Ohio State’s Three-Deep Coverage Principles

Mark Dantonio Defensive Coordinator Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio

ollege football programs across the country are currently in a huge transition period, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, teams are spreading the field with receivers, creating run and pass situations which require defenders to tackle in space. Defensively, zone pressure and eight man front defenses are being designed to create pressure and eliminate an opposing offense’s run game. In doing this, we are seeing a shift back to the three deep coverage concept used so regularly throughout the history of college football. Like many of you, my exposure to threedeep coverages is quite extensive, having played and coached in it’s environment for the majority of my football life. My new appreciation and perspective regarding the base thoughts, teaching progression and consistencies are a direct result of working for Nick Saban at Michigan State beginning in the spring of 1995. With that in mind, this article is being written in reference to the following points of emphasis: Plan of the Playing Field No Cover Zone Seams Middle of the Field (MOF) Coverage. Dividers / Corner’s Play Underneath Matches One Back Sets Play Action (Flow/Boot/Webb) 2 x 2 Formations 3 x 1 Formations (Load / Split) Plan of the Playing Field The playing field that we defend is 53 1/3 yards wide. It is crucial to our players’ understanding that they know the basic landmarks of the field in order that their responsibilities can be clearly and logistically defined. The bottom of the numbers on the field is seven yards from the sideline; the tops nine yards. The college hash is 19 yards from the sideline (H.S. hash is 17 yards) and is one yard in width. The distance between the two hashes is 13 1/3 yards. This information clarifies the areas of responsibility and position of alignment for our players and gives our teaching progression true meaning (Diagram 1). No Cover Zone The no cover zone is an area of five yards from the current line of scrimmage extending across the field. Our underneath defending players are always to drop clearly out of the no cover zone in their pass responsibilities. Our philosophy dictates


that the defenders drop to at least 10 yards depth and break back into the no cover zone. They are coached to break on the ball and cover one-third of the distance from the quarterback to the intended receiver. Our goal is to limit the offense to 5.0 yards or less per pass attempt. It insures the ball being thrown in front and or outside of our coverage. This will prevent the quarterback from throwing the ball “on line” to the MOF (Diagram 1).

Diagram 1

Seams of the Field The seams of the field are two landmarks of reference for our entire perimeter defenders. They are three yards wide, begin at a point 10 yards from the line of scrimmage and are located two yards outside the hash. (When the ball is in the middle of the field). Should the ball be placed on either hash, the far seam moves two yards inside and begins on the far hash. It remains three yards wide and again begins at 10 yards depth. Philosophically, these seams are our weakest areas of coverage; points of references

