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By Jeff Zerfas, Safeties Coach, Northside High School (GA)

The next advancement of 3-High Safety defense lies in coaches being creative enough to design split field coverage concepts while keeping a middle of the field defense.

By Jeff Zerfas
Safeties Coach
Northside High School (GA)
Twitter: @zerfas_atc



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With the use of 3-high safety defenses becoming more prevalent at the high school, collegiate and professional levels, many coaches have asked what kind of coverages they can run within this scheme. Our answer is to run a coverage that combined many facets of our other coverages into our 3-high covers. Combo coverage involves man and zone principles and is played with the Middle of the Field closed. Combo coverage is a coverage meant to be run on 1st or 2nd down that allows the maximum number of defenders playing the run and pass at the same time. The 3-3-5 is designed to be able to bring 3/4/5/6-man pressures and combo coverage lends itself to being able to be paired with any pressure package that you want to run. Combo coverage is unique that in its base call, all 5 secondary players align at 7 yards and it stresses the opposing QB to identify who is and is not in the box pre-snap.

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Base Structure/Alignment

Our base defensive structure is a 3-3-5 with a base alignment of 3 Safeties stacked over 3 Linebackers stacked over 3 DL. Our base defense strength is called to the field and we flip our 2 LBs and Safeties on each play. Our position names are F= Field Backer, B= Boundary Backer, W= Wide Safety, S= Short Safety, M= Mike, A= Adjuster. The Field Backer and Wide Safety always align to the field and the Boundary Backer and Short Safety always align to the boundary.

Diagram 1


Alignment of Secondary Players:

Combo Coverage can be called and played 3 different ways but the only alignment/technique that changes is the corners. The base call of Combo aligns the Corners and Safeties at 7 yards. The corners are playing “Loose Man” on #1 Wide and Short Safeties are playing “Seam” Technique on 2/3, the Adjuster is “Run Support/MOF”, and the Linebackers are playing “Hug” Technique on #3.


Bump Combo:

The first adjustment that can be made is to call “Bump Combo” and this changes the alignment of the corners and brings them from 7 yards off the line of scrimmage to 5. It also changes how they play man coverage.

Diagram 2


Press Combo:

The second adjustment we can make in Combo is “Press Combo”. This changes the alignment of the corners from 7 yards off LOS and brings them down to the LOS and they play in your face man to man coverage.



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  • Coaching points and drill work of the “seam technique,” used by wide and short safeties in combo coverage, perhaps the most challenging in the coverage.
  • Coaching points and drill work of the technique of “adjuster,” or middle safety in the scheme plus his run/pass indicators.
  • Coaching points and drill work of the “hug technique” of the interior linebackers off the reaction of the running back.
  • Coverage adjustments to defend 3x1 formations and how the adjustor and backside safety relate to different route distribution.
  • Plus, raw and narrated game film on this concept.


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COMBO coverage is a versatile coverage because it can be used with any pressure package that you want to bring and adjusts easily between 2x1, 2x2, or 3x1 formations. Combo coverage also limits the passing windows in the middle of the field because it has natural brackets created between the LBs, Safeties, and the Adjuster. Combo coverage is strong against the run with 9 players playing the run at the snap and has 5 dedicated pass defenders with the possibility of adding in 3 more linebackers depending on the play call. If any team is looking for a possible coverage to be run from a 3 high safety look, I would recommend COMBO as a good place to start due to its versatility and unique ability to limit throwing windows.



Meet Coach Jeff Zerfas: Coach Zerfas has been coaching for two years at Northside High School in Columbus, GA. This is his first year as the safeties coach after coaching the OLBs last year.





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