The Hawks defense in 2011 will call for a lot of press coverage from the cornerbacks, and the jam is an important aspect of success. The Hawks front office have been amassing big, physical press corners that can jam at the line, and their safeties are no different. In certain sets, if the player is asked to get a jam on a receiver and fails, it can mean big gains for the opponent.
Getting a good jam on a receiver not only frustrates and knocks a receiver off his route, but it disrupts the timing of an entire play. The NFL of today has more and more 3-step drops and quick rhythm passes. In the NFC West this is especially prevelant -- Sam Bradford and the Rams, Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals, and even Alex Smith and 49ers use (or will use) the quick pass and principles of the West Coast Offense (every team does, really) and being able to defend these passes has become more important. The basic tenets of the short pass, quick tempo West Coast style offense include short, timed routes and more of a focus on using the width of the field versus throwing it deep.
I explained it a bit in my 4-3 Under player type series when talking about cornerbacks. To recap:
In certain schemes, Carroll has his corners up in the opposing wide receivers' grills, and in others, they'll be backed off 5-10 yards. It really depends, but in situations where the corner is playing press-coverage at the line with the wide receiver, he has to be strong enough to control leverage and force the opposing receiver to the side that he wants. As Pete Carroll said, "No matter what coverage you are playing you have to convince your players to win their leverage side. If the coach tells a player to play outside leverage and complains when a receiver catches a ball to his inside, the coach is wrong. When we give them a leverage side, we are telling them to just do that aspect right, at least."
So in other words, if a player is too weak to win the leverage battle, he's going to cause major problems for the defense. Result? They want strong, physical players.
In a Cover-1/Cover-3 situation (both schemes the Hawks run a lot), Carroll will often ask his players to use inside leverage. While at USC, he did a coaching clinic and as he put it, "we tell our corners to play inside leverage (i.e. to the inside shoulder of the receiver) in this defense. This helps the corner avoid giving up the big play to the inside of the field.
If you want them to play the out route towards the sideline you have to give them someone playing support over the top (the Safety). There is not a corner in college or the NFL that can both play the out routes and also avoid giving up the deep ball to the inside. You have to be realistic as to what your players can do.
They only way a corner can play inside leverage and make a play on the out route is if the offense screws up or the quarterback makes a bad throw or the receiver runs a bad route. If you don't understand that then you are asking the corner to do something he can't do."
Carroll carried this philosophy with him to the NFL and recently talked to Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune about their desire to run more press.
"We like to play the aggressive style of coverage, to get our corners on the wide receivers so that we challenge the quick game and the easy throws that offenses can make, and make them have to push the ball down the field. That's the basic premise of press. If you back off, then you're allowing teams to throw quicker rhythm stuff, and have an easier time of completing it, and so we take them to a different level.
"When the corners are really good, then it makes it harder on the offense. There is no quarterback that wants to throw at those guys when they're good and well equipped and well versed. If you're lousy at playing press, then they throw the ball over your head and it doesn't do any good. We have to get really good at it and buy into the philosophy and as we grow, we'll have more opportunity to get players that make it a little easier for them to play that style, and we'll see how these guys add to it."
The Hawks didn't have the personnel to run the press coverage as much as they would have liked in 2010 and the result was more off coverage from Kelly Jennings, Marcus Trufant, and Walter Thurmond. They tried to press a little bit but as Carroll noted, if you try and jam but don't do a good job of it they just throw the ball over your head. That happened way too much last season and will be one major point of emphasis for the defense, specifically the corners, going forward.
On the other hand, if you get a good jam and do your job even adequately, you're forcing the opposing quarterback to make a very difficult, timed throw outside the numbers or put it on a dime downfield between the corners and safeties. The idea is to make it hard for the other team right? This is part of the way they plan to do so.
That's where players like Richard Sherman, Byron Maxwell, and even Brandon Browner come into play. They're all big, physical cornerbacks that specialize in press-coverage, the jam, and re-routing receivers. When Richard Sherman was drafted, he noted that Pete Carroll told him he was coming in to play some press-coverage and to be ready. "That's what he preached to me on the phone," Sherman said. "That is one of my biggest strengths. I can play press and play man. I'm good in the red zone against bigger receivers, smaller receivers."
Fans tend to assume that if you're not 6'3 200lbs+ then you can't play corner for the Seahawks but I don't think that's necessarily true. John Schneider and Pete Carroll prefer guys that are about 5'11 or taller, but speed does factor into the decision as well. Being tall gives you the advantage against the taller-trending wide receivers in the league, but there are short guys you have to guard in the NFL as well.
Kelly Jennings has been re-signed and if I had to guess it's because he is good in off-coverage and can run step-for-step with most of the speed wide receivers in the league. The Hawks will be able to use him for specific assignments and matched up against opposing receivers that the bigger, slower (er... less fast) corners we have might have trouble with.
You might see Jennings matching up against slot receivers more moving forward because for the most part these slot guys start off the line. It's much tougher to get a jam on a player that's off the line, and Jennings isn't known to be a physical corner in the first place. Theoretically, he'll be able to play off a few yards and run in coverage, using his quicks and fluid agility to keep pace with the speedy little bastards like Wes Welker and Danny Amendola. Jennings has been a disappointment when compared to his first round selection, but it doesn't hurt to have a corner with some coverage skills and 44 regular season starts (and several more playoff starts) under his belt.
Regardless of who is playing on the outside or in the slot, Pete Carroll has very specific assignments in mind with regard to his corners, and expects them to execute. The jam is one very important technique. With that in mind, here's a video featuring Seattle Seahawk Marcus Trufant, and he takes you through the basics.