Best Practices: Alternating 3-Safety Insertion Points in Drop 8 Coverage

Dec 19, 2022 | Three High Coverage Structures, Front, Defense, Coverage, Odd Front Structures

By Mike Kuchar with Manny Rojas
Defensive Coordinator
University of Delaware
Twitter: @Coach_Rojas_UD



Over the last couple of seasons, the University of Delaware has prided itself on three-high safety defense. And in the majority of those snaps, defensive coordinator Manny Rojas will play Drop 8 coverage by varying several insertion points for those three safeties. In the CAA conference, Delaware sees more 11 personnel structures than anything else, so getting more speed on the field makes sense, prompting Coach Rojas to claim “he’ll never go back to playing four down defense again.”

His base personnel operate like an Odd Stack consisting of the following:

  • Nose- No lag player, pure zero tech vertical player
  • End- mainly to the field or offensive strength
  • Tackle- mainly to the boundary
  • Mike- Middle linebacker
  • Will- Weak side linebacker
  • Bandit- Strong side linebacker
  • Rover- Middle safety (glorified linebacker in this system)
  • Field Safety- Best cover safety
  • Kat- Weak side safety
  • Field Corner- can play left and right based on tempo
  • Boundary Corner- can play left and right based on tempo



Run Fit Responsibilities:

While this report is mainly focused on the responsibilities of zone cover defenders, Delaware does feel comfortable defending the run game in its three high structure. There are several base principles that Coach Rojas will employ to be efficient in the run game. They are as follows:

  • The Nose is a vertical player, not a lag defender.
  • Against any three-surface formation, Coach Rojas will drop the Bandit (field safety) or Kat (boundary safety) for immediate force presence. He believes firmly in setting the edges of the defense- something we will explore in a future clinic report from him.
  • The End and Tackle are mainly C gap defenders but that will change if the Kat or Bandit drops to their side. That would make them B gap defenders.
  • The two interior backers (Mike and Will) are triangle Guard read players and will fit off the Nose accordingly.


Varying Inserts:

It all starts with not having the Rover (middle safety in Delaware’s scheme) having to play the post every snap. That is way too predictable. Instead, Coach Rojas will alter his Drop 8 coverage package week to week depending on what he’s going to see. Most of them are called by him, but who runs the middle is based on formation and game plan. “Week to week we design it differently,” he said. “If we’re going to check something it will be more based on a player than a formation,” he said. “It makes it easier for our kids to focus on that one piece we’re focused on.” We’ll have more on that later.

When you send any of those three safeties into the post, into the lane or into the flat, it gives the quarterback indecision on what is going to be a viable throw. And this is all predicated on what Coach Rojas calls “hash, numbers, middle, hash, numbers” teaching. Those are the five underneath zones in his Drop 8 coverage. He won’t use hard corners unless it’s third down. Essentially, he’ll use the following landmarks in Drop 8 coverage:

  • Hash- These are the traditional curl defenderns. They will begin 10-12 yards on or near the hash to start, but move with quarter backs eyes
  • Middle- This is the middle dropper and will work based off of the route. In 3x1 he will come to three. He will not run past him
  • Numbers- These are the traditional flat defenders, who will be force defenders in the run game.


The beauty of how he teaches it is that these defenders can be anybody in the back end. It will not always be the safety. Many times, it’s determined by how far a defender’s alignment is to the number three receiver. And if defenders are going to check something it will be based on a player rather than a formation, which makes it easier for players to focus on that one piece that they are looking for. “For example, if all three defenders are on the hash or wider, than it makes sense for the Field safety or the safety that is closest to him to be the insert,” said Coach Rojas. “He can take away the stick and the hitch faster than the Rover (middle safety) can. The Rover would never get to the hash fast enough. But if number three and number two are close, then I let the safeties make the judgement call because they see it in real time.”

If these adjustments are not communicated by players, they are built into the play call. So, if the call is “52 Odd Stack” and the Rover knows he’s the post player, it can be changed weekly by simply tagging “52 Odd Stack Safety,” thus alerting the safety to run the post while the Rover plays his spot. Or he may give it a different name like ‘Ranger’ so one safety knows he is going to the post. “It’s helpful to have variations of cover three because you may have one that you liked when you’re backed up or when you’re in the middle of the field,” he said. “You may like one in the high red zone because you’re changing who is spot dropping where.”

The focus of this report is how Coach Rojas and his defensive staff create multiple Drop 8 coverage pictures to defend opponents formation and personnel. These consist of the following:

  • 3-Deep, 5-Under Coverage
  • Quarters Coverage
  • Halves Coverage
  • Man Coverage