Ron Cooper Describes Zone Technique

B.J. Tucker and Jim Leonhard lead the Big Ten with four interceptions apiece, while Leonhard has more passes broken up (15) than anyone in the NCAA. Defensive Backs Coach Ron Cooper describes the technique that's led to that success.

Badger Nation: Can you describe the technique you've implemented that's accounted for so many pass breakups and interceptions this year? It's basically taking care of the top side shoulder, getting a hand on the ball and beating the receiver up to get the ball out, right?

Cooper: Yeah. Number one, the first thing you've got to do if you're going for the interception is you have to be able to get your hands on the ball. If the receiver is running a deep route, we believe in turning and seeing the quarterback, and having the seeing the field peripherally. That's just normal DB stuff. It just means you're going to backpedal when there's a deep route, instead of turning to look at the man, we're actually turning to look at the ball and fade at the same time by playing the ball. It's basically nothing but keeping your eyes on the quarterback, turning yourself into a receiver, and if you're in a position where you can't do that, play off the top side shoulder and get it out.

Badger Nation: That was a common criticism for Badger cornerbacks in recent years, even with Mike Echols. Was this something you noticed on tape, that the DBs were not getting themselves turned around to play the ball?

Cooper: It's just the way I was brought up with, learning pass defense. The quarterback tells you what to do. You read him, you read his eyes. You see number one, where is he looking? Then where is his front side shoulder pointing? If his shoulder is turned outside, there's no sense in going the other way, because he's not going to turn (the other way) and throw back over there. So there are some indicators we look at, where the quarterback is looking, where his front side shoulder is. Is his shoulder up as he's about to throw it? Is it down low? If it's up he's going to throw the deep ball. If it's down low, he's not going to throw it. We just read our indicators and at the same time always, as much as we can, zone turn, which means turn and look at the quarterback. Don't turn and look at the man. Turn and look at the quarterback. In man coverage, you have to turn and look at the man. It's a little bit different. But in zone, you actually need to turn and just play the ball. You turn into the wideout.

Badger Nation: You've been spending more time after practices working with the scout team quarterbacks.

Cooper: Just the deep balls Because where we are practice-wise right now, it's hard to throw a 50-yard route on the grass, because everybody's in their own space. In order to get the deep routes thrown, we have to stay after. We'll stay after (Wednesday's practice), and we'll stay again on Friday and throw it deep.

Badger Nation: Have you been pleasantly surprised with the number of picks you've had, with B.J. and Jimmy leading the Big Ten?

Cooper: Not really. I probably expected a few more, the amount of times he dropped back. You try to have an interception every 15-20 times a quarterback drops back to throw it. Every time he launches it 15-20 times, you'd like to come up with one. So we're probably right on target with the amount of times, but there is two more that we should have had on Saturday and didn't have.

Badger Nation: When you watch the game tape, have you seen your DB's executing the techniques on deep balls properly?

Cooper: Oh I've seen the guys execute them. I'm pleased with what they're doing. The biggest thing we have to do this week is we have to continue to get better. I thought we didn't get better last week. We have to get better this week as a secondary, better than we've played in any of those other six weeks.

Badger Nation: If someone had told you before the season that two of your defensive backs would lead the Big Ten in interceptions, you'd be awfully surprised that Scott Starks isn't one of them. But he hasn't had as many opportunities to make plays on deep balls, right?

Cooper: No, Saturday he had one in his hands, and it got knocked out by Jimmy. They ran into each other. They've probably thrown at B.J. a little bit more. I don't know how much more, but the (opportunities) are there. If the throw is there, you can make the break. The thing I look at are (passes broken up). If you're had your hands on the ball, how many of those have you intercepted?

Badger Nation: Are you pretty pleased with the way B.J. has played these first six weeks?

Cooper: Oh yeah, B.J. has played well. I'm pleased with him. I'm pleased with all of them right now. The young guys are getting better, and then of course B.J. has been around here for four years now. He's playing well and he's getting better. Hopefully he can finish it out strong and have a good week this week.

Badger Nation: Aside from deep balls, what else are you emphasizing in practice?

Cooper: Just tackling this week. We have to tackle. We missed two tackles this week. One was real big in the open field for a touchdown that we can't have happen. So we will emphasize tackling this week. We actually did what I call cross-body tackling, where we got on the ground today tackling dummies, to simulate because we are in full gear today. We have to go out and do it again Wednesday. We're going to work on tackling every day this week, in pads.

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