Strategy Guide
NCAA Football Defensive Strategy: Cornerback

Cornerback is by far the most difficult position to operate from in a video game. The primary reason is that the corner is often off-screen, or is assigned to cover a receiver who may spend much of a play completely out of view. Combined with the massive amount of responsibility that comes with the position, one should only elect to manually control a corner if they are looking for a challenge. That being said, the reward for playing it well can be worth the risk. Here are a few tips to help you manage the hot corner, start locking down receivers, and begin jumping passes to take picks back to the house for six.

It’s all about the angles

The trick to successfully playing the corner is positioning. Ideally, you need to keep your player in between the quarterback and the receiver, in a way that will allow you the greatest margin for error when attempting to disrupt a pass. Your first and foremost responsibility is as a pass defender, so think about that first, and the run second.

Good positioning starts before the ball is snapped. Once you have control of your corner and depending on your assignment, cheat inside a few steps. This does a couple of things. First, it moves your player closer to the viewable area of the screen. As you get more comfortable with the movements of both corners and wideouts alike, you can cheat farther and farther inside until you are positioning yourself on-screen before the play. Second, you want your defender inside the receiver anyways, so this gives you a head start in claiming that inside edge.


Be sure to take the right angles so this doesn't happen to you.

Inside positioning is ideal for pass defense because unless the receiver runs a short out or an outside curl, your player will always be a step ahead of the receiver. On a streak, staying inside allows you to get in between the receiver and the ball, and go up for an easy swat. You can also concede a little bit of downfield separation as long as you are inside, because even halfway decent corners can get really high on swats and take away passes that would land 10 yards farther downfield. If the receiver runs any type of inside pass rush, you are already in the passing lane, and have an advantage in staying on top of them. One of the best ways to get beat in man coverage is on a long route over the middle which allows the receiver to get past the corner and into open space. By staying inside the route, you can prevent this from happening.

As per my instructions from earlier about playing safety, you’ll want to rely a lot on strafing. This keeps your player squared to the ball and makes movements more precise. With a corner, you have a lot less time to react on a route or a pass, so being squared to the play makes it easier for your player to get after the ball. When the play starts, strafe back a few steps to ensure you don’t get beat deep right off the bat. There will often be a few seconds before your assigned receiver is visible on screen, and nothing is worse than having him pop up twenty yards downfield. Your downfield responsibility is the single most important thing to remember.

The trick to successfully playing the corner is positioning. Ideally, you need to keep your player in between the quarterback and the receiver, in a way that will allow you the greatest margin for error when attempting to disrupt a pass.

Stay inside and downfield until the receiver becomes visible, and then act according to what they do. If they continue downfield, stay squared until they pass you, then stop strafing and turn to run with them downfield. If they cut inside, again maintain strafing until they pass you, but keep in mind you have a lot more latitude to strafe in this situation as the angle gets better the closer the receiver is to the center of the field. As your playing, try to identify the route the receiver is running as soon as you can, and act according to it. If you are sure a player is not going to make another cut up field, you can afford to be a decent distance upfield from them. This again makes it easier to cut off the pass. If the player cuts outside, you need to quickly sprint outside as well, but in that case stay closer to the line of scrimmage as your only chance of breaking up the pass will be to catch up at a serious angle. Short outs to the sideline are the best passes to concede, so if it happens don’t be upset. Just get over there and push them out of bounds, and hope the next time they try to beat you inside.

Lastly, if the receiver curls, you should already be in perfect position. If you stay squared and inside, then most likely the receivers curl will put him directly behind you. If you have a receiver curled and waiting for a pass, an advanced maneuver is to move slightly out of position to try to bait the throw, and then jump in and take it away. The first few times you defend a curl, just hang out in front of the receiver and defend the route. Once you get more comfortable, consider baiting.

