7. Back Pedal – Shawntae Spencer referred to the back pedal as a "lost art." Needless to say, he was very adamant about the need for a DB to be able to effectively back pedal. The foundation of a solid back pedal is the stance. Some characteristics of a proper stance include: setting the feet hip width apart, the butt should be positioned back and down, the back should be angled with the chin level and eyes focused straight ahead. The player's weight distribution should be on the back of the ball of the foot.