How to avoid that 'disastrous' moment | Football | CBC Sports

CFLHow to avoid that 'disastrous' moment

Posted: Thursday, August 15, 2013 | 12:12 PM

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Fred Stamps (2) of the Eskimos and Dante Marsh (31) of the Lions have fought many receiver/corner battles over the years. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press) Fred Stamps (2) of the Eskimos and Dante Marsh (31) of the Lions have fought many receiver/corner battles over the years. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

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Rule No. 1 for CFL cornerbacks trying to defend wickedly fast receivers is to keep one's head about him as those around him are losing theirs.

Keep calm and carry on.

That is the best advice Dante Marsh gives to young defensive backs when they inevitably run into something the B.C. Lions veteran corner calls the "'Oh, Shit!' moment."

You have seen it many times -- a DB takes his three-step drop while checking out what the receiver is doing in front of him, then makes the mistake of committing one hip or the other.

Away goes the pass catcher downfield with space and it's a nightmare for the defender who can often clearly be heard to yell ... well, you know.

This is followed by the inevitable panic, a desperate attempt to catch up, the grabbing of a shirt, a red flag and a full-face yelling at by the defensive co-ordinator.

"You don't need to do that," Marsh said, chilling before a recent game in Toronto.

"Don't panic. Get back in close proximity to the receiver ... so you stay in contact with him."

Rule No. 1 in one of football's best 1-on-1 battles is one wickedly fast receiver can be controlled by one not-as-fast defender if the latter keeps one's head as those around him are losing theirs.

As Fred Stamps, a 10-year pro (last eight with the Edmonton Eskimos), will tell you, receivers are always on the lookout for the panicky types.

"Yeah, after the first few snaps, you get the defensive back up off their toes and you know ... the type of player he is and if he comes to play or not, if he's nervous or stuff like that," Stamps said on the phone from northern Alberta.

Both Marsh and Stamps agree that in a battle between two of any team's fastest players, it all comes down to patience and confidence.

'It's the art of war'

Marsh, who started his pro career back in 2001 with the Tennessee Titans, picked up some sage advice from NFL All-Pro safety Blaine Bishop.

"He said, 'Listen ... let me tell you something. It's 90 per cent mental, 10 per cent physical out there.'"

You have to think your way through this battle, play it in your mind prior to the actual game, play chess along with the receiver and quarterback.

"It's the art of war ... all about testing," Marsh said. "And like boxing, they're all wrapped up in one. You learn to counter-punch."

What makes the cornerback vs. receiver battle so fascinating is that both guys are studying each other on film all week, looking for that opening, for something they can take advantage of, for some way of taking the other guy out of the game. For Marsh and Stamps, they've been around so long that there's almost nothing they don't know about the other.

"When I'm going against Dante Marsh, I have to be real patient because he's a real smart corner. You know he's patient."

How? One step at a time, baby.

Out on the sidelines, you might actually only see a handful of balls thrown into a 1-on-1 situation during a game, but just one of them completed can change the game around in a flash.

Nothing like a 65-yard touchdown to make an impression one way or another.

So, as a public service, here's how you break down a corner when playing receiver (Kids, try this at home by inviting dad outside).

Stamps says you have to "step on their toes" -- not literally (though it happens) -- by trying to get as close as possible to the corner and then make your move.

"If you make your move too early, in the CFL ... man, they've got a lot of good corners and halfbacks who will break on your route real quick," he said. "You get up on his area, his core ... once you give him a move, you make him commit to you."

'It's geometry, man'

Now, kids, have dad (hope he's not 83) switch to being the receiver and let him beat you so he's ahead across the back yard. Now what?

Assuming you've been watching a lot of film on dad this week and you know him well, "stuff will slow down for you," says Marsh.

"It's geometry, man. It's the angles. You can have a receiver who runs 4.3 (seconds over 40 yards) and some of the DB's aren't the fastest -- 4.5, 4.6 guys -- but they have great technique and they think the game."

Be crafty. Catch up. Watch his eyes and hands. When dad looks back for the ball, his eyes will get wide, his hands will go up -- and you strike.

And one thing above all else, Marsh says: "When you are in a 1-on-1 situation, you have to understand the down is never over until the ball is thrown and caught or not caught."

Stay with it, right to the end.

Asked if the receiver or the defensive back has the advantage, Marsh has a classic response: "Of course, they do."

"If you tell me to run 10 yards and go in, I know where I'm going," he says. "If you're covering me, you don't know where I'm going and you have to use your physical attributes to try and stop what I'm doing and you're running backwards at the same time and you have to go from backwards to making a play."

Sounds difficult.

Stamps, as a solid member of the receiving union, respectfully disagrees. Corners get help from safeties, so it's often one against two or even one against three when a receiver goes downfield.

Still, if it's just 1-on-1, he admits "cornerback is the hardest position to play."

Ask both Marsh and Stamps who is the best corner/receiver they've ever faced and they'll each give you a list -- and they're on each other's.

Follow Malcolm Kelly on Twitter @sportsnag

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