A dominant split end can change the game at any level of football. From Pop Warner to the NFL, offensive coordinators are always looking for ways to isolate that “X” receiver. This position is usually the best receiver in the program. In most offensive systems, trips formation best highlights his skill set , especially when he’s the lone receiver to the backside.

Regardless of the offensive personnel, the trips formation can present some unique challenges to any defensive scheme and, depending on a defensive coordinator’s comfort level, this formation may require multiple answers.

Here are some common questions to answer when defending trips:

  • What do they do out of trips?
  • Are they run or pass heavy from trips, or are they balanced?
  • Do they run bubble, bubble go, flood, and/or three verticals from trips?
  • Do they have a player they like to isolate on the single side?

Once we identify the answers , we’re able to decide the appropriate coverage for what the opposition likes to do out of their trips sets.

In this article, we’ll reference the three most efficient coverage concepts from our research that defend the X in trips formations.

“Walk and Thief Coverage” Concept (North Harmon High School, Okla.)

Defensive coordinator Ty Gower uses the “walk” call within his 3-4 base defense, which has given him a variety of ¼ based coverages to play, such as palms or a quarters coverage to #1 and #2 receivers, and “solo” to the #3 receiver (see clip below). According to Gower, this makes it an easy change up to trips, but also allows him to play two-on-one on the single receiver side (X).

“Although we might have taken away the X, it was still important that the offense didn’t get too comfortable seeing the same coverage to trips,” Gower said. “For that reason, we employ a mixture of palms, cover 4, cover 8, and off man to that side.”

What also made Gower’s “walk” call effective was the ability to play various palms coverages on #2 and #3 receivers. One of which being our “Thief” coverage (see Diagram 2 below). This is a palms coverage on #2 & #3 with the strong safety and the free safety, while still maintaining a true six man box with “20” linebackers.

“This worked well because we were not teaching a new concept to anyone except the strong safety, who becomes like the palms cornerback,” said Coach Gower. “That said, we found gap scheme concepts to the weak side could cause us issues at times because our force player was slow on same side power/dart weak. Now it was our turn to find answers for having a fast force player, but still keeping the ideology of our defense and defending the X.”

“Purple Stress” Coverage Concept (Saugus High School, Calif.)

Head coach Jason Bornn uses what he calls “purple stress” coverage to specifically attack teams who like to isolate the single side receiver. It’s a quarter, quarter, half concept from a four down front (see Diagram 9 below).


  • Trips side cornerback and strong safety: The key to the coverage is to ensure that the trips side CB and SS split #1 and #2 receivers if they release vertically. This allows them to play both vertical routes.
  • Sam outside linebacker: He will play “curl 3 pickup.” This means that he’ll work to the curl area of #1 receiver while looking for the #2 or #3 receivers coming out. He won’t jump the routes until the QB shows his palm off the football.
  • Mike inside linebacker: His job is to carry the #3 receiver vertically to 12 yards and then level off.
  • Will inside linebacker: He uses a “poach the hash” technique and take away the slant of the single receiver and works to a depth of 12 yards on the hash. As he deepens, he’s looking for any crossers from the trips side. The single side CB and FS play the route of the WR using cover 2 principles.

According to Bornn, this is particularly helpful when he doesn’t want to isolate the back side CB since it allows him to double cover a dominate receiver. “It also allows us to still keep four defenders dedicated to the trips side,” he said. “And we have found it is a great run support defense to both sides.”

Bronco Coverage Concept (Columbus High School, Kan.)

Offenses will also have a plan to run the ball to the X receiver in trips by putting him to the field. At Columbus High School, defensive coordinator Chris Endress’ changes this to what he calls “bronco”. He uses it for two primary scenarios: the offense is putting their best wide receiver to the single side to get a one–on–one match-up, or a team is running to the single receiver side and W isn’t able to come down and be the force defender (see Diagram 5 below).

For this concept, the corner to the trips aligns 1 x 1 inside the #1 WR and is in full man coverage on him the entire play. This is a traditional Cover 2 look where he aligns at the apex of the #1 receiver and the football at a depth of 10 yards.

Will LB Rules:

  • If #1 goes vertical, Will LB has him “in phase”
  • If #1 breaks out, Will LB sinks while watching #1 for a 2 count to alert for double moves. If there’s no double move, Will LB reads QB shoulder for release.
  • If #1 breaks in, Will LB stays inside and deeper than #1 looking to break on a ball thrown in front of the receiver. The #1 cannot get deeper than Willie.

CB Rules:

  • Aligns 1x1 Outside #1
  • If #1 goes vertical, jam and sink under number one; stay on his hip unless another receiver threatens the flats. Corner must come off and cover any flat threat.
  • If #1 breaks out, corner jams and plays aggressive under #1.
  • If #1 breaks in, corner jams and funnels #1 to Will LB. He’ll stay on the hip of #1 unless another receiver threatens the flats.

These are just a few ways to control a dominant X receiver in trips formations. Of course, if a defense has the ability to match up man-to-man with a dominant X, none of these coverages may even be necessary.

These concepts can be found in the X&O Labs Film Room, a searchable database on Hudl with over 1600 concepts and drills. For more information, click here.