Just as with an offensive squad, each player on the defensive line has a few areas that he or she excels at. Some may be good at running down the long, streaking cuts, while other will be good at then tight, close-to-the-disc cuts. There may be another who has a very active mark that comes up with more point blocks than anyone else. And just as the offense trains players to fill certain roles, so should the defense train players to stop certain roles.
When faced with a very good offensive player, you must first realize that stopping that player is going to be very hard. The amount of effort spent trying is not likely to produce a worthwhile result. Defense is about exposing and exploiting the other team's weakest areas. Therefore, you must abandon the hope of shutting this player down, and simply reduce him to a less threatening player (i.e. not throwing or catching scores). You must cater your attack to when he does not have the disc.
Every player has a comfort zone. You can watch as they enter the mode where they know exactly what they are going to do next without even thinking about it. This can be the worst or best place for a defender to place their mark into. A smart, agile defender can allow their mark to enter the zone, only to take away their favorite option. Take the example of a player with a strong flick that loves to cut up the line. Once identified, a smart defender can allow the player to make that cut, but jump over and sit on the flick. The offender is caught off guard, and throws a shaky, off-balance backhand that can be picked off by another defender.
However, it's also possible that once in the zone, they know all the options well. Given the same offensive player traits as above, this one will actually make a very good backhand throw, doing just as much damage. A good defender is not going to allow the player into that comfort zone, or at least make it very difficult to enter. Every defender can take away something. So is this case, we give up everything but the up-line cut. The offender will still be a key player, but if we take away is favorite strength, it's more likely that he will expose the team's weakness.
I like to appoint match-ups as soon as possible. This gives the defender a while to get used to his mark's habits. Just as in poker, most players have tells. They will often be as subtle as a certain hip shimmy that wouldn't be noticeable to the average spectator, but any defender worth his salt will notice every aspect of when he gets beat. Those tells will become evident and the defender can play off them.
Sometimes, the mental adjustments cannot be made fast enough. This is evident to a coach when the same sequence of event happens with the same result. It's at this time that you put a different defender on. Here is the key: you don't put the original defender on someone else. Doing so will add new elements to what the defender is learning, and will only server to delay the process. After a point—two at the most—and a brief talk to make sure recognition is there, the defender is put back on. If he still can't make the adjustments and it's early in the game, then see if someone else can be a quick study. If it's late in the game, it's not likely you'll be able to solve the problem with a new defender. There's not the time for the new one to make it through the learning process. In this case, your game plan has failed, and your only hope is to flip to something involving team defense to make up the gap.
When there is one standout defender, he should be marking a mid-level, role player type. One who tends to fly under the radar, but is still an integral part of disc movement. Baiting here is encouraged, since this player is trusted to get the disc, but will not do significant damage if the bait fails. If every other average defender is taking away the one that that leads to scoring on their marks, the chances of the offense's weakness showing up increases. The idea is not to shut down the best offensive players. As long as they are not catching scores, there is opportunity whenever the disc is released from the players' hands. Then the object of the defense is to make those releases as unsure as possible. By doing things like making the windows smaller or forcing the thrower into a throw they're not adept at, they are increasing their chances of getting a hand on the disc.
Shane lives in Seattle now, though he has played and coached with UCF and played last year's Series with Florida's Ronin.