Cover 3 Conversions From a Cover 2 Shell

Mar 19, 2017 | Defense, Coverage, One High Coverage Structures

By Nick Bamber
Defensive Backs Coach and Special Teams Coordinator
Chesterton High School  (Chesterton, IN)
Twitter: @nbambernbamber


Being able to effectively switch and disguise coverages at the high school level can be lethal to opposing quarterbacks. We are a primary cover 2 team, but we will occasionally roll into various cover 3 and man looks to defend different attacks on the field. The good thing about these coverages is that they are very easy to teach and are simple on your players, especially your linebackers. The different coverages primarily involve changes in the defensive back action, allowing your rules for the linebackers to stay relatively the same.

From past experiences, I have found that complicated coverages with lots of changes for linebackers lead to more blown coverages and gaps in your defense. For that reason, we wanted to make things consistent throughout our coverages for our linebackers. I truly think this clinic report can be implemented at any level, especially if you already run cover 2. Already running cover 2 allows you to apply all your current cover 2 rules while giving you some additional variations.

Another positive of these coverage schemes is that rolling to cover 3 out of a cover 2 shell covers the weakness of a cover 2 defense. The middle of the field is the biggest void of a cover 2 secondary.  Every offensive coach will look to attack your middle when they see your cover 2 shell on film. This thought process can work to your advantage when you are using these alternate coverages. Rolling to a cover 3 out of a cover 2 look will put one of your safeties right in the middle of the field, the exact zone the offense is looking to attack. Picking and choosing the right times to roll and disguise can not only prevent a big play, but can hopefully get you an easy interception.

Base Cover 2

Our base cover 2 is the shell that we will show on nearly every play. The few exceptions being on goal line plays or our man-to-man coverage with no safety help. These schemes are applicable to both a 3-4 and a 4-3 set (all the play cards are drawn in a 4-3 scheme). Since this article is about coverage concepts, I will not go into much detail about our technique for each position.


Corners will line up with an outside shade on the outside receiver. The corner’s inside eye should be even with the receiver’s outside eye. Based on the speed or athletic ability of the receiver, the corner can widen his alignment a little if needed. Our number one concern for the corner is to funnel the receiver inside, so there is some flexibility given to our corner so he can accomplish our primary goal. In terms of depth, we range from a press look to 5 yards deep, depending on the team/ receiver.

Our corners, like most teams, read the #2 receiver (always count outside in for receiver numbers) and react to him. If he goes vertical or breaks inside towards the ball, the corner will stay on the #1 receiver. If #2 receiver goes vertical, the corner has to be ready play the deep ball on #1 receiver. If the #2 receiver comes out, the corner will push the #1 receiver towards the safety help and pick up the #2 receiver.  


Safeties will line up 12 yards off the line of scrimmage. They have a 6-yard width window to line up within. They start on the hash and have 3 yards either way for their width alignment. For example, if the #1 receiver is really wide towards the sideline, they can widen up to 3 yards off the hash.

Our safety reads are rather conventional. The safety reads the #2 receiver. If he goes vertical, safety picks him up. If the #2 receiver makes any type of non-vertical break (slant, out, curl, comeback, etc.) the safety drives to the #1 receiver and picks up the route.

Outside Linebackers

The strong outside linebacker will be 5 yards deep and removed from the box, splitting the differences between the end man on the line of scrimmage and the #2 receiver. Obviously different formations will bring different alignments, such as a tight end set or empty, but to make things simple we will assume it is a balanced 2x2 set with one back. The weak linebacker will be in the box, but still keying the #2 receiver from his gap position. If you run a 3-4, the weak linebacker will also be removed like the strong linebacker.

Outside linebackers are “2 Drop” players. They will drop under the #2 receiver. We try to stay away from the generic “hook/curl” drop because you can end up guarding grass. We seek out receivers to drop under. As the play begins and the receivers start to cross, we have to adjust our drops and find the new #2 receiver. We teach our players that if the #2 receiver goes in, look in for the new #2. If the #2 receiver goes out, look out to #1 for the new #2 receiver. If no #2 threat, help under the #1 receiver.

Inside Linebacker(s)

The inside backer is a “3 Drop” player. If you run a 3-4 scheme, you will now have an extra player in coverage since there is only one #3 receiver. You can either blitz him, blitz an outside LB and have the extra inside LB cover the 2 drop, have him spy the QB, or you can just have an extra space player in coverage. Their rules are similar to that of the OLB’s in that if #3 receiver goes out, they must look out for the new #3 receiver. If he goes in, look in for the new #3 receiver. If the #3 receiver goes vertical, inside backer has to take him man to cover the void in the cover 2 defense.