Tuesday Tips: Three Keys to Great Reset Defense

Seattle Riot works to complete a reset against Boston Brute Squad at the 2014 US Open. Photo: Brian Canniff -- UltiPhotos.com
Seattle Riot works to complete a reset against Boston Brute Squad at the 2014 US Open. Photo: Brian Canniff — UltiPhotos.com

Tuesday Tips are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate

In ultimate, one of the most isolating defensive situations is a one-on-one reset defense matchup.

You as a defender are on an island with no help, often with a huge amount of backfield space to try to cover.

To make matters worse, since you’re dealing with the backfield, most of the time, the force isn’t even a factor. Instead, it’s just you and often times one of the quickest, squirreliest players on the opposing team, going toe-to-toe in a situation where desperation means that in a high-stall, the throw is definitely coming your way.

How do you respond? Do you face guard completely and just try to lock into the reset? Do you work team defense and concede the reset in the face of preventing a more dangerous throw? Or do you anticipate, trying to jump a throw that you bait, hoping you can get to the disc first?

None of the above? All three?

The answer, of course, is complicated, but effectively defending a reset does have three important keys.

Key #1: Guarding the reset first means knowing your limitations.

Yes, you are in a tough spot in a one-on-one dump matchup. And, yes, the throw you are guarding is oftentimes the frustrating, high-stall bailout that is a mere second or two away from your team getting a coverage sack.

So it is tempting to sell-out, to face guard, to go out of your mind trying to shut down the handler. And there are indeed times when you might need to do this (if the game is incredibly desperate or, more likely, if you know this is your best chance at forcing a turnover because the combination of offensive players involved is very weak… i.e. a non-throwing cutter and a handler you know you can outmatch). 

However, being a reset defender comes with limitations, and you need to remember them. Most of the time, you don’t need to go all-out. You just need to play smart and control the things you can control.

As Kayla Emrick so perfectly wrote in her piece “The Fundamentals of Handler Defense,” handler defense first must take away the most dangerous option. 

To expand on this and connect it to limitations, you must remember that while getting a block on the reset is phenomenal, the percentages aren’t necessarily in your favor. Most resets, provided the players involved are competent, will be successful. There’s just so much space and so much thrower freedom involved: the odds just aren’t in your favor.

So, if you sell out trying to guard the reset (making some desperate bid, over-committing to covering the break side, or biting on a big fake), you leave yourself vulnerable to getting burned. And good players will burn you big.

If you play too aggressively in reset defensive situations and there’s a good chance your opponent will catch the disc up field in power position, unmarked, where they can punish you in a variety of ways.

A good rule of thumb is this: be close enough…

Close enough to:

  1. Make a play if the offense makes a mistake. If there’s a high, floaty dump or a mistimed pass, you want to be close enough to close the distance and make the play hard on a bad throw. Good throws will succeed, but you have limitations and are OK with that.
  2. Get the mark on and immediately hold the force if a good reset gets thrown. Yes, it is frustrating that your player got the reset in the backfield. But, it’s much better to immediately start the stall and cut off the next throw, rather than letting a break go off that sends the team flowing up the field.

Key #2: Guarding the reset means playing different angles.

Guarding the dump is very different depending on which reset you are at the moment. Experienced players know there is a huge difference guarding a handler on the force side, rather than one on the break side.

Force side defense on the dump will be trickier. This is the especially unmarked case and the situation in which the dump has free reign of the backfield to juke, dance, and make you look silly. While these defensive situations are important, giving up a backwards, force-side pass is hardly the worst option.

Break side defense is easier but more dangerous. Your job on the break side is generally less active and more single-minded (don’t let the opponent go up line! Priority number one!). 

If you screw up on the break side, it hurts a lot more. Usually, that means the offense is getting an upline power position cut or a swing to the break side to start up flow.

So you must change your defense depending on the angle. 

Break side defense is much more about limiting. Take the extra step off to ensure the upline strike cut does not happen. This is by far the “discretion is the better part of valor” situation. Don’t be the hero and get burned. Be close enough to make the play or to limit the throw if it goes off. Be tight enough to touch the opponent, but in a position far enough away that you know you can get to the upline space first and keep a cushion there.

For force-side defense, you can be a little bit more aggressive. The best way to do this is to be physical. Take that one to two step cushion and make it a zero step cushion. If you have the expert ability, this is a great time to body the offense up, hugging the hip tight. Don’t foul, but play tough and hold your ground on the up field side. In other words, don’t let them slip or spin around you to get the “hardest” throw uncontested. Instead, keep your body as a wall up field and force them backwards, tight enough that you can really go after the reset, possibly even face-guarding if you feel like you own the match-up, or, at the very least, playing sideways with eyes on both the disc and your person. If you’re worried about fouling, remember, the hips and the forearms are your friend (hands, pushing or pulling get into trouble and fouling, but playing hip to hip, bodying up is copacetic, especially at elite levels). Adjust your play to the situation accordingly. Summer league is probably not the time for aggressive physical defense (unless it is the league finals and then you do you).

Rules of thumb: 

  • Break side: play a step off up field, see both disc and offender, and be close enough to touch with outstretched arm, ready to seal or get that bad throw.
  • Force side: play tight and physical, ready to aggressively go after the backfield, but making sure the player does not get around you to go up field.

Key #3: Guarding the reset means being the reset.

Every master tactician, from Sun Tzu to Master Yoda, knows you need to put yourself in the mind of your enemy.

Read the situation, anticipate what the offense will do, and respond accordingly. 

This relates to everything from the score of the game to the position on the field to the player you are guarding (and especially how quick they are). It is you taking all these factors into account and spitting out a gameplan that helps you predict and respond quickly. You’ll never beat a great handler one-on-one by simply reacting and trying to mirror their movement (they will always win). Your only chance is if, occasionally, you can respond with perfect play because you anticipated what they’ll do. 

Great players in every sport do this instinctively thanks to their experience, but you can train yourself by watching, playing, and actively thinking about handler defense.

You need to know if your handler has the wheels to break deep on you and go for the long pass. You need to anticipate if your handler has the throws to rip off a big huck if you leave yourself exposed. You need to guess if you can beat your handler in a three-step foot race if you leave the back sideline corner temptingly open, hoping to bait a block.

Most of this comes with time and experience, but there are a few questions you should constantly have running in your head:

  1. What’s the most dangerous part of the field?
  2. What’s my opponent’s most dangerous asset? 
  3. What is my greatest strength (and weakness)?
  4. Where are my teammates and what are their strengths?
  5. Where does the other team want the disc? Where do they not want the disc?
  6. What is the game situation and score? 
  7. What is the crux or focus of our defense?
  8. How and where do we want to put pressure on this team?

Sometimes the answers to these questions will mean playing it smart or playing back and safe. Other times, it will mean you need to step up and really help the team by guarding throwing lanes and space. And in some situations, you’ll be on the island battling one-on-one.

Remember these keys, practice them endlessly, and train yourself. Fitness, quickness, explosiveness, and agility are all essential to handler defense. If you don’t work on these, you won’t even be able to get your foot in the door. 

But once that door creeps open, it’ll be your game smarts that take you to the next level.  

  1. Alex Rummelhart

    Alex "UBER" Rummelhart is an Ultiworld reporter. He majored in English at the University of Iowa, where he played and captained IHUC. He lives and teaches in Chicago, Illinois, where he has played for several ultimate teams, including the Chicago Wildfire and Chicago Machine. Alex loves writing of all types, especially telling interesting and engaging stories. He is the author of the novel The Ultimate Outsider, one of the first fictional works ever written about ultimate.

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