This is an excerpt from Football by Greg Colby.
A second situation in which the ball is caught is when a defensive player intercepts an offensive pass. The skills of catching the ball—focus, hand and arm position, soft hands—are the same skills as for a receiver catching the ball. The difference for a defensive player attempting to intercept is in how he gets to where the ball is.
Defensive players face the line of scrimmage and the offense in most situations throughout most plays. So when a defender has an opportunity to make an interception, he will already have his shoulders and arms facing the oncoming ball. The major difference in receiving and intercepting is in how the defender moves to the reception point. When a pass is in an area where either the receiver or a defensive player has an opportunity to catch it, the player who gets to the ball first usually makes the reception. This being the case, the defender must assume the offensive player will move to the ball to get there first. This means the defender must attack the pass as it approaches.
If the ball is relatively level, the defender must move toward the line of scrimmage until he and the ball meet. If he stops and waits, the receiver will likely step in front and catch the ball first. If the ball is thrown high, the defender needs not only to move toward the pass but might also need to jump into the air to catch the ball before it comes down to the receiver. In this case he must time his jump to catch the ball as high in the air as he can. This gives him the best chance of beating the receiver to the ball. This principle, called catching the ball at its highest point, must be practiced by all defenders who want to increase their intercepting skills.
Defenders working on their interception skills should do the following ball-catching drills as they are described for receivers. When running these drills, defenders should also emphasize moving back to the ball for the catch. Catching the ball at the highest point involves the skill of judging the jump, which takes numerous repetitions. Players not great at judging thrown balls will need to drill this skill a great deal. Learning to judge distances and ball flight angle and speed can take time. This skill should be drilled in the off-season as well as during the season.
Catching Drill 1 Play Catch
Players play catch with a partner. This warm-up drill can easily be done prior to the start of practice. Players catch at least 10 passes prior to each practice.
Emphasize correct technique:
- Focus on the ball.
- Use correct arm and hand position.
- Catch the ball with soft hands.
- Secure the ball.
Catching Drill 2 Seeing the Ball
Players stand 10 to 15 yards away from a partner and play catch. As the ball approaches, players hold their hands in front of their body with thumbs and index fingers pointed toward each other. They work on seeing the ball through the triangle formed by the thumbs and fingers. They should focus on the point of the ball as it strikes their hands. Once they have caught the ball, they move the ball down to a secure position against their body. They should point their nose at the ball from the time they catch it until the time it is secured. This emphasizes eyes on the ball.
- Receivers see a dark spot on the end of the football as it approaches their hands.
- Receivers see the ball strike their hands.
- Receivers are bending their heads down with eyes looking at the ball as they secure it.