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Florida State cornerbacks to use more shuffle technique

FSU's cornerbacks will be incorporating more of the shuffle technique in 2013 as they transition into a new defensive scheme.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State's defense is going to have a very different look to it in 2013. Gone is defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who took the Kentucky head coach position. Enter Jeremy Pruitt, a first-time defensive coordinator. His previous position was Alabama's secondary coach under Nick Saban.

Florida State's defense was already going to be a lot more aggressive in 2013 than 2012 (see linebacker Telvin Smith explain that in the video at right), even if Mark Stoops had stayed, because of the losses at defensive end, and the need to amp up the amount of blitzing needed to get to the quarterback. But under Pruitt, it will be even more so.

And while Florida State fans will be looking at linebackers, corners and safeties flying off the edge and through the middle to get to the quarterback, they might want to stop and look at the defensive backs who aren't bitzing.

They'll see that Florida State's corners are going to be very aggressive before the snap, and indeed after. They'll show press coverage quite often, and either stick with it and press, or back off to play zone -- a technique known as "press bail."

If they look closer, they'll see a lot less backpedaling, and a lot more shuffling.

It's a technique Jeremy Pruitt has brought with him to Florida State. A technique learned from Nick Saban.

Why shuffle

First, know that a lot of teams shuffle, and that this is not just a Nick Saban thing. LSU shuffles. South Carolina shuffles. Florida shuffles at times.

And there's a reason for it. Coaches who teach the shuffle (and in the very niche community that is defensive back coaching, there is much debate about this) believe that it enables the cornerback to be in a better position, with better balance, and to more quickly break on the football.

The best explanation of this is from the man himself, in a clinic video from the early 1990s. The video owner won't permit embedding, so you'll have to visit his page. Watch from 06:32 to 09:50 for the explanation. Do it.

Done? Welcome back.

Here are some thoughts from a defensive coach on the benefits of using the shuffle.

Though playing true Cover 3, we 3 step shuffle into 3 step (short) game (under 12 yards).
Corner reads QB into the shuffle while periphing #1 to #2 receiver.
The 3-step shuffle puts the corner at a depth of 10 yards, which would be on top of any short game stick into their route, which helps the corners remain in phase with receivers and any vertical threats. As a general rule, we don't jump short throws, as they belong to the underneath defenders, however, being able to anticipate routes and throws allows the put him in a position to make the interception and reduce unnecessary RAC.

If QB continues on drop (into 5-7 step), the corner is already in perfect position to turn and run (ala baseball turn), anticipating the deeper route (+12 yards).

If #1 goes vertical, he will simply baseball turn (bail) into the vertical stem, staying over the top of #1. This transition is the most important reason to use the shuffle as there is no wasted movement in going from square with a receiver to a 180 degree bail.

Brophy further discusses the concept here:

When a receiver stems outside, the zone defender can turn his butt outside because he ends up in a half-turn with his eyes in a position to see the receiver and quarterback. When you turn your hips/butt inside (away from the ball), you no longer are looking at the ball. To adjust to this, Saban has his defensive backs shuffle / slide inside with a heel-to-toe 'waltz'. The only thing that can hurt the defender now, is when the recevier disappears while he's in a half-turn (drop out / bench route). The defender cannot turn back in and chase (from a backpedal, plant, and drive) - this would take too long and he would lose the receiver. The defender should 'roll' into the receiver (open to the sideline).

Because sometimes different people lean from different explanations, I am also including this:

Now, with that out of the way, what exactly is the shuffle technique? Well, to put it simply, the shuffle technique is when the cornerback opens his hips 90 degrees in one direction (parallel to the line of scrimmage) and shuffles "sideways" three times down field rather than backpedaling downfield. With the DB's hips opened up already halfway, turning and running with the deep route is much quicker, and slower defenders won't get burned as quickly or as often by speedy receivers that get a free release. If the corner's hips are opened towards the inside of the field, the defender will also be in a great position, while shuffling, to read the quarterback's drop to gauge the distance of the throw and to read his run keys in the back field. After the corner shuffles three times, and if he sees the quarterback dropping back further than three steps, the DB turns and checks on the receiver that is eating up the cushion. If the receiver is continuing to run a deep route, the corner is already in a good position to immediately turn and go. If the receiver breaks inside, outside, or back upfield, the corner plants his foot and breaks on the route.

The ability to quickly transition is important, because of how Florida State will be reading pattern combinations -- playing percentages and making offenses execute difficult throws and things that aren't all that natural to them.

Saban himself credits the use of the technique to his time in Cleveland, as defensive coordinator under Bill Belichek, with the Browns. He had a star player in Everson Walls, who had lost several steps, but who absolutely had to play due to his contract. Walls couldn't backpedal, so Saban improvised.

Somewhat similarly, Florida State wants to be very physical and press a lot, with big cornerbacks, and that type of corner doesn't always excel at backpedaling. It's about fitting the players and the technique and the scheme together to create the best possible product.

The reporters at Alabama asked Saban about the technique, and the videos (at right) were the result.

"We play our corners up on people a lot, so sometimes they bail off, sometimes they play bump-and-run, sometimes they get off and backpedal. I just think that we're just not philosophically into playing a lot of soft coverage where you line up 7, 8, 9 yards off a guy and give them a lot of easy throws in front." -- Nick Saban

"That's just how you play bump-and-run. It's getting your second step on the ground so your feet are together. I don't want to give you a clinic here, but I don't see anybody in any athletic sport playing without balance and body control. If you keep your feet wider than your shoulders, you don't have very good balance and body control, and you certainly can't take the next step. ..." -- Nick Saban

The adjustment

Some of Alabama's players discussed the transition to the technique, and how it wasn't all that easy. So I asked Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State's star defensive back, about it at ACC Media Days.

"Yeah, we're doing a lot more of that," Joyner said of the shuffling technique. "I think some people try to make it more than it is sometimes. If you're a defensive back, those are the things people expect you to do."

And Jeremy Pruitt explained his reasoning to the defensive backs before implementing the change.

"Yeah, because we're going to blitz more, so the [ball] is going to come out faster, so versus backpedaling, which gets you more range for deep routes and we expect that quarterback won't have that much time, it's more about you being more aggressive," Joyner said.

How has the transition gone?

"It's been pretty good, it's been pretty fun," Joyner said. "I mean, what's the difference from backpedaling to shuffling, I mean, you should be able to make that transition."