Read more about the future of The Huddle.

The Huddle

Go Get It

by Andrew Fleming

In the deep-D scenario, the disc is already in the air. But let's rewind just a bit. As a defender, my goal is for the "up" call to be the second sign that the disc is coming. The first sign should be my anticipation of the play as it develops. The more I am aware of what is happening with the disc, the mark, and the other cutters, the easier it is to anticipate. As my man cuts on the field, I want to see the possible throws before they happen. Most of the throws I see will never go up, but when one does go up, I'm already on it.

Have you ever sat a stoplight and watched the light for the other direction turn from green to yellow to red? When your light finally turns green, it's just a confirmation of what you already knew was about to happen. How much quicker are you off that line if you're peeking at the other light versus waiting for yours to change? That's the difference between reacting and anticipating on D. When I hear that "up" call, I want to already know what throw is coming and already be poised to jump on it.

Once I hear that "up" call, my first action is to explode with three or four hard steps toward the cutter. I need to accelerate and start closing that gap between him and me. Especially if we're similar in speed, every step counts. I've got to get there in order to make the play.

Next, I take a quick look at the disc. Ideally, I've anticipated the throw that's coming, and I know about where to look. The quick peek gives me a general read on the disc, usually falling into one of three categories: 1. too low or too short, and I'm going to pick it off easily; 2. long and cruisy, and it's going to be a straight-up footrace; 3. something in between that will demand a good read on the disc and good positioning for the D.

Now, I can adjust based on the my quick read of the disc. If the disc is short, I've found out soon enough to grab it before my man can cut back in. If the disc is long, I'm going to make like it's track practice and blow by him. If it's in between, as most throws tend to be, it gets more complicated.

My goal on a disc that's hanging is to get myself right next to the cutter as quickly as possible. On D, I don't want to read the disc and drift toward it, because I'm playing defense on the cutter, not the disc. Even if I don't have a perfect read, if I'm next to my man I'll be in position to make a play.

Everyone loves the vertical game in ultimate, but most hanging discs are won and lost in the positioning more than the jump. I know that if I get myself in the right place, I'll probably get the block Most cutters will read and drift toward the disc, and so want to keep off their back hip and away from where the disc is heading. If we're running deep for an open-side forehand huck, the cutter wants to keep me off his right hip and catch with his left hand. The best way for me to get the block is to run past the cutter so I can take position right where he doesn't want me to be. Suddenly, it's a whole lot harder for him to read the disc, position himself to make the catch, and box me out all at the same time.

As I'm catching up to the cutter, I look back for a second read on the disc in order to decide whether to run past his front side or back side. If the throw is fairly straight, I like to run by the front side (the side closest to the throw) because it's harder for the cutter to adjust and box me out. If the throw is tipping to the left (outside-in) and/or there's wind pushing it that way, it's generally best to run by the back side, putting myself right between the cutter and where he needs to go to make the catch. Whichever side I choose, I want to make sure I am at least even and probably a half step past the cutter.

As the disc comes in and I'm getting ready to go up, I want to stay close to the cutter. If we both miss it, it's my disc. Once I take up position on the front side, I'm reading the cutter as much as the disc; I want to drift back with him so that if the disc jumps over me, it's over him too. Once I take up position on the backside, I want to hold my ground so he can't drift back and get under the disc.

At the right moment, I go up and grab it. Often, good positioning makes this easy. Sometimes, depending on the cutter and the situation, it doesn't. But going for the catch is almost always the best play. First, I avoid tipping the disc to the cutter or another opponent following the play; losing a sweet D to the trash pick-up is more than dissappointing. Second, if it's close, I'm more likely to make a fair, clean play on the disc, as opposed to if I'm chopping away at it. Third, if there's some contact between players, especially incidental arm contact, it's a lot harder to justify a foul call when I come down with the disc.

Fourth, the fast break is on.

That's my deep D. To recap:

0. Always peek at the light.
1. Sprint first.
2. Quick read.
3. Get close.
4. Run by.
5. Stay close.
6. Catch it.