Trust your instincts

More so than with any other position, corner is all about thinking ahead and making instinctive plays. Those few seconds when the receiver is off-screen are the most crucial, as you need to be confident that once the receiver appears you’ll be ready to defend them. If it feels like it’s been a while, they might be camped out near the sideline on an out or a quick hitch. If that’s the case, just try to get in between the quarterback and where you think they are, and be ready for a quick swat to take away the pass.

Another thing that is important to remember is never to play the run. Obviously, once the running back has the ball in his hands, you can think about running to the play and trying to help out on a tackle, but feeling that the run is your responsibility is a dangerous way to think. A corner should NEVER bite on a play-action pass. Assume every run is a play fake, and if your wrong, it shouldn’t matter. If you consistently find your corners making tackles on runs, there is a problem with your playcalling. The time that corners are really helpful against the run is on pitches or sweeps, and those are really easy to react to. Assume a pass, play the pass, and stop the run if you have to.


Defending receivers like Jeremy Maclin will not be easy, but with proper positioning it is possible.

Also, once the play is underway you need to move according to your instincts. As you practice from the CB position, you’ll get a better sense of how plays unfold from that angle. Just keep strafing and cheating inside until you know how to react. The punishment for being too far downfield is much less than for being too far upfield. Likewise, the punishment for being too far inside is much less than for being too far outside. Play these probabilities and you should be able to avoid conceding too much yardage on any one play, while consistently putting yourself in a position to make a game-changer.

We talkin’ bout practice

Practice makes perfect. Playing as a corner can be extremely frustrating, as even if you do everything right, you can still mistime the pick or the swat, or be ever so slightly out of position, and watch your man take a pass a long way for a score. If you are serious about wanting to learn the corner position, you need to commit to mastering it, and not be discouraged when this happens (trust me, it will happen). You could give up 200 receiving yards to your man, but if you take two picks back for scores, you’ve probably given your team a net gain. Think about the trade-offs.

The best way to practice is in the coverage drill as it allows you to see everything much better.

The best way to practice is in the coverage drill as it allows you to see everything much better. Apply the tips I gave you above to the drill, and you will be able to see why they work so well in games. The drill is also nice because there are only a few routes the receiver will run, and it’s easy to learn how to play the most number of routes effectively. By cheating back and in, you take away the streak, the drag, the cross, and the curl. Receivers don’t really run outs in the drill, so you really can’t get punished if you do it correctly. Again, stay with the receiver if he passes you downfield, but if he waves his hand in the air, he is about to stop and curl. In fact, if you see him wave his hand, cheat way up field and get in between him and the quarterback. Trust me, you may feel like your bailing on a deep route, but he will turn, and you can be right there to take the pass away.

The drill also allows you to practice actually defending passes. Defense on the move can be a little more difficult, since you have to time your movements to be in the right place and do the right thing. Like with a safety, don’t go for picks unless you are all over the pass. In most cases, the swat is infinitely more effective. If you are running side by side with a receiver on a cross or what have you, just swat as soon as the ball is approaching and your player will do the rest. Always swat on any over the top pass as its just too hard to beat a receiver in the air and the risk is too great. Lastly, try to move towards the ball when making plays as it's easier to cut off the pass than to wait until it gets to the receiver. There are too many over-powered catch animations in the game that can catch you off guard, so as soon as you feel you can get to the ball, do it.

Final thoughts

In last year’s NCAA Football and Madden, I experimented with playing as a cornerback in Campus Legend mode. At first, it was a terribly frustrating experience. If it was a run, I was either completely irrelevant or I got trucked by the running back. If it was a pass, the throw was either to a different receiver or I would simply get beat. After a while, however, as I started to get a sense of where to be and when, things started to come together. Eventually it reached the point where I would pick off nearly every pass that came my way. I had 26 picks for the Lions in one season, no joke. When you finally reach that point where you are affecting games so dramatically, all the previous frustration suddenly becomes worth it. Just stay cool, stick with it, and I guarantee you’ll get your first pick six before long. Then you’ll be hooked on the hot corner.

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