Oregon’s new CB coach Martin has spent the last 13 seasons coaching cornerbacks in the Pac-12. This is the fifth time he’s been hired to the position as part of a new staff:
- 2009-11: First on-field FBS coaching job was with Steve Sarkisian at UW.
- 2012-17: Hired away to join Jim Mora at UCLA. That entire staff was let go when Chip Kelly came in for 2018.
- 2018-19: Joined Kevin Sumlin at Arizona. Only defensive coach not fired midseason in 2019; role was going to expand from CBs to all DBs for the 2020 season.
- 2020-21: Instead, in March of 2020 joined Karl Dorrell at Colorado.
- 2022: Joined Dan Lanning at Oregon.
I reviewed my charts of Martin’s most recent four seasons at Arizona and Colorado for this article, but I also found a classic game in my library against USC and its four future NFL receivers from his first season at UCLA.
Schematically, the most important thing for cornerbacks in what I expect Oregon’s 2022 defense to look like is that they know their responsibilities in layered zone coverage. And that’s exactly what I see when I turn on the tape for Martin’s units over the years, though there’s also a healthy amount of man coverage, especially at Arizona.
At a couple of Martin’s stops when they played a nickel structure, that fifth secondary member was classified as a cornerback and I believe Martin was responsible for coaching those players, since I would see them switch back and forth between playing over the slot or an outside receiver. I’ve included clips in which those inside corners make plays, but I expect that in 2022 safeties coach Powledge will handle the nickelback with Martin working with the outside corners, so mostly we’re going to watch the latter.
Physically, it seems that Martin prefers longer athletes at corner who can play off a bit but close the gap once the ball is in the air to get pass break-ups. I also see a lot of pre-snap posture from CBs that looks like it’ll be man, only to turn and drop at the last second into zone. Some examples:
(Reminder - after pressing play, you can use the left button to slow any video to 1⁄4 or 1⁄2 speed)
- :00 – The corner drops into zone and is playing about five yards off. Watch his helmet, he’s tracking the ball the entire way while also keeping the position downfield of the receiver. He closes, and uses his length to play the ball for a clean PBU and no flag, over a future first-round draft pick.
- :19 – It’s cover-1 with a six-man blitz so the coverage has to be tight and the CB isn’t getting any help. Nice legal contact the whole way here, never letting the receiver get any separation. Watch the helmet – he turns to look when the receiver turns, and plays the ball.
- :36 – Back to zone, the CB is eight yards off at the snap, but has closed tight enough once the WR breaks in to get an arm around him. This is close but there’s no restriction or twisting of the receiver – watch how his right hand easily comes off the WR’s torso with no grip. He gets his hand out front on the ball not the arms, that’s physical play without getting flagged.
- :48 – The CB here is Christian Gonzalez, the 4-star who started as a true freshman at Colorado under Martin and is transferring to Oregon as a junior. This is textbook perfect coverage of a comeback route in zone, watch at how he maintains the spatial relationship to the receiver without looking at him but instead keeping his eyes on the QB. Hips are open, and able to make a dive on the ball to break it up.
Usually zone coverage isn’t so dramatic, however, since the point is to take away options to get the QB to check out of a throw, giving the pass rush time to get home. The vital thing for corners is to know their responsibilities, because chasing a target out of your zone invites disaster. I didn’t see that on Martin’s film, instead I saw pretty stifling coverage with appropriate handoffs and keeping eyes in the backfield:
- :00 – Lots of replays here on how the zone coverage works – even with the X-receiver cutting across the field he’s always got someone over and under him, and the field CB doesn’t chase him but instead gets out over the back who’s leaking. The CB over the Z-receiver is playing this the same way I saw a lot during Martin’s tenure over the years, which is initial contact to work the WR to the sideline, then flipping around to play under him with his eyes on the QB and a safety over the top.
- :23 – This looks like man by alignment pre-snap, and the offense is throwing a screen on the expectation that the field CB will be run off by the X. But surprise, it’s zone … that CB has his eyes on the QB, comes off his guy, and fires into the slot receiver to knock the ball out. Note the wrap-up tackle and turning his head to lead with the shoulder. This is before targeting was an ejection, but it’s nonetheless a clean hit with good technique.
- :35 – The inside and outside corners to the boundary know the safety is on top of this boundary-trips so they’re staying in between with their eyes on the QB. The ball has to be high to get it over the outside CB, who importantly is not over-pursuing the H-back into the flat – he’s in position to hit him if it goes there, but he’s also in the lane to force a high throw over him.
- :41 – The ball goes away from Gonzalez but watch his technique on the replay – he’s protecting the sideline and staying on top, with the safety underneath. To the field it’s just nice zone coverage with the OLB dropping to give them a numbers advantage.
Finally, while I didn’t see much cat blitzing on Martin’s tape, corners have to be able to fire down on outside runs and screens. This is another area where I think his preference for bigger, more physical corners shows up:
- :00 – The corner doesn’t make the tackle here but his playing with proper outside leverage – and size to keep the receiver from moving him – is essential to the play. The back can’t get to the sideline and has to bounce back inside where the defense has help.
- :06 – Great job by both the inside and outside corners here. On the outside he fires down immediately, faster than the slot can set up to block, and on the inside he wraps up and tackles the receiver instead of cutting his ankles as I see many CBs do.
- :14 – This offense hadn’t run this sweep-to-pitch play before this game, so this was pretty impressive adjustment on the fly by the defense. The inside corner breaks down properly, forcing the pitch but maintaining outside leverage, and has the speed and positioning to still run down the pitch man.
- :32 – Gonzalez is doing such a good job with his leverage that he not only denies the sideline, which is his schematic responsibility, but he gets around the WR blocking and contributes to the tackle, which is going above and beyond.