Adjustable Bracket Coverage Variations

Apr 23, 2022 | Defense, Coverage, Split Field Coverage Structures

By Mike Kuchar with James McCleary
Defensive Coordinator
Notre Dame High School (LA)



For the last couple of seasons, it's been a foregone conclusion that the Notre Dame High School (LA) defensive unit will align in some sort of bracket coverage against any 2x2 open or 2x1 open formations. It's been a mainstay in defensive coordinator James McCleary's game plan that over 80% of the time he will defend those formations by playing some sort of bracket. The reason is simple: it helps in getting to a 9-man fit in run support as quickly as possible based on their run/pass read. For Coach McCleary, it's a safer bet than man coverage provided you can train the eyes of the apex and high safety defenders. It's a skill set that can only be mastered if you major in the scheme as Coach McCleary does. "Our safeties have become quasi-linebacker type defenders, so it allowed us to become very aggressive in the run game."


Philosophy of Coverage:

It’s important to note that in Coach McCleary’s system these bracket coverages are usually built-in as split field concepts. He’ll usually merge them with some form of cover two based on the split of the receivers. In typical 2x2 open alignments- we will get into adjustments later in the report- the corner will play all of number one while the safeties and outside linebackers (Will and Hank in Coach McCleary’s scheme) will play off the stem of number two. To start, the safety will play number two vertical while the outside linebackers will work to wall- Coach McCleary calls this angling to the butt cheek- number two.

“It’s not a true double team,” he said. “It’s more of an inside/outside hole technique like a triangle two or box and one situation in basketball. It’s safer than a man-to-man technique. We used to play a banjo technique after five yards but at the high school players have a hard time understanding depth." It's important to note that this coverage is purely an adjustment to 2x2 open and 2x1 open formations. He'll use a different check for 3x1 formations.


Corner Leverage and Divider Rules:

In base bracket coverage, the corners are responsible for the number one receiver but receiver spacing will dictate whether or not the safety and outside linebacker are bracketing number two. If the corner is playing all of number one he’ll use the numbers as split rules to determine his alignment. If the receiver is inside the numbers, he’ll align outside. If the receiver is outside the numbers, he’ll align inside. “We can play off technique, deep technique, or catch technique based on down and distance,” he said. Quite simply if the corner is playing bracket he’ll align inside number one. If he’s playing a form of cover two, he’ll play outside. In either case, he’ll always have inside and underneath help.