Whether you plan on using Cover 3 as one of multiple coverages that your defense runs or as a staple of your defense. It is important to be able to match formations, as well as put your players in the best position to be successful.
By Mark Theophel
Hartwick College (NY)
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Zone concepts like cover 2 and cover 3 allow DBs the freedom to read the QB and make lots of plays on the football, although they also present the challenge of having to defend multiple receiving threats in an area of the field. This happens most often for us when a defender in an underneath zone is “high-lowed” or when a defender in a deep zone is stretched vertically by multiple receivers. To better position our DBs to defend these concepts, we teach “midpoint” principles in zone coverage, which allow defenders to play in-between multiple receiving threats in their zone and react to the throw.
Zone Coverage vs. Man Coverage:
It’s important that we first educate our players on the distinction between zone coverage and man coverage. This may seem obvious, but it will help our players to better understand their teaching and why we are doing what we are doing. Man coverage for us is not necessarily going to be just straight man-to-man. Some coverages like quarters will still fall into the “man” category for us because of the key reads for the DB’s. Simply put, if a DB has a “man key” at the snap, then it is a man concept coverage. By contrast, when we play zone coverage, DBs will key the backfield action/QB rather than focusing on a specific WR at the snap.
Features of Man Concept Coverage:
DBs have a “Man Key.”
Eyes are on a WR at the snap.
Man Key will define both our run and pass responsibility.
DBs cover a specific WR on the play.
Features of Zone Concept Coverage:
DBs key the QB/ball.
the initial read will indicate either outside run or pass.
Any ball off the line (of scrimmage) action such as an inside run or drop-back = PASS to deep zone defenders.
DBs cover an area of the field and do not lock on to one WR.
Again, these distinctions may seem somewhat obvious, but it helps our DBs to differentiate between man and zone concepts, especially with their key reads. While man coverage is usually considered much more physically difficult than zone, it is also much simpler in concept. Zone coverage requires DBs to make reads on the QB, recognize different route concepts, and anticipate throws. One of the challenges to playing zone is defenders being stressed by multiple threats to their zone in some route concepts. How we handle this depends on the coverage but the unilateral principle we will use is to “midpoint” the zone.
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- Coaching points for the Corner midpoint technique in Cover 2 to defend smash and flood concepts.
- Coaching points for the Half-Field Safety midpoint technique in Cover 2 to defend vertical stretch concepts.
- Coaching points for the deep outside third defender midpoint technique in Cover 3 to defend inside vertical routes.
- Coaching points for the deep middle third defender midpoint technique in Cover 3 to effectively defend the post.
- Mid-point technique to defend specific route concepts such as Floods, Smashes and Vertical Switch pass concepts.
- Plus, game film of all these concepts.
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Teaching DBs to midpoint vs. multiple threats to a zone helps to maximize the benefits of zone coverage and minimize the risk. A major benefit of a zone is that defenders cover the ground and don't lock on to one WR, which should provide more opportunities to make plays on the football. Positioning defenders to be able to defend multiple different types of throws can create indecision and bad throws by QBs, which yields more opportunities for takeaways and sacks.
Meet Coach Mark Theophel: Coach Theophel joined the Hartwick coaching staff in 2014 as the DBs coach and was promoted to Defensive Coordinator in 2015. Before coaching at Hartwick, he spent 4 years on the staff at Becker College, serving as Co-Defensive Coordinator in his last 2 years with the program. Coach Theophel played four years as an Outside Linebacker at Hartwick College and graduated in the spring of 2010.