ITP Glossary: Backpedal

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

The backpedal is a fundamental technique by pass defenders, particularly cornerbacks in off man or zone coverage. The defender takes short, choppy backward steps, maintaining a cushion of space between himself and the receiver. Because he is facing the quarterback, the defender is able to read the quarterback’s eyes and throwing motion, placing him in position to drive forward toward a pass:

Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III plays off the receiver and backpedals at the snap, keeping his steps short and choppy and his eyes on the quarterback. He breaks on the pass before the receiver does, hauling in the interception before picking up 36 yards on the return.

The Notre Dame Defensive Backs Manual describes proper backpedal technique as follows:

The [backpedal] is a series of short backward push steps that are from 8-12 inches in length. The feet are not lifted more than two or three inches from the surface (barely grazing the grass). It is performed on the balls of the feet with the knees slightly bent, upper body relaxed and upper body leaning slightly forward and weight balanced with chin over the toes. The idea is that if the feet are never far off the ground, you can react faster when you have to.

The manual emphasizes that “the basic technique you must master in order to be a great defensive back is the backpedal.” However, some coaches and schemes prefer to teach other techniques, notably Nick Saban of Alabama, who has his corners shuffle sideways from a press man look. Cornerbacks in the backpedal must keep adequate cushion and turn and bail with hip fluidity to counter vertical routes. If they fail to do so, big plays can ensue:DeSean-Jackson-55-yard-bomb-against-Bradley-Fletcher

Speedy wideout DeSean Jackson (#11) runs straight downfield, while Bradley Fletcher (#24) backpedals. Fletcher bails and tries to run with his former Eagles teammate, but it’s too late. The receiver is just too fast, easily creating separation, and the throw drops in for a 55-yard gain.

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Dave Archibald wrote this entry. Follow Dave on Twitter @davearchie.

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Video and images courtesy of NFL Game Pass and Draft Breakdown.

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