The speed with which the defender exhibits moving from Point A to Point B to decrease the distance between themselves and the ballcarrier is known as closing speed. Acceleration, foot speed, and the angle the defender takes to get to the ball all factor into whether a defender displays great closing speed or not. These traits will be displayed once the defender determines the ballcarrier’s location. The defender may need to transition out of a backpedal in order to close on the ballcarrier. Examples include a pass rusher closing on a quarterback, a linebacker closing on a runner attacking the edge on outside zone, or a defensive back closing on a receiver who caught a ball in the flat.
Having great or poor closing speed could be the difference of preventing an opponent from converting on third down or scoring a touchdown. Below are examples of good closing speed.
First, the Atlanta Falcons are up 30-13 on the Carolina Panthers in their Week 16 game from the 2016 season. The Panthers are facing a 3rd and 10 with 12:25 left in the game with the ball on the Panthers’s 44-yard line. The player to watch is Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (#45) near the middle of the screen.
With the Falcons in Cover 1, Jones is initially responsible for Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker (#43). Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (#1) takes the snap, drops back, and scans the field for any open receivers who can make a play to get the first down. As the play develops, Jones heads to the left side of the field, mirroring Whittaker. The blitzing linebacker, Philip Wheeler (#41), forces Newton out of the pocket, meaning he will then have to try to pick up the first down with his feet. Jones sees Newton escape Wheeler’s sack attempt and, using his foot speed and acceleration, pushes Newton out of bounds, forcing a fourth down.
The next example features University of Miami cornerback Corn Elder (#29) in a 2016 matchup against the University of North Carolina. The Hurricanes are down 10-3 with 12:07 left in the first half. The Tar Heels have the ball on the Hurricanes’ 37-yard line, facing a 1st and 10 situation.
The Tar Heels send Ryan Switzer (#3) on a screen to the right side of the field. Receiver Bug Howard (#84) is asked to block Elder (at the bottom of the screen), while tight end Carl Tucker (#86) is assigned linebacker Zach McCloud (#53), who is on the hash marks. At the snap, Elder quickly reacts to the screen and uses his foot speed to beat Howard’s block attempt. Elder tackles Switzer for a loss of four yards.
The last example shows Temple University up 6-0 on University of Memphis with 5:14 left in the first quarter in their 2016 game. The Tigers have the ball on their own 24-yard line and are facing a 3rd and 12. Temple edge rusher Haason Reddick is the player featured who shows good closing speed.
The Tigers run a sweep to the left side with running back Sam Craft (#11). At the snap, offensive lineman Jace Neville (#51) releases out of his stance toward the middle of the field, leaving Reddick (#7) unblocked. Craft takes the handoff and reads the blockers in front of him as Reddick follows. Defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike (#50) beats the block and contains the play side forcing Craft to bang upfield. Reddick presses on in his pursuit and tackles Craft from behind, forcing a fourth down.