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muskBy Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

Since run/pass recognition is critical in teaching Safeties and Corners to effectively operate the Quarters system, we reached out to several coaches who use the scheme and asked them to detail the most productive drill they use to develop their Corners and Safeties.


By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs 


Insiders Members: Click here to login to the Insiders and read the full-length version of this report and the Entire Quarters Special Report. 



Since run/pass recognition is critical in teaching Safeties and Corners to effectively operate the Quarters system, we reached out to several coaches who use the scheme and asked them to detail the most productive drill they use to develop their Corners and Safeties.


Cover Four Run Read Drill

Jared Pospisil, defensive coordinator, Union High School (IA)

  • For the most part, because our safeties are the run-first players in this call, much of the drill focuses on their reads and reactions.
  • The corners, who assume the pass-first responsibility during a run call, basically go through their alignment, stance, and start when the ball is snapped, and finish each repetition with their late fill technique.
  • Drill starts with 4 or 5 trash cans that represent 5 offensive linemen, 2 players representing end men on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS), 2 or 3 players representing offensive backs, 2 safeties, 2 corners, and 2 coaches (one acting as the QB and one giving blocking/running assignments) (Diagram 6)
  • In our Cover 4 scheme, when the safeties make a run call, they follow these basic rules: if the run is to you, fill aggressively; if the run is away from you, move forward to about linebacker depth and shuffle with square shoulders to the run direction, checking for cutback and reverse; if the play is a pass, jump any routes run by your key receiver over 7 yards deep but let short routes go.
  • Safeties align at 8-10 yards deep, on the outside shade of the EMLOS; in most cases, this is a tight end or an offensive tackle, depending on the offensive set we see that week.  For the stance, we ask our safeties to use a square stance, with knees and hips flexed, back slightly flat, hands loose in front of the body.
  • Against a down block, the play side safety fills fast as the contain player (Diagram 7).
  • Against a fan block (the EMOLS blocks out), we tell our safety to fill on the inside hip of the defensive end / outside linebacker being blocked out.  In this case, contain is taken by the defender being blocked out, so the safety can help against the inside run (Diagram 8).
  • Against a reach block, our safeties must attack the edge as the contain player (Diagram 9).
  • Against a release by the EMLOS, the safety must honor the pass and begin to back pedal.  If the receiver runs anything over 7 yards, the safety must lock on and run with the receiver, wherever he goes; if the receiver runs a route under 7 yards, we tell the safety to let the route go and look for work (Generally, ‘work’ is determined by the unique route combinations each of our offensive opponents run each week) (Diagram 10).
  • When we play teams that crack heavily, however, we incorporate the crack-and-replace concept into the run read drill (Diagram 11)
  • One coaching point we emphasize for key reads involves reading the EMLOS’s shoulders.  If our safeties see that the blocker’s shoulders have turned perpendicular to the LOS, either toward the ball or away from the ball, hiding their jersey numbers, the play is most likely a run, so fill.  If our safeties see that the EMLOS’s shoulders—especially in the case of a TE—stay square to them and move up field, there is a good possibility that the play is a pass; honor it as such.


Cover Four Key Drill  

Rick Wimmer, defensive coordinator, Fishers High School (IN)

Coaching Points:

  1. Safety takes his alignment over TE position played by another player.
  2. Usually we will use a pop up bag or another player as a defender over the TE (9 tech).
  3. We may choose to also use a player in a WR position and a RB.
  4. Coach signals to three offensive players what they are to do while Safety buzzes his feet, reads key, and reacts.

Possible reads include:

  • TE Reach, RB Stretch, WR Push-Crack - Safety Force (Diagram 12)
  • TE Down, FB Kickout - Safety Stack Force (Diagram 13)
  • TE Cutoff, RB Away - Safety Fold for cutback (Diagram 14)
  • May also add TE Pass releases and Safety C/4 reactions. (Diagram 15) 

Force and Cutback Drill

Doug Langley, head coach, Avon Grove High School (PA)


Coaching Points:

  1. Working with just one back (me) and a TE, the Safeties will see outside flow, or off tackle flow.
  2. Vs. Off-tackle flow (Diagram 16)
  3. The play side Safety works straight up field (2yds. outside TE).
  4. At the line of scrimmage, I will break straight up field or bounce outside.
  5. I want to see the Safety stay outside and only stick his nose inside when the ball carrier breaks the LOS.  (If I bounce outside then he accelerates).
  6. The backside safety works towards B gap lagging the ball carrier for cutback.
  7. Vs. outside flow, the play side Safety takes an angle to contain play and the backside safety fills the alley.
  8. The drill is worked half speed to ensure proper angles are taken. 

