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Nick sent the following question:
I am moving from coaching offense to coaching defense, particularly the safeties. I want to do the best job I can but am a little unsure about what to teach my strong safety. What are the major responsibilities for a strong safety in the run and the pass? What are the key reads for the strong safety to hone in on?
Welcome to the exciting side of the ball. There are a few major factors that are going to influence the reads of the strong safety.
First is the defense called in the huddle and especially the coverage. If you are going to play man-to-man coverage, the strong safety will need to focus on the offensive player that he has in coverage.
If his assigned player releases downfield, the strong safety must cover him until the ball is thrown to another player or the ball-carrier crosses the line of scrimmage.
If the strong safety has the tight end in man-to-man coverage, he must guard against looking into the backfield and being fooled by a backfield fake that causes him to come up to stop a perceived run play.
When the tight end stays in to block versus man coverage, the strong safety can come up to contain the run – two yards across the line of scrimmage and three yards outside the tight end’s block – but be prepared to stop his charge and pick up the coverage on the tight end if he releases late after faking a block.
Also, as the strong safety charges the line of scrimmage, he must locate the near back and be prepared to take him in coverage if the back tries to slip out into the flat on a pass route.
Without the free safety adjustment in man-to-man pass coverage, it will be difficult for the strong safety to be completely aggressive on wide run plays to his side of the field.
Should the tight end show a pass block, the strong safety should move up to a position five yards off the line of scrimmage and two yards outside the blocking tight end. From this position, the strong safety can focus on the tight end and be prepared to make a play on any delay or screen pass.
When it is a zone pass defense, the strong safety’s role will depend on the force – or run contain call – given on the play. A few examples:
Cover 3 (3-deep zone)
Force called: Sky (strong safety force)
Strong safety teaching:Key tight end. If he blocks, charge the line of scrimmage, contain wide run and turn the ball-carrier back to the inside of the field.
Cover 2 (2-deep zone)
Force called: Cloud (corner force)
Strong safety teaching:Key both receivers on his side and drop to cover the deep half of his side of field.
Cover 4 (4-deep zone)
Force called: Backer (linebacker force)
Strong safety teaching: Drop back to deep inside quarter of the field on his side. Come up only when the ball crosses the line of scrimmage.
Defense called: Cover 4 (4-deep zone)
Force called: Easy (defensive end force)
Strong safety teaching:Drop back to deep inside quarter of the field on his side. Come up only when the ball crosses the line of scrimmage.
Communication is imperative between defensive players. This is why it is so important that both safeties give a force call every play to the defensive end, outside linebacker and corner on their sides of the field. Do this in practice to reinforce the habit during games.
When the offense snaps the ball, defenses cannot be uncertain how to force and contain any wide runs. Indecision equals big plays.
Every time the strong safety breaks the defensive huddle, he must be sure of the defense called, where to line up and at what depth off the line of scrimmage, the force call needed for his side of the defense and his focus for the upcoming play.
I always caution fellow coaches about sending mixed messages to their players. Make it consistent so the player has no questions about his assignment and responsibility on every play. I hope this helps you get started.
Coach Tom Bass
Coach Tom Bass, a 30-year NFL coach and a technical writer and advisor for USA Football, also is the author of several football coaching books, including "Play Football the NFL Way" (St. Martin's Press), the only authorized NFL coaching book, "Football Skills and Drills" (Human Kinetics) and "The New Coaches Guide to Youth Football Skills and Drills" (McGraw Hill). If you would like to order a personalized autographed copy of Coach Bass' books, copies of his printed “In-Depth Coaching Clinics” or “NFL or College Sport Maps,” visit http://coachbass.com.