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August 24, 2015 • Football

Football: Making your secondary primary

Football SecondaryThe imperatives of secondary play are beneficial to man and zone concepts. Secondary players must align according accordingly to the offensive formation, understand where the help is located and carry out their assignment.

Proper alignment takes away high percentage offensive attacks because the secondary player can position himself within the window of opportunity. For example, if the No. 1 receiver — aligned closest to the sideline — has a wide alignment from the core of the offensive formation, the secondary player should align inside and vice versa when facing a snug alignment. The understanding of where the help is located assists in the execution of assignments, and this is done through effective communication.

Effective communication is essential with any position group, but it’s weighted heavier with secondary players because not communicating effectively leads to points for the opposition. Secondary players need quality repetition to gain an understanding of how, when and where to provide run fits.

Diagram 1

Secondary players are primarily responsible for perimeter runs, and this assignment goes to the secondary player with the most efficient alignment to a particular side. For example, in DIAGRAM 1, if a perimeter run play goes to the left side of the defense, the weak-side linebacker (WS) is in the most efficient position to provide run support. If the perimeter run went to the right of the defense, the corner (DB) has the most efficient alignment to provide support.

Secondary players assigned to run support will communicate their assignment to the other members of the secondary by giving a “me” call. When the call is given from a corner, the interior secondary player has to provide security for the play action pass (appears to be a perimeter run, and converts into a passing play), and it’s the opposite when the “me” call is given by the interior secondary player. In reference to Diagram 1, if a perimeter run went left of the defense, the weak-side linebacker will give the “me” call to the corner, and the right side corner would provide the call to the free safety. The stimulus that provides the proper response for secondary players is ball on/ball off action, as shown in DIAGRAM 2.

Diagram 2

If the ball action is on the line of scrimmage, the secondary player responsible for perimeter run support will execute his assignment. With any ball action that is off the line of scrimmage, all secondary players execute their pass assignments.

In reference to Diagram 2, if on-line action is displayed to the right of the defense, and the No. 2 receiver blocks the strong-side linebacker, we are able to get extra run support with our free safety. This is called reinforcement.

The alignments and assignments of the secondary place pressure on perimeter run attacks and play action passing. That forces the offense to utilize deception to place pressure on the secondary.

A major decision for all defensive structures is how to handle “trips.” Therefore, offenses employ motions and shifts to provide versatility with their placement of the No. 3 receiver. All defenses adjust to motion by mirror (moving one defender with the motion) or bump (moving multiple players to the motion). When there is a mirror adjustment, the defense has the flexibility to decide which individual player they wish to adjust to the motion.

Diagram 3

For example, looking at Diagram 2, if the No. 1 receiver to the defense’s right was to motion across the formation to the left side, we could mirror adjust with corner, strong-side linebacker; linebackers and free safety. Mirror adjusting allows defenses to adjust based upon personnel. Bump adjusting would move the secondary players one alignment to the side of the motion, as shown in DIAGRAM 3.

Many defenses will mirror adjust with man coverage and bump with zone coverage. However, the two adjustments should not be married to a specific concept. Offenses will motion to identify what type of man or zone coverage a defense is playing. Therefore, if the adjustments are married to a specific concept, your hand is tipped and the offense will attack the vulnerability.

We classify pre-snap offensive movements as motions and shifts. Motion is defined as one offensive player moving from one perimeter to the opposite, and a shift is an offensive player moving from one side of the backfield to the opposite. The rationale for this is due to our adjustments.

Diagram 4

We bump to motion and mirror with Shifts, and the integrity of our defensive structure is maintained by the triangle. The triangle is two defensive players aligned within the guard box (space between the offensive guards), with the top of the triangle being the nearest offensive back, as shown in DIAGRAM 4. The triangle remains with a bump adjustment by the strong-side linebacker or free safety coming into the triangle, and with a mirror adjustment by the linebackers maintaining their alignment.

It’s easy to lose sight of the imperatives of defensive play. Coaches tend to spend a great deal of time focusing on alignments and responsibilities with their defensive fronts, and incidentally neglect the secondary. I included linebackers, because they are the bridge between defensive linemen and defensive backs. With all of the variations of offensive systems, defenses have to understand how to cross train position players. Defensive backs have to understand how to properly fit versus a running play, just as a linebacker must understand coverage leverage on receivers.

The objectives of our secondary players are met by consistent identification of the No. 3 receiver and reading ball on/off the line of scrimmage. We spend about two hours per week training the eyes and ears of our secondary players, which produces positive results on game day.

The design of the triangle allows for help-side defenders to align properly. These principles and procedures are how we make our secondary primary.


Tommy Acklin is the defensive coordinator at Frankfort High School in Kentucky.


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