A few months ago, Kansas University defensive coordinator Dave Campo told his defensive backs that they needed to keep running hard in their conditioning drills and that they couldn’t get tired, as KU was going to run a lot more man coverage this season.
The words “man coverage” put a smile on Greg Brown’s face.
“Everyone’s more comfortable with that,” the senior cornerback said. “Just the gray area ... you don’t have that gray area of having to play slower, just in case somebody does this. You can just have guys locked on their man.”
Campo later confirmed KU’s intention to play more man coverage at another defensive meeting. Immediately after the get-together, Brown and junior cornerback Tyler Patmon started talking about how excited they were to accept the challenge.
“We love that,” Patmon said. “It puts us out there on an island, and if a ball gets caught, it’s our fault. No discussion on who messed up or what we know. It’s on us.”
Last season, KU’s defense allowed 8.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranked next-to-last nationally. The Jayhawks also surrendered eight passing plays of 50 yards or more (tied for 111th nationally), with many of those blown coverages followed by KU players talking on the field, trying to figure out which defender had messed up his responsibility.
With man coverage, the hope is that everything becomes more simplified: Line up in front of a receiver, stay with him, and use other defenders to bring additional pressure on the quarterback.
“If someone catches something, you know who it is. You know what you messed up on.” Brown said. “It’s not too much of going back to the board and seeing, ‘What do we do to fix here?’ It’s like, ‘Hey, guard your man.’”
Playing additional man coverage is risky, as there is the possibility that a cornerback gets beat for a long gain.
“That’s what all those corners want to pretend to be is the lockdown guy,” KU defensive backs coach Clint Bowen said with a smile. “When you start getting into the real action, you find out if it’s true or not, and you’ve got to have a short memory. But they’ve embraced it. They’re working hard, and it’s something that we can use in the fall to help us.”
In practices, KU’s safeties also are coming toward the line of scrimmage and being asked to play press coverage.
Senior safety Bradley McDougald said that KU’s switch to more man coverage was the biggest difference he’d noticed this year compared to last.
“Coach (Charlie) Weis and coach Campo together, they both want to bring a lot more pressure than we did last year,” McDougald said. “We sat back in a lot of zone (last year), and this year, we’re getting up in people’s faces.”
Though KU probably won’t implement as much man coverage in the regular season as it has in early practices, part of the reason for using it is to see which players have the ability to stick with a man.
With a new staff, that can be used as part of the evaluation process.
Already, Brown believes his technique is improving with the help of Campo, who has spent the greater part of the last 25 years coaching secondary in college and the NFL.
Patmon, who is trying to earn a starting cornerback spot after playing the last two years at nickelback, said Campo told his defensive backs early on that he was going to put the pressure on them.
“When he said we were going to be playing a lot more man, we fell in love with it,” Patmon said. “You’re not dependent on anybody else. You can’t blame anybody else. It’s all us, or it’s nobody.”