Diagram 2

• AFCA Summer Manual — 2002 •

(Handle No. Underneath Matches The basic plan of all normal three deep coverages involves four underneath defenders. 2 out of no cover. 3. There is one such defender and he must remain “deep as the deepest” possible receiver in the true middle of the field.P. three linebackers and one safety. 3. 3 outside/blocking. Eye to quarterback. Wide receiver initial alignment outside of divider. We cannot allow these receivers to run into this area. employing tight coverage on receivers in each zone based on a read route progression. No.where offenses attempt to send No. No. 3 Flat. If the ball is in the middle of the field. 3 receiver in strong hook area. One yard outside wide receiver (Depth will vary upon technique addendum). Expand on any No. get depth on your divider (midpoint). 2 is blocking/short route. 2 Short: Stack off on No. Read the quick three step route (slow backpedal / eyes from quarterback to wide receiver / drive on tackle). C horizontally align. “Close the window on No. Take away out cut. Linebacker flow rule. 1 receiver’s route but be able to make the play on any deep throw in your outside one-third zone. Drop to seam 10 yards deep No. Begin to play him man to man “top down. No. we use four X’s and ask that all of our linebackers and safeties learn all matches on drops underneath (Diagrams 4 & 5). As play begins the corner goes through this progression. Begin to play in a half turn (technique). Your leverage may change on your wide receiver based on his route. C align one yard inside wide receiver. (3/2 match) Match to final No. Take him back to ball. Eyes to No. which make up their individual technique in respect to a specific defense and coverage. Be able to break one-third the distance to the “reception area” on intended receiver. No. There are four base spot drops in all three deep coverages: Weak Flat/Weak Hook/Strong Hook/Curl-Flat. etc. Middle of the Field Coverage This is the area our middle of the field defender must be able to break and cover in any of our three deep coverages. He must also be able to break one-third the distance from the quarterback’s throw to the “reception area” on the intended receiver. 3 checkdown/stack off No. Strong Hook Defender: Drop out of no cover zone. Find No. we ask that they be able to go hash to hash. Weak Curl Defender: Drop out of no cover zone. Should the ball be on a hash the far corner’s divider is five yards above the numbers (14 yards from sideline/midpoint between numbers and hash). Eye control to No. 2 (TE). 2 to Flat: “Close the window” on No. 2 out of seam at 10 yards.) Corner’s eye control goes hard to No. Break back into no cover zone on quarterback throw. 2 receivers are receivers positioned inside the No. We match the patterns as follows: Weak Flat Defender: Drop out of no cover zone eyes on No. we are able to insert the one “down” safety into any of the underneath positions. Diagram 4: Cover 3 Cover 3: A rotated deep zone coverage to the two receiver side of the offensive formation with three linebackers in coverage. No three step. For this reason. Check second coverage call vs. No. 2 to flat expand through No. 2 down the seam. slot. 2 receiver. 2 (2/1 match). bottom of numbers). Eyes to No. No. 2 in seam/re-route him out of the seam at 10 yards depth. Maintain your position of strength and read his lower body for route indicators. Theoretically speaking he must be capable of covering seam to seam if receivers are 25 yards or more downfield. If No. 2 is down the seam. 1’s hip based on your divider leverage. Disregard No. As with all of our players they are taught a stance/alignment/key/responsibility. — Down and distance/2-minute_playe deeper Diagram 5: Cover 6 Cover 6: A rotated three-deep zone coverage to the one receiver side of a pro formation with three linebackers in coverage employing tight coverage on receivers in each zone based on a read of route progression. This can be done when our underneath defenders drop out of the no cover zone and our safety anticipates the quarterback’s throw by reading his mechanics (Diagram 3). 2 inside or up weak seam. Hold curl area. The near corner’s divider moves to six and a half yards from the sideline (1/2 yard outside. 2 (1/2 match). 1 inside/out. No. Should they be 18 to 25 yards downfield.” Do not allow yourself to be stemmed off your divider horizontally. Break out of no cover on quarterback short throw. Linebacker flow rule. 1. Diagram 3 (18) (18) yard above the numbers (10 yards from sideline). 1 inside/out (Curl/Smash).” You are responsible for No. in our teaching progression. Our corner ’s alignment and play in his one-third technique is predicated on his “divider” rule. Curl Flat Defender: Drop out of no cover zone. 2 receivers down the field to threaten the defense horizontally. (No. (Rita/Rt or Linda/Lt Calls). A divider is a specific landmark for each corner that tells him where the midpoint of his outside one-third is located. the corner’s divider (midpoint) is one • AFCA Summer Manual — 2002 • . 1. These dividers remain constant throughout the play and the corners play off these in terms of horizontal alignment and actual play as follows: Wide receiver initial align inside or on divider. They must be re-routed out of the seam at 10 yards depth. C. 2 up Seam: Re-route No. No No. (Break back to no cover zone) Dividers / Corner’s Play Our corners are responsible for coverage in the outside one-third of the field (Diagram 2). Based on the specific coverage call. (The No. 1 receivers for identification (Diagram 2). 2/wheel Rt ).

Ideally. Backside flat player has throwback. Base matches. “stood the test of time. create situations where an offense must run and throw the ball outside. 4 is strong). 2). no cover zone. It takes the gray area out of a coach’s teaching progression and allows him to pinpoint and correct many of the very basic problems that his players will encounter. Split: Remaining back (No. 2). 2 in seam. Backside C: Squeeze No. 4 or first crosser (Load). Weak Hook Defender: Push front-side to No. 2. 2 (seam). reception area and others help define for the player their responsibilities. Three deep coverage. Re-route the seams at 10 yards. Quarterback moves the pocket. We will play load and split rules. Improve Your Professional Image Ask your sports information director to mention your membership and involvement in the American Football Coaches Association in your biographical sketch in the school’s annual media guide. He will / can use press technique. 1 (Quick reroute on No. Webb: Both backs flow weak. find and carry crossovers). one-third the distance. Stay out of no cover and don’t “undress the corner”. One Back Sets (2 x 2 Formations): All 2 x 2 formations are regarded as a “Double Seam Alert” formation with the potential of an offense attacking us with four verticals (Diagrams 6 & 7). I believe it has. We may decide to push our coverage to their strength or remain with our base concepts. this is to the defense’s advantage.No No. with it’s good run support schemes and middle of the field coverage players. Strong Hook Defender: Push to final No. Hold the curl for him. 3. Get width. 1 weak man. Terms such as seams. In both scenarios. (Handle wheel by No. Diagram 12 Diagram 13 Diagram 8 Diagram 7 Diagram 9 Our base matches and theories remain the same. Coaching decisions will be made based on an offense’s tendencies and our secondary’s ability. 3 up has to be taken up) Weak Flat Defender: You have No. Hook players “Radar” (turn. dividers. it is my belief as a coach and teacher that players learn best when given basic principles on which to concentrate. Diagram 10 In conclusion. Push coverage strong. 4) goes weak. 2. Frontside flat player has first to flat. 4) goes strong. Load: Remaining back (No. as Coach Saban used to say. Boot: Back split with run action. Flow: Both backs go strong (No. Should tight end run shallow crosses/weak side hook “Robot” (turn and find) Z/X dig. Match final No. Diagram 6 1. we will play either base rules or push our coverage as follows: Strong Flat Defender: Push to final No. Again break back to no cover/expand through curl. Diagram 11 • AFCA Summer Manual — 2002 • . (3 x 1 Formations): The offense has flooded one side of the field with aligned receivers. Play Action Diagrams 8-13 Play action passes are put in three distinct categories. 3 (and No. (see 3 x 1 load) (Matches).

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