Quarters Safety Flat Foot Technique

Having played and coached the safety position in the 4-2-5 defense, I’m a big believer in playing your safeties flat footed whenever possible. Now we play a form of cover 4 most of the time and this report is written from the perspective of a Quarters defense. We may play it a little different to the boundary than we do to the field, but it’s still cover 4 by principle. More and more teams are playing their safeties flat footed or something close to that, but I believe there are still some people out there that back pedal their safeties because that’s what they’ve always done. The only time our safeties back pedal is when they are responsible for the vertical route of more than one wide receiver, which we call that a divider technique. The times that our safeties use a divider are basically any time we play cover 2 vs. two or three wide receivers or when we play cover 4 to a three-receiver side.

Reasoning Behind a Flat-Footed Read:
I believe there are many advantages to playing your safeties flat footed. These are the reasons below:

  1. Gets your safeties involved in the run game quicker.
  2. Puts safeties in better position to defend intermediate routes.
  3. Takes advantage of our safeties strengths. (Safeties don’t have feet and hips of a corner, but they can burst, they understand angles and leverage and recognize routes quickly.)
  4. Denies a 2 way go with vertical routes in the slot.
  5. Makes it easier for safeties to have disciplined eyes.

Pre-Snap Eyes:

Here’s exactly what I mean when I say we play our safeties flat footed. Our safeties are aligned 10 to 12 yards from the L.O.S. based on formation and personnel. They are in an athletic stance with their feet square to the L.O.S. They will be getting their run/pass key from a TE if there is one on their side. If there is no TE, they will key the nearest uncovered OL.  We can change our reads from week to week if needed based on best read and/or packaged plays. When the ball is snapped, our safeties don’t move while getting their run/pass key. Some guys will bounce a little which is fine as long as they stay in place. The most common phrase you’ll hear from our safeties coach is “don’t go til ya know”, which as far as I know came from TCU. The worst thing our safeties can do is run themselves out of a play. We stress being patient and then trusting the read you get. If our safeties read run, they are flying to their fit. If they read pass they hinge and shuffle.

Hinge Technique: 

If our safeties get a pass read, the first thing they do is take a hinge step, which means they drop their outside foot, they open their hips 45 degrees and get their eyes on their #2 WR. I can tell where my safety’s eyes are by watching only his feet. If his feet are square he is reading his key, the moment that outside foot drops he has read pass and his eyes are on #2 now. If I see a safety taking that hinge step and keeping his eyes on his key that usually means he isn’t trusting his read. The feet and eyes should always be in sync with this technique.

Shuffle Technique: 

Post-snap, the safety has gotten a pass read, opened his hips with his hinge step and gotten his eyes on his #2 WR. The safety is now going to stay in an athletic stance and slowly start to give some ground by shuffling while reading the posture and speed of the #2 WR. If the WR runs a quick out or in, we will rob #1 or look for work. If he pushes vertical, we will work our shuffle. This is not a catch technique; we want to force the WR to try and run around us and then get on his inside hip. The goal of our shuffle is to get just enough separation so we can cut off a vertical route, and to maintain the right amount of inside leverage so that the WR doesn’t have a two way go. We will take away inside routes/fakes with our positioning. There are no rules for the perfect amount of distance and leverage, because no two situations are the same. There are many different factors, which include wide receiver speed and posture, amount of field to work with, and WR stem. There are times when a slot will stem hard inside and our safeties will be forced to pedal to maintain inside leverage and that’s fine, we work that every week. There also will be times when the safety opens his hips and doesn’t give any ground at all because of the posture or speed of the inside WR. The bottom line is that the shuffle is all about feel, and all about reps. Our guys have really bought into it and really have a good feel for it now. 

Drill Work

Triangle Drill:

Everyday our safeties do Triangle drill, also known as Diamond drill to some.

They will either have a TE to read or an OL to key with a spread inside WR to shuffle off of in case of pass. If they read run, they are fitting appropriately and verbalizing their assignment (alley, force, or cutback). If they read pass, they are working their hinge and shuffle on their vertical threat. It’s a very simple drill and can seem routine some days, but we believe in its effectiveness and we make sure the players understand its importance. Some days we may only get 3 or 4 minutes in but we will still do it, those 3 or 4 reps could be the difference for a younger player especially. Triangle drill and scrimmage reps vs. our offense are the main ways we work run/pass reads and run fits. We try to focus on runs, play-action passes and screens during this time since we have time to focus on drop back.

Shuffle Drill:

We have developed a progression for the way we train our safeties to shuffle. We start by teaching them the initial hinge step and shuffle on air. Next, we work the shuffle relationship vs. a WR by starting the safety 5 yards away, 1 ½ to 2 yards inside with his hips already open. We go in order from a dig route to a seam route to a corner. We want to beat that dig route inside, pin the seam route (man turn and cut off), and work over the top of the corner route. After the safeties get a feel for the shuffle and desired result, we will move them to 10 yards and shuffle full speed vs. a vertical route.

Drill Progression:

  1. Hinge and shuffle on air.
  2. 5 yards away from WR-dig, seam, corner.
  3. 10 yards any vertical route.
  4. 10 yards vs. short route by #2 training safety to rob #1 WR or look for work.

Battle Drill:

My favorite drill for our safeties

Safety is 5 yards away from WR (another safety). Hips are already open. Only rule is WR can’t run an out. The coach will throw a ball and the loser has push-ups. The WR’s goal is to beat the safety deep or inside. Guys will head fake inside and run a seam or try to work vertical and use a shove-by technique to beat them inside. It turns into some crazy moves but it really helps our safeties develop a feel for their positioning and leverage while using their shuffle. We will see double moves during the year and this drill really prepares us for those. Plus, the guys have a blast.

To see a film tutorial on how Coach Tribble teaches his Safeties these techniques in the run game, click on the video below.

To see a film tutorial on how Coach Tribble teaches his Safeties these techniques in the pass game, click on the video below.

In closing, our flat-footed technique has not only been an effective technique but it has helped cultivate the right mindset for our safeties. They have to be calm and patient early in the play, but then burst when they get their reads and go make plays. They understand leverage and angles better because of it, and they rarely waste themselves by covering grass.

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X&O Labs 2017 Football Trends