Abilene Christian University (TX) is off to a 3-1 start in its first season in FCS play and the Wildcats defense is yielding only 117 yards per game against the pass. Defensive Coordinator Darian Dulin details one of his new wrinkles in defending doubles and trips formations.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
While we’ve found that the Alert and Palms principle was the best answer to 2x2 open formations, we did find another interesting adjustment that could be made to handle four vertical threat in the pass game. Darian Dulin, the defensive coordinator at Abilene Christian University (TX) grew tired of seeing slot receivers get around his outside linebackers and between his Safeties to catch square in routes and skinny posts - which could be an apparent weakness in Quarters Coverage (Diagram 13). So, he adjusted by walking his outside linebackers out further on the number two receiver and play his Safeties closer to the box- essentially, switching their responsibilities (Diagram 14). What resulted was a top ten finish in total defense among all FCS schools in 2012, and a design he calls Cover 8.
Dulin told us that it’s a coverage used most effectively when your Safeties are your best secondary players. It gives them the ability to get over the top of vertical routes, yet get involved in the run. He would have his Safeties get as close as six yards from the line of scrimmage if they felt they can play both the run game and get over the top of number two. They are asked to play Quarters responsibility in the pass (by playing number two vertical) yet still play the alley- the outside linebackers will have force- in the run game. His Safeties will soft pedal out on the snap and read the Guard to their side to give us a little bit of a cushion on the run/pass read. Dulin feels playing against Gun formation offenses, gives his Safeties a better run/pass indicator, allowing them to play both situations. “We feel we have quick reads with the QB in gun based on whether he’s faking the zone read or he’s popping it up and throwing it to the seam route,” he said.
“We will start our Safeties in the frame of number two, but as the QB’s saying his cadence, we will squirm ourselves down and inside a little bit to end up 2-3 yards inside number two, depending on his split,” said Dulin. “If he had an open gap to his side he may be a little tighter to the line of scrimmage, somewhere at 6-8 yards.” If he was covered up by a down lineman he may be tighter on that number two receiver (Diagram 15).” Dulin will usually put his three-technique to the boundary in order to force the ball to the perimeter. “ We could compact that weak side A gap so that the Mike can force the ball by playing that weak A gap over the top to the strong B gap,” said Dulin. “It makes the ball bounce easier to the Safety.”
Yet, the onus of Cover 8 is the lies in the responsibility placed on the outside linebackers, not the Safeties. Their job is to get hands on number two and force him outside of him and carry him with depth, up to 10-15 yards (Diagram 16). His Sam and Will align 4.5 yards on the inside eye of number two. They have to collision number two, but are more of pitch players on option. Everything gets funneled outside to them. “Their fit is outside that number two receiver,” said Dulin. “They don’t have to worry about trying to get into the box in the run. Our safeties will spill it to them. They just cross face (on number two) on a run read and make plays. We had a hybrid Sam last year who could cover guys. Safeties can be downhill force players, where outside backers could be more athletic.”
Dulin says the Sam and Will must get a quick read from EMLOS, then get their eyes to number two. He opens his hips outside to carry number two. As he’s carrying number two, he’s looking to the flat. Any vertical release by number two will turn into true Quarters coverage- the linebacker’s job is to buy time for the Safety to get there. Dulin talks to his linebackers more about leverage number two than playing in the box for the run. “We’re more concerned about getting hands on number two and being late for the run,” said Dulin. “With those Safeties being an 8 man box we were one-up or even with the offense in the run game. We go two for two with our OLB’s on both wide receivers, while the both Safeties will handle the QB and the running back.” If by chance teams decide to tighten the leverage of number two, Dulin makes a “switch” call and has the Safety back up to 10 yards and become a high Quarters safety. The LB can no longer get hands inside on number two, so the Safety needs to get wider (Diagram 17).
To see video of Coach Dulin’s Cover 8 concept, click on the link below:
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- Michigan State University
- Iowa University
- University of Louisiana-Monroe
- University of Delaware
- Delaware Valley College
- Muskingum College
- St. Augustine High School (FL)
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