A defensive back in football refers to a position group that plays in the defensive backfield and is primarily responsible for pass coverage. The defensive back position group is made up of safeties and cornerbacks.
The term defensive back is typically used as a way to easily generalize this position group instead of naming specific positions.
A defensive back or DB is essentially any defender that plays deep in their own defensive backfield. When a player in the backfield is being referenced it can be easier to refer to them as a defensive back instead of determining exactly what position they play.
This is similar to when an offensive player is referred to as a ball carrier. A ball carrier could be in many different positions but it is often easier to refer to them with this name.
In practice, defensive backs are players that are going to be mainly responsible for stopping passes from being completed.
These players also play a role in the run defense as well. In most cases, there are going to be four defensive backs on the field. That being said formations such as the nickel, dime, and quarter include five, six, and seven dbs on the field.
What Are A Defensive Backs Responsibilities?
The main role that defensive backs play in a defense is in pass coverage. A defensive back can have two responsibilities in pass coverage.
They can either be assigned zone or man coverage. Zone coverage involves a db covering a specific area of the field. If a receiver enters their zone they will keep them covered until they exit.
Man coverage involves a db being matched up with a specific offensive player. On these plays, the defensive backs must follow this player across the field in order to stop them from catching a pass.
On most plays, the defensive backs will be matched up against all the eligible receivers on the opposing team.
Though dbs are primarily used in pass coverage they also help the team against the run as well. This is especially true for safeties who tend to be much more involved in the run game compared to cornerbacks.
On rushing plays, defensive backs will usually have to fight off blocks from the same players they cover on passing plays.
Defensive backs are not going to hit as hard as the larger players but this position group is still expected to be quality tacklers at the NFL level.
If a rush goes towards the sideline the cornerbacks are often going to be the players responsible for making a tackle.
Additionally, if a ball carrier is able to get to the third level it will be up to defensive backs to make the touchdown-saving tackle to stop them.
Special Teams Play
On top of their duties on the defense it is also quite common for dbs to play special teams. Defensive back roles such as gunner, punt returner, and kick returner are often given to safeties and cornerbacks.
The speed and athletic ability of defensive backs allow these players to be especially useful on special teams.
You will find that NFL teams use a large number of defensive backs on their special team’s units.