Crack/Replace Drill

Orv Otten, defensive coordinator, Upper Iowa University


Coaching Points:

  1. Coach is behind the defensive players directing offensive guys- can be both a run fit or a pass fit look.
  2. If my read cracks on an apex linebacker or another defensive back, then I have to replace his body in the run fit.
  3. We do it with a three-receiver side with an apex linebacker, a Safety and a Corner.  A safety reads number two.  If number two cracks- as in a quick flare pass- he has to replace that (Diagram 17)
  4. If number one cracks on a Safety, like an outside zone scheme or pin and pull, the Corner replaces that (Diagram 18)
  5. If they release deep on a pass route, they fit off the pass and get their eyes on the read.
  6. A running back could be used to tackle as well.

Teaching Crack Replace:

  1. If there is contact, it’s a crack, go replace.
  2. If I can’t see his numbers, if his body has turned perpendicular to LOS, we’re seeing it as a crack.  If I can still see the front surface, I will not be aggressive.  That is an indicator of a crack and go.

Read Run/Pass Drill vs. Two-Wide (Diagram 19)


William Ellis, Secondary Coach, Lakeview Centennial High School (TX)

  1. Safety aligns 10x2 Inside #2 and keys EMLOS but should still see #2.
  2. He will use a "sink" technique, which is a slow, backpedal read.
  3. From this you can run any number of situations
  4. Tackle blocks, #2 cracks barrel, QB w/ ball runs fast flow outside and we work our banana angle.
  5. Tackle has high hat or slide, we must watch #2 vertical and play zone to man (sink, to pedal)
  6. Tackle high hat or slide, #2 flat, rob #1

 Read Drill

Rod West, defensive coordinator, Texas A&M Commerce 


Coaching Points:

  • We align the offense with an EMLOS with two receivers - either one tight end and one receiver or two receivers that are five yards are part.
  • We simulate a snap count.  The safety should key his eyes on EMLOS for run or pass read. His feet should be buzzing.
  • If he gets a pass read his head and eyes should immediately go to the #2 receiver.
  • If he gets a run read he should fill opposite of outside line backer (he should make the backer right).
  • If backer goes inside the safety should fit outside (Diagram 20).
  • If backer goes outside the safety should fit inside (Diagram 21). 




What You're Missing:

Join XandOLabs.com exclusive Insiders membership program and gain full access to this Special Report, which includes:

  • Why 45.4 percent of coaches feel comfortable using Quarters coverage in any down situations – 67.4 percent of those actually prefer it on first and ten.
  • Why only 17 percent of coaches feel their safeties need to be the best tacklers on the field.
  • Why Pat Narduzzi trains his safeties to read the number two receiver – regardless of where he is.
  • Various types of post-snap footwork used to get Safeties involved in the run game such as Narduzzi’s stick step, Boyd’s shuffle step and Rapone’s buzz footwork.
  • How to train Corners to react quickly on the three-step game by teaching the Vise technique used by coaches like Adam Waugh, the secondary coach at the University of Louisiana Monroe
  • How Coach Narduzzi teaches his corners to use the Shadow Technique – a press coverage variant – to prevent the quick game.
  • Plus over 150 diagrams and 29 video clips on Quarters Coverage.

Join X&O Labs' Insiders Website. Click Here!


We felt that it was important to begin our special report with the play of the defensive secondary, considering it’s those players that you have to train to be effective in using the Quarters system.  Your corners must cover and your Safeties must tackle using this structure, and in this case we’re hoping we’ve provided you with the tools to have them do so.






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