Handler Cutting

The Basics

There is a principle I want to start with here that transcends the position on the field that you’re making your cut (downfield, handler, whatever). This is probably the most important cutting principle anyone can learn: take what the defense is giving you. If my defender playing off me 5 yards to contain the line cut, I’m not going to cut up line. If my defender is backing me by 10 yards because of my 40 inch vertical, I’m not going to go deep (initially). It’s a fairly simple concept, but I see so many young players learn one method of cutting (5 hard steps out and under) and make that cut no matter how the defense is set up. If they’re going to play off of you as a defender, then take the open cut, it’s simple.

Anyway, back to handler cuts. The first thing you need to learn when making a handler cut is how to position yourself properly. This varies slightly depending on the offense you run. But there are a few things that are fairly universal.

Give yourself a good amount of horizontal space away from the disc. However, don’t be so far away (20+ yards) that your cut is going to take 2-3+ seconds to develop, when the person with the disc is ready to reset, you should be in a good position as soon as they turn or very soon thereafter (depending on whether your team runs a timing system, or is more based on eye contact). I also like to set up 3-4 yards backfield from the disc so as to have more room to drive my defender up the line.

Exactly what you do with a cut varies based on where your defender is positioned and your own athletic skill-set, but in general your first priority should be to force your defender up the line. If you beat them up line, sweet, you gained yards and got power position (your body is moving in the direction you want to throw, down field). If your defender covers that look, then once they’ve turned their hips and committed to your line cut, you should cut back for the behind reset. Again, how you get the defender to turn their hips is up to your own abilities. Some people throw a shimmy in there, some people are just naturally quick, some people use their size to make it difficult for the defender to get around them.

One good rule of thumb however is to avoid “dancing.” Meaning that you’re making 3-4 jukes to get your defender to turn. This takes too long as a handler cut, and if your defender’s covered the first 3 or 4 then they probably can cover 5 and 6 or the stall count has gotten too high. Also, remember to be dynamic. I’ve seen some very quick guys go up against a quicker defender, and struggle to get open with moves that normally work. If one thing isn’t working against a particular defender, have other options. Figure out what works for you, but remember, a good handler cut should get you separation in a fairly short timeframe.

Sideline Resets

For the majority of your cuts when the disc is on the sideline one of two things is going to happen. 1) You beat your man up the line. 2) You get the disc backfield for the reset. Up the line is pretty straight forward, you’re in a great spot for a huck or break throw and should follow up accordingly.

One thing that people should be mindful of is running somewhat parallel to the sideline when you make your line cut. If you take too hard of angle towards the sideline then your thrower does not have the room to make an easy space throw, rather, they are forced to put the disc in the one specific spot where you as the cutter are going to meet the sideline. The problem here is that you can’t catch the disc out of bounds, while your defender can keep going 100% straight through and get the D.

However, the thrower must also be careful of putting the disc too far up the line in the space you’ve created, because eventually you will run into down field defenders and poaches.

Moving to back field resets, one extremely bad habit that a lot of players (especially myself as I’ve played less competitively in the last two years) have when making a backfield dump cut is getting the reset almost directly behind the person with the disc. When the disc is sidelined, this is not a good thing. You haven’t put yourself into position for a good swing, you haven’t advanced the disc towards the center of the field (which for most offenses is a benefit). Mostly what you’ve done is lost yards.


A good backfield handler cut should always put you in the position to make a swing or at the very least have gained space off the sideline. In the above illustration you’ve driven your defender up the line, turned their hips, but you took a bad angle and went straight to the disc. Your throwing “power” position in my above example is pointing towards the sideline and away from the downfield, about the only place on the field there is absolute nobody to throw to.


In this picture you still haven’t taken the best angle up the line but you’re at least gaining some horizontal space away from the disc in addition to getting the reset. You also have a slightly better option to continue your swing across the field.


This is the ideal way to get a back field reset for a couple reasons. First of all, the cut is practically un-coverable. If your defender stops the line cut then they are in no position to stop a swing cut back across the field. Additionally they are on the completely 100% wrong side of the your body to stop a continuation swing and your throwing power position is facing the entire break-side of the field. If you can successfully execute this cut you will get a continue swing off, or at the very least will have the disc significantly closer to the middle of the field.

The one thing to be careful of with the above “best” cut that I’ve described, is the throw is significantly more challenging a dump throw than a simple behind-reset. The reason that a lot of players go for the straight behind reset (as shown in my “NO” illustration) is that it’s probably the easiest throw for the person with the disc to make. However, I believe it reasonable that any competitive team expect all their players to be able to make this longer, space throw.

Midfield Resets

When the disc is the middle of the field resets are quite simple as you are not terribly concerned with horizontal positioning, but rather you mostly just want to reset the stall count while maintaining relative position to where the disc started.

I’ll go over the three different cuts I generally use when the disc is already centered, and the strengths of each.

mid reset

The above reset is straight forward. I’m going to go behind the thrower, either slightly break or open side. It doesn’t matter if I start on the force or break side. One of the absolute best spots to set up here is straight behind the disc, as one step to either side and a space throw will get you separation and a reset with a good open or break-side power position look. Yes you will be losing yards, but you’ve kept the disc centered and you should have an easy continue look.

mid reset (1)

This is the cut I make when I’ve started on the FORCE or OPEN side of the disc. Meaning the marker is forcing the thrower towards my side of the field. In this case my defender is playing me hard as the line throw is a slight break-mark throw. I push them hard up the line, slightly past the thrower then cut back horizontally across the field. In this case I’ll be gaining yards and will have open-side power-position for a down-field throw.

mid reset (2)

This final cut is when I start my positioning on the BREAK side of the field. This is very similar to a sideline handler reset. I’m going to drive my defender hard up the line. If they don’t cover it I’ll take the line. I gained yards and got power position, awesome. If it’s covered then once the defender has turned their hips I’ll turn back and angle away from the thrower so as to get the disc out in break-space for a wide-open break continue look once I get the reset.

In summation I think you can equate solid handler cutting to three fundamental principles:

  1. Utilize the space you have on the field.
  2. Take what the defense is giving you.
  3. Don’t be content just to reset the stall count, think about where your continuation throw, once the disc is reset, can go.

As always I welcome comments and I apologize for my less than stellar illustrations, I hope they are somewhat clear.


Originally posted March 21, 2012: http://katfishultimate.blogspot.com/2012/03/handler-cutting.html

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