While hard press coverage starts at the line of scrimmage with physical play, soft press coverage begins at the line, too, but the CB is more shadowing them. Back pedaling, shuffling, but not jamming with the hands.
*to note: this is Football 101. Things are simply explained and typically or usually could apply to most sentences. In addition, while I may write WR/receiver, it applies to any player who catches the ball past the LOS. Once the ball is caught, press is out the window and it’s now about tackling.
Press coverage is all about getting in your opponents’ heads, disrupting routes, removing a receiver from the play, and batting or intercepting the ball.
Two items hard and press share, is the CB is still watching the receiver’s hips, cueing off them and wanting to be inside the target. In soft, it’s important the feet are lined up square against your opponent at the LOS because the back-pedal won’t be worth much if you’re crabbing sideways, plus it affects balance.
Soft is used because it gives the CB more space to be reactionary. A slippery, quick WR can burn hard press with a double move, etc., but in soft, the CB is backing up while watching the receiver to decide where he’s going.
Having that little space between them gives him room to turn quickly if he’s burned and get inside his man, or jump a route if he sees where the QB is going.
As in hard press, the same rule applies, you can only slap, poke, jam within 5 yards of the LOS without drawing a flag. You can however, use your hips, shoulders to bump them and slap their hands right as they catch the ball.
Here is a clip of AJ Bouye before he joined the Jaguars, you can see him play soft press against the Chiefs and Travis Kelce. Watch how he lets him get in front and uses his arm to reach around and bat the ball down.
This took guts and confidence from Bouye and shows why he’s among the best to do it, although woefully under-appreciated.