Xavien Howard on Playing Defensive Back

Safeties and cornerbacks need to practice their timing and have a knowledge of opposing offenses to help their team win.

Defensive backs can be the last line of opposition between an offense and the end zone. Whether a wide receiver is going up for a pass or a running back finds a hole in the line, cornerbacks and safeties need to be ready to make a play.

Professional football player Xavien Howard spoke to Pro Tips about playing defensive back. The cornerback provided some pointers to remember when you step into the defensive secondary.


One of the keys to finding success as a defensive back is timing. Knowing when to jump a route can come down to having the right timing. However, it’s about more than just your own timing.

If you can disrupt the timing of an offense, you could put yourself in position to make a game-changing play. But if you’re off, it could lead to a big play going the other direction.

“Even if [they’re] just a little bit off, that’ll help your game a lot if you get your hands on the receiver,” Howard says.


Knowing how to read a wide receiver’s body language can also help you come up with a big play. By studying film and knowing what to look for, you can get an idea of what the offense is about to run.

If an offense is going to run the ball, a wide receiver may not come off the line with as much force as a passing play.

“A running play, you can tell. The receivers [are not] really running down the field trying to block you,” Howard says. “So, if they come off the ball slow, you know it’s a running play.”

Additionally, you can break down the stance of a wide receiver to get an idea of the play. You can improve this skill by studying film and learning a receiver’s route tree. This is a way that skill players organize routes and highlight the different routes a receiver may run.

“I try to break it down to the receiver, what his favorite route tree [is],” Howard says. “When I find out his route tree, I understand his stance and what he’s doing.”

Don’t let the final whistle of the year stop you from getting better. Learn how to train like a professional during the offseason with more tips from Howard.