4 Read Drills for Safeties & Corners

Nov 3, 2014 | Defending Run Game, Defending Run Game, Position Groups, Cornerbacks, Safeties

By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs 


Editor's Note: This article is a portion of our Quarters Coverage Special Report. For more on this topic, click here to read the complete Special Report.


Since run/pass recognition is critical in teaching Safeties and Corners to effectively operate the Quarters system, we reached out to several coaches who use the scheme and asked them to detail the most productive drill they use to develop their Corners and Safeties.


Cover Four Run Read Drill

Jared Pospisil, defensive coordinator, Union High School (IA)

  • For the most part, because our safeties are the run-first players in this call, much of the drill focuses on their reads and reactions.
  • The corners, who assume the pass-first responsibility during a run call, basically go through their alignment, stance, and start when the ball is snapped, and finish each repetition with their late fill technique.
  • Drill starts with 4 or 5 trash cans that represent 5 offensive linemen, 2 players representing end men on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS), 2 or 3 players representing offensive backs, 2 safeties, 2 corners, and 2 coaches (one acting as the QB and one giving blocking/running assignments) (Diagram 6)
  • In our Cover 4 scheme, when the safeties make a run call, they follow these basic rules: if the run is to you, fill aggressively; if the run is away from you, move forward to about linebacker depth and shuffle with square shoulders to the run direction, checking for cutback and reverse; if the play is a pass, jump any routes run by your key receiver over 7 yards deep but let short routes go.
  • Safeties align at 8-10 yards deep, on the outside shade of the EMLOS; in most cases, this is a tight end or an offensive tackle, depending on the offensive set we see that week.  For the stance, we ask our safeties to use a square stance, with knees and hips flexed, back slightly flat, hands loose in front of the body.
  • Against a down block, the play side safety fills fast as the contain player (Diagram 7).
  • Against a fan block (the EMOLS blocks out), we tell our safety to fill on the inside hip of the defensive end / outside linebacker being blocked out.  In this case, contain is taken by the defender being blocked out, so the safety can help against the inside run (Diagram 8).
  • Against a reach block, our safeties must attack the edge as the contain player (Diagram 9).
  • Against a release by the EMLOS, the safety must honor the pass and begin to back pedal.  If the receiver runs anything over 7 yards, the safety must lock on and run with the receiver, wherever he goes; if the receiver runs a route under 7 yards, we tell the safety to let the route go and look for work (Generally, ‘work’ is determined by the unique route combinations each of our offensive opponents run each week) (Diagram 10).
  • When we play teams that crack heavily, however, we incorporate the crack-and-replace concept into the run read drill (Diagram 11)
  • One coaching point we emphasize for key reads involves reading the EMLOS’s shoulders.  If our safeties see that the blocker’s shoulders have turned perpendicular to the LOS, either toward the ball or away from the ball, hiding their jersey numbers, the play is most likely a run, so fill.  If our safeties see that the EMLOS’s shoulders—especially in the case of a TE—stay square to them and move up field, there is a good possibility that the play is a pass; honor it as such.


Cover Four Key Drill  

Rick Wimmer, defensive coordinator, Fishers High School (IN)