3-High Safety “AFC” Protocols From Odd Spacing

Mar 6, 2022 | Three High Coverage Structures, Front, Defense, Coverage, Odd Front Structures

By Cory Quinn
Head Football Coach
Lake County High School (TN)
Twitter: @CoachQLakeCo



In Single-A football, what walks through the door is what we get. For the last two seasons, we have played with 28 players on the football team. In 2020 we were a base 3-4 defense because it suited our personnel. Due to graduation and typical 1A cycles, we were left with one true LB on the roster and a host of DB bodies. During the spring and summer, we experimented with different players in our base 3-4 look. The players we tried there were either too young or not the correct body type to play Inside Linebacker in a run-heavy league. I knew we needed to make a change and adapt to the players on our roster. I went back to the drawing board and created a defense that maximized the bodies we DO have. What resulted was an "Under front" and 3 High Safety structures that produced 2 shutouts and held opponents in our classification to an average of 14 ppg.

As an offensive-minded coach during my career, I formulated ways to create space. Now, tasked with designing a defense, I aimed to do the opposite: constrict space. In our league, as in most High School football leagues, stopping the run is objective number one. I had to find a way to populate the box but do so without traditional personnel. With the concept of suffocating space in mind, I designed the defense around the tactical idea of creating a triangle at leverage points around the box and perimeter to simulate an automatic three Man Trap. From there, I taught the players their assignments within the parameters of the triangles. Once we understood the leverage points of the triangle and our rules within the structure of the defense, we were fast to the football. Practice time could then be devoted to the three most important pieces of defensive football: technique, diagnosing plays, and forcing turnovers.



To keep this new defense simple, I installed base rules by position. These rules were steadfast and allowed us to get lined up and play fast. We defined the offensive strength based on the number of WRs (10P 2x2 balanced we called the strength to the field or RB tendency). The positional assignments are as follows:

Bandit- Align to the weak side in a wide 9 technique on the imaginary TE. IF there is a TE, play head up. Hands-on the tight end. Your responsibility is holding the outside most gap. NOTHING gets outside of you. Fight a reach block and post outside. The Bandit is coming off the edge every time to give us an Under-reduction post-snap.

Read EMLOS for the following reads:

  • If the tackle is down, surf. Take on kick-out block with inside shoulder, outside arm remains free.
  • If the tackle is down and there is no kick-out block surf zone read, play to RB after the ball is given.
  • If there is a High Hat from the EMLOS Pass Rush outside in.


DT: 4i. Post-B gap. Engage through the neck of the tackle.

  • If you get a down block, you MAY redirect, shed, and get over the top.
  • If you get a reach, “Stretch the Stretch” working to get flat down the line of scrimmage.


Nose: 0 Tech. Work to strong A gap. Fight double team and occupy space.

Anchor: LB position. Calls out the strength. Four yards directly behind the Nose. Reading guard away from the strength for a run, pass, pull. Pass responsibility: If the back is out weak, he is mine. If the RB is out strong, Mirror QB. Run responsibility: play underneath blocks. Work to mirror the RB.

DE: 4i. Post B Gap. Engage through the neck of the tackle. If you get a down block, you MAY redirect and get over the top. If you get a reach, “Stretch the Stretch” working to get flat down the line of scrimmage.

Delta: This is our Alley/Nickel player. Read EMLOS.

  • If you get a pass read, drop to help. Stop Slant, Stick. Rally to the Flat.
  • If the RB is out to your side, he is yours.
  • If the QB rolls to your side, BOMB the RB on the outside shoulder to turn the QB back in to help.
  • If you get a run read, play the gap the same way as the Bandit. Splatter the puller from depth, keeping the outside arm free. Inside Zone, you are the QB player! Nothing gets outside of you!


$ Safety: This is our best player. Alignment changes based on offensive formation and personnel. Pictures will illustrate this concept.

Rover: Align to the passing strength. If there are two receivers, play 2 read with CB. If three receivers check to our Tri concept (2 Read on Outside 2, F locks 3).

Free: Align away from the passing strength. If two receivers play 2 read with CB. If there are three receivers push to the Trips side. Base check to Trips is “Tri.” You have #3 Man to Man. Rover and CB play 2 read on 1 and 2.

CBs: Coverage based on receivers.

  • If we get 2 Speed, it is 2 Read.
  • If we get Trips, we check Tri. Align in press. Bail to 6 yards, back and tilt once QB starts his cadence.