In this column, coaches at the high school, college, semi-pro and professional level will provide insight, tips and strategies designed to help you improve — whether you play defensive back, coach defensive backs, or just want to learn more about what defensive backs do on the football field.
Devin Russell is the defensive coordinator for the Treasure Coast Bengals, a semi-pro team in Port St. Lucie, Fla., that competes in the United Football Federation of America.
Coach Russell talks about how to attack an offense with a quarters-based system:
This year, our base front will be a 4-3 defense, which will employ 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers. Our secondary will be a split-field system with quarters concepts.
We feel that having a split-field system allows us to dictate to offenses depending on their formation. In regards to pressure, we will not be a heavy blitz team, but will attack depending on the offensive weakness.
Each week we will review the opponent’s offense to learn the formations, pass tendencies and also the pass concepts. This study will help determine what coverage we will base out of, and how our checks will be used.
In this article I will discuss how we use a base (ALERT) and 2 checks (CLOUD and READ). These coverage can be adjusted depending which coverage you feel will give you the advantage versus the offense’s identity and have other checks depending on their constraint plays.
The first coverage check is ALERT. This coverage check alerts the outside linebacker (OLB) they are responsible for the flats. This coverage is basic quarters coverage. I prefer to base out of this coverage versus teams that like to pass vertically and attack deep zones. The alignment is as followed below.
The corners will align 7 yards off the line of scrimmage and align inside of the #1 receiver. The safeties will align 12 yards off the line of scrimmage and align inside of the #2 receiver. The OLBs will align 5 yards off the line of scrimmage and apex the end man on the line of scrimmage and the #2 receiver. The pass responsibilities will be as followed.
The corners will start in a shuffle technique and must stay INSIDE and ON TOP of the #1 receiver. They will be responsible for protecting the deep pass to the #1 receiver. If the #1 receiver runs a hitch, or a route that brings him inside, the corner will look to double the #2 receiver.
The safeties will start in a backpedal and must stay INSIDE and OVER TOP of the #2 receiver. If the #2 receiver runs a short route or goes inside under 10 yards, the safety will look to double the #1 receiver.
The OLB will take a read step, then open 45 degrees and work to the #2 receiver he must REROUTE him then work to the flat.
If we decide to base out of this coverage, we must know its weakness is the flat and must have a secondary check which has strength to the flat. If we notice teams start attacking the flats, we will check to either READ or CLOUD as both can take away the flats.
Once we plan to base out of ALERT, we need to decide how a team will attack the flat to decide if we want to check to READ or CLOUD. If we feel the team will attack the flat with the #1 receiver or the running back we will check CLOUD. If we feel the team will attack the flat with the #2 receiver or screens we will check READ. Each coverage also provides different roles for the OLB, which each has their advantage.
The first check we will look at is CLOUD. This is a basic Cover 2 coverage, and will have the same pre-snap alignment as ALERT with the only difference being the corners will align over the #1 receiver.
The pass responsibilities in this check will be as follows:
In CLOUD, the coverage responsibilities will change. In this coverage, the corner will align in a shuffle technique and will have to funnel the #1 receiver inside, and cover any threat to the flat.
Also, when we are in this coverage, we tell the corner to squeeze a corner route from #2 and rally to the hitch versus a smash concept. The safeties will be responsible for the deep half, which is their hash to sideline. They must stay DEEPER than the deepest and not allow a route inside of them past 10 yards. The OLB will be responsible for the seam first and then the curl. The OLB must funnel #2 outside towards the safety and protect the seam.
This coverage will be called when teams begin to pass to the flats and also in short-yardage situations. This coverage check also helps the OLB in the run game as he can play the run first and not have to shoot so quick to the flats. It also allows us to protect the seam with the OLB. The corner will run with #1 receiver until a flat threat appears.
The second coverage check will be READ, which is a basic 2 read coverage. The alignment will remain the same as the other coverage, however the only difference is the corner will align outside the #1 receiver. The alignment will be as follows:
The pass responsibilities in this coverage will be as follows:
In READ, the corner and safety will read the #2 receiver’s release. If he goes to the flat, the corner will attack. If the #2 receiver goes vertical or releases inside, the corner will STAY INSIDE and ON TOP of the #1 receiver.
The safety will read the #2 receiver’s release to decide if the #2 goes to the flat, then he will have to get OVER TOP of the #1 receiver. If #2 goes vertical, the safety must STAY INSIDE and OVER TOP of #2. The OLB will wall off the #2 receiver inside and work the curl/flat versus a vertical release of the #2 receiver.
Each one of these coverages can be used as a base, and the others complemented.
The key is to scout your opponent and know their pass concepts. This will help you go with a base and know when to adjust. Also, the game will dictate your decision. All examples were from a doubles set, however each can be used as a front-side coverage versus trips and also versus different offensive surfaces. Also, the middle linebacker’s coverage has not been discussed, as we will have him open to the side with more receivers and look for crossers and manage the low hole to 10 yards.
A major strength of our system is that it is called in as a split-field coverage. This means that the strongside and weakide can each be in separate coverages depending on the offensive formation as not all are balanced formations.
Below are a few examples of pairing coverages depending on the offensive formation.
Thank you for taking time to read this article and feel free to follow me and ask any questions.