Drop 8 Coverage from “31” and “32” Box Structure

Feb 16, 2020 | Front, Defense, Odd Front Structures

By Josh Franke
Head Coach
Toronto High School Toronto (OH)
Twitter: @Coach_Franke


Heavy passing offenses have slowly trickled down from the NFL to the collegiate level, and now they are becoming commonplace among high school teams. With the ever-growing popularity of things like 7on7s, the Elite 11, and private quarterback coaching, high school quarterbacks are better today than they ever have been. Having to defend these heavy passing offenses a few times a year put a huge burden on our defense. Although we traditionally run a 3-3 stack, we were still getting beat in coverage. If we played quarters, slants, hitches, and bubbles would hurt us. If we tried to stop those underneath routes with different coverage, we would get burnt deep on vertical routes. We used to play by the old adage “If they want to nickel and dime us down the field, that’s fine, no one has that patience”, well, those days are over because these offenses will do that. We had to develop something different that would allow us to play max coverage but also allow us to be solid in run support. I have to give credit to my defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Steven Rebich and Matt Ludewig because together we sat down to develop our 31 and 32 defenses to counter the rising trend of the spread pass-heavy offense.


The 31 and 32 defenses were designed to be played against teams who love to pass the ball out of 3x1, 2x2, or any type of empty set. We wanted it to be a “defend everything” type of coverage but we also wanted to take away any type of jet sweep and stop the inside zone with a QB read off it (which is usually a complimentary run play for these offenses).

The term 31 and 32 are used to determine the number of box defenders we have. We are traditionally a 3-3 stack, therefore, when we go 31, we will have three down linemen and one linebacker, in 32 we have three down linemen and two linebackers. The trick and one of the most important pieces of this defense is that your tackles line up in a 4i position.

Diagram 1

This is one of the most important coaching points in this defense. The tackles are responsible for the B gaps and must be prepared to take on double teams, especially against the pass. You can play the NT in a variety of different ways, you can slant him opposite of the back alignment, you can have him control double-A gaps by playing straight up, we also have incorporated a couple of different defensive line stunts we like to integrate, which works well because of the closer alignment of the tackles and nose tackle.

The interior linebacker/s will be responsible for the A gaps and are responsible for all inside runs and will act as the alley or fill players on any outside runs. Our interior linebackers tend to love this defense because they have no major responsibility and are freed up to play instinctively against what they are seeing and reading. 

Coaching Points for Run Defenders

Force Players:

By far the most important position on the field because they’re the only two players who have both run and pass responsibility. In this defense, the secondary is a pass-first responsibility and the box defenders are a run-first responsibility.

Your force players must be able to force all outside runs, jet sweeps, and QB pulls on reads back inside to help. We tell all our force players that their first responsibility on a run is to make sure they don’t get the edge if they can make the tackle, great, but it’s not their primary responsibility.

We have our force players pivot their stance to face the backfield. This way their backs are already turned to the potential WR block. As I mentioned before, we’ve had several blocks in the back called because of this alignment. I cannot stress enough that they must attack the outside shoulder of the ball carrier so they don’t give up the outside alley.

4i Tackles:

Our tackles hate this formation and alignment because they always get double-teamed, almost every play, regardless of pass or run. They will often try to play head up or even sneak themselves outside, or they’ll say, “I’ll line up outside and rush into the B gap.”. Make sure that they’re lining up in that 4i technique and just work on splitting double teams by getting skinny through the hole with a solid rip move. We’ve learned that having speed guys on our line has been more effective than having strength guys on our line and it helps with this alignment and we still got a lot of penetration.

32 alignment vs 2x2:

Against a 2x2 set, we would align in our 32 defenses. Our Mike and Sam linebackers will stay in the box, our boundary safety will drop to give us a two-high safety look, we will press our corners, and play a press quarters coverage. This allows us to defend against four verticals but also, by pressing our corners, we can defend any quick hitches, slants, or bubbles.

Another very important and key aspect of this defense is that we apex our will linebacker and field safety between the tackle and slot receivers. They have the most important responsibilities of this defense. They must serve as force players on any outside runs. By alignment, they can defend against any jet sweeps, bounced inside zone runs, or any pulls by the quarterback on a read play. Against the pass, they are responsible for taking away any inside slants or hitches by the #2 receiver, because we are playing press quarters, the corner would be responsible for any bubbles or out routes.

By aligning this way, we have now taken away all short game passes and the four vertical threats. With our will linebacker and field safety, we have taken away any outside run or quarterback pulls on read plays, and with our alignment by our box defenders, we’re safe against any inside run.

Diagram 2

31 alignment vs 3x1:

Our front three alignments on the defensive line don’t change, tackles in 4is and nose in a zero tech. However, we will only play one linebacker, our Mike, and we will stack him over the nose. Now, the NT has to take one A gap and the Mike will be responsible for the other A gap. You can communicate this however you choose, whether they communicate it to each other or you always have your nose slant one way or the other. Regardless, you will still be gap sound inside the tackle box.