How Much Contact is Allowed?
The amount of contact defensive backs area allowed to have varies in the the NFL, NCAA and NFHS (High School) rule books. Hence many youth coaches make mistakes when instructing their youth defensive backs on how to play. These mistakes are magnified when we see youth coaches playing press coverage because what they see on TV on Saturdays and Sundays varies from what is allowed in your leagues.
What the Rule Book Says
With the exception of Texas and Massachusetts, youth football teams base rule book is the NFHS rule book. Many youth leagues may have a few “special rules” exceptions in regards to special teams or weight limitations, but the base rule book in those 48 states is the NFHS. Texas and Massachusetts base rule book is the NCAA book.
How much contact can a defensive back use according to the NFHS rule book? What the rule actually says (9-2-3d) is “A defensive player shall not contact an eligible receiver who is no longer a potential blocker.” ( Thanks Coach Doug)
What Does it Mean?
Now how does one determine when an eligible receiver is no longer a potential blocker. In my mind my receivers are always a potential blocker. In the old University of Nebraska option teams, coach Browns receivers would have never seen the field if they weren’t ALWAYS a potential blocker. Obviously the wording of this rule could use a little work. How can an official determine a receivers intent?
What Happens in Real Life
In reality what most officials do is allow contact until the receiver has put distance between himself and the defender. In most cases that means after the receiver has passed the defender or at least cut in a direction that creates space. Most officials will however give leeway if the receiver is in front of the defender. There is no 5 yard rule etc
Poorly worded rule? Absolutely and plenty of room for interpretation and problems.