Teaching Zone Eyes to Defensive Backs

Jun 1, 2015 | Defending Pass Game, Defending Pass Game, Position Groups, Safeties

By Zach Turner,
Defensive Backs Coach,
Kenton High School (OH)
Twitter: @Zach_Turner1


screenshotOffenses are evolving year after year and are finding ways to put defenses in a bind. We are starting to see a lot of offenses use a variety of motions, zone fakes and misdirection to confuse and put the defense in a bad position. All of this “eye candy” can take your players out of position and create an edge for the offense. At Kenton High School (OH), we have incorporated a number of drills that help teach our defensive backs the eye discipline they need to more often be in position to make a play.


A lot of players especially at the high school level are aware of their initial (run/pass) key or secondary key when they enter our program. The first day of camp is when we teach our players how to determine and interpret their keys. This is a crucial part and must be done prior to any drills.

Determining Initial Keys

Defensive backs must have their eyes on their initial key at the snap of the ball. This is going to give them an initial read and identify if the play is a pass or run. We distinguish keys based on our defensive backs alignment. If a player’s alignment is outside, or on the hash, they will read the end man on the line of scrimmage. We tell our players that it could be a tight end or a tackle depending on the team and personnel grouping. If a player’s alignment or landmark is inside the hash they will be reading the guard to the tilt side.

Teaching Initial Keys

We teach our players two different ways to interpret their keys. We introduce both concepts in two-a-days so our players are familiar with them. Then during the season, based on the players’ technique and the scheme, we will go over how we want our players to interrupt their keys during the game. These two different concepts help our kids read the linemen who are high firing out or the lazy tackles who do not get off the ball well.

The first way we teach our players to interpret their keys is the common “high hat vs. low hat” read. If the player reads a high hat, he knows it is a pass. It may be the tight end releasing for a pass or a tackle pass setting. If the player reads a low hat, he knows it is a run. It may be a down block, drive block, reach block or even a pull by the tackle.

The second concept we use for teaching pre-snap reads is by determining “aggressive vs. non-aggressive.” If his key is aggressive and fires out with intent to block someone it is a run. If their key is non-aggressive and is either looking to release for a pass or is not firing out to drive the defender off the line of scrimmage it is a pass.

The only time these keys change is if you are reading the uncovered guard then you have to introduce guard pulls. To teach guard pulls, we tell our safeties if it is a tight pull it is a run; a wide pull is a pass.