Michigan Wolverines’ Woolfolk and the psychology of pass defense


You’ve heard the “voice of God” in those old NFL Films clips. That ultra-deep, ludicrously over-dramatic and mortally serious narrating by the late, great John Facenda:

for the Autumn wind is a Raider, pillaging just for fun. He’ll knock you ’round and upside down. And laugh when he’s conquered and won.

My favorite Facenda prose describes the island duel between wide receiver and defensive back, in which no quarter is asked, nor expected. And “the loser bleeds alone on an empty field.”

There’s a reason wide receivers are typically the most outwardly brash, and overt showmen of the gridiron. Likewise, there’s a reason defensive backs are usually the most mentally astute on the field. The WR-DB clash is as much a mental and psychological confrontation as it is physical one.

I’ll let Michigan Wolverines star CB-S Troy Woolfolk, a DB with All-Big Ten and NFL Draft written all over him, explain the brains behind the brawn.

By Paul M. Banks

“Receivers have to be cocky because I think it’s an ongoing battle, receivers and DBs, whoever is more cocky and confident will win that play,” Woolfolk told me at Big Ten Media Day.

“Because the play is won pre-snap. After the snap is just a product of the pre-snap, because if you’re not as confident, you’re not going to be able to focus more and pay attention to details and things you have to do to win that play. Confidence allows everything to just align perfectly and win that specific play,” he continued.

I then followed up by asking if there’s an added incentive to shutting down the loudest and most arrogant  receivers.

“That’s when you break ‘em, if you have a receiver who’s cocky and talking a lot, and you shut ‘em down then is causes them to think- maybe I underestimated this guy, and you see every other play they’ll start talking less and less and not running as hard,” Woolfolk continued.

So there’s the theory on paper, but what about these ideas in practice? Look no further than Woolfolk’s role model Darrelle Revis, probably the best corner in the NFL these days. Revis is currently in the midst of a bitter holdout and strenuous contract dispute. But Revis has the same hard-line, competitive streak on the field that he and his agent possess in business.

“And one thing about him, he’s just so confident. I saw him in an interview and they were talking about what he would do if he was playing against top receivers like Chad Ocho Cinco, and the new Ocho Uno Terrell Owens, and he’s just so confident talking trash about ‘em. Most DBs in the league fear these two people and he’s over here talking trash,” Woolfolk said.

“I try to replicate that, not by talking trash but by having the confidence to go against anybody, I’ll lock up any receiver in here right now.

Get a camera do it right now, I have the confidence that nobody can get by me,” he said during my Media Day excluisve. Remember, this interview was done in a room full of the league’s best players; but sadly I did not make an effort to get a camera and Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher over to our table to take Woolfolk up on his offer.

Part of Woolfolk’s confidence comes from the fact that he can play any defensive back position. He made six starts at safety and also six at cornerback last season for the Wolverines.

“Safety is more focused on field emphasis, you constantly have to be scanning, where corner is focused on man emphasis, I think that the switch (from corner to safety, and now back to cornerback) will allow me to focus more on my man emphasis and I can excel in that position,” he stated.

Woolfolk will have to step up his game this fall, as the Wolverines pass defense was pretty atrocious at times last season. And they’ll be without CB Donovan Warren who made an ill-fated decision to leave early and go pro.

Written by Paul M. Banks, President and CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru

Photo courtesy of the Michigan Daily

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