Seahawks’ cornerbacks have perfected an innovative step-kick technique that allows them to keep receivers in front of them and not react to their moves.

Share story

PHOENIX — Solomon Wilcots, the NFL Network analyst and former defensive back, floats a theory.

Offenses don’t innovate, he says, because offenses benefit from rule changes designed to help them. But defenses? Defenses innovate. They must.

And when Wilcots looks at what the Seahawks’ secondary does, how they play old-school bump-and-run coverage with a technique called the “step-kick”, he sees something unique.

“I will say this: That stuff is innovative,” Wilcots says before rattling off tough bump-and-run corners: Lester Hayes, Albert Lewis, Mark Haynes, Kevin Ross. “They were phenomenal. They were press bump-and-run corners, but they were all trail technique. It’s still what people run today.

“Pete was like, ‘When you get into that, all they’re going to do is throw deep.’ Sooner or later, all they need to do is hit two or three of those in a game. But Pete said, ‘We’re going to keep the receivers in front of us. We’re going to play with vision back to the quarterback.’

“If you took 10 cornerbacks and asked them what technique they would prefer to play, unanimously everyone one of them would raise their hand quick to play the way Pete Carroll teaches it.”

The step-kick technique is pretty much as it sounds. At the line of scrimmage, Seattle’s corners get in front of their receiver to press. Receivers usually shimmy and shake to create separation at the line — think of Doug Baldwin — but the Seahawks teach their corners to take one step sideways when the ball is snapped. That way, the corner is less tempted to react wrongly to the receiver’s dancing. That’s the “step.”

The “kick” in the equation comes when the dancing is over. At some point the receiver has to get going, and when he does, the Seahawks kick their foot backward to run with the receiver and keep him in front of them.

Kris Richard, the Seahawks’ defensive-backs coach, first learned the step-kick technique when he was a player under Carroll at USC in 2001. He said the technique hasn’t always been around the NFL or college.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say so,” he said, “but … as simple as it is, you absolutely have to practice it and master it. You can take it back to this: It’s like playing basketball and staying in front of a guy in basketball. But now you get to use your hands.”

Seattle’s cornerbacks say in the last couple years other corners in the league have started emulating the technique.

“They’re trying,” said defensive assistant Marquand Manuel. “You can just watch it on tape. Kris has perfected that; I’ve just been along with it. He took it to a whole other level. That’s what he did. That’s living through it, walking through it these last three years with these guys. It’s a life, and until you understand the life, you can try to emulate it. You watch Patrick Peterson, and you watch guys who try to emulate it. I watch tape enough on the good guys, but without the proper teaching you don’t understand the effectiveness of it. And that’s sort of awesome.”

Perhaps the biggest requirement for the step-kick technique is patience. It can be a scary, lonely feeling standing idly while a receiver dances at the line. But instead of reacting to those moves, Seattle’s corners are taught to wait, hold the line and pounce when he makes a move.

Once he does, they then make sure to never get beat deep. Think about it: How many times in the last two or three years can you recall a Seattle corner truly getting beat deep? A handful?

And as for Wilcots’ theory that the step-kick technique is “innovative”, Manuel agreed.

“Is it new? Is bump-and-run coverage new?” Manuel said. “No, it’s not new. But the way you teach the technique, Kris does a great job of doing that. All we do is reiterate it. It’s all about consistency. Can you be consistent and be consistent with your technique? A lot of guys talk about it. They want to emulate it. But can you be consistent?”