The secondary is the name given to the players that make up the defensive backfield. The secondary consists of cornerbacks, safeties and other defensive backs.
Cornerbacks - There are two cornerbacks in the secondary defense. There is a right cornerback and a left cornerback. Usually they are the fastest of the defensive backs because when a cornerback disrupts a play it is because they have the ability to make it off the line very quickly. Their target is a receiver and coverage for a cornerback is typically man to man.
The cornerbacks will often line up opposite the offense’s wide receivers and about 10 to 12 yards to the far right and far left of their nearest teammate depending on where the wide receivers line up.
Safeties - Most defenses have two safeties. A strong safety and a free safety. Just like the linebacker tells his fellow linebackers and the defensive linemen where to line up, the safeties will instruct the defense to make any adjustments that are needed in the event the offense makes any last minute changes to their formation.
The strong safety will line up on the strong side…..the side that has the most tight ends and receivers. We discussed the strong side and weak side in the post about the linebackers when we talked about the Sam and Will linebackers. The strong safety’s coverage generally ends up being over the tight end or a running back who leaves the backfield.
The strong side safety generally deals more with running plays because they line up closer to the line of scrimmage and coaches want them to defend the run because they are fast but they also have the size to defend the tight end if he tries to catch a pass.
The free safety is generally used to defend the long touchdown pass. They are fast and agile enough to get a good jumpstart on any long pass that is thrown. They are quick thinkers that have good judgement and can often read the quarterback well enough to know where he is going to throw the football and that is their primary job….to key the quarterback. His coverage is usually man-to-man.
Other Defensive Backs - The last two defensive backs that make up the secondary are the Nickel Back and Dime Back. The Nickel back gets his name because he is the fifth player and five players equal five cents. The dime back is named for the fact that two nickel backs are on the field and two nickels equals a dime! Different teams use different names for this position. Essentially they are each defensive backs and are called upon for the passing play because when the offense brings in extra receivers, chances are they are going to pass. When this happens the defense will sometimes take out a linebacker and lineman to be replaced by the extra nickel and dime back if they know it is going to be a passing play.
It is a real crap shoot when it comes to coaches moving around the defensive players in hopes of more blitzing and coverage flexibility. The photo below shows a common nickel and dime alignment that is successful against the pass. The X’s represent the defensive line, the circle in the middle is a linebacker, next to him are the nickel back and dime back, on the outside of them are the cornerbacks, and in the way back are the strong safety and free safety.
Obviously whatever formation a coach calls, the defense’s primary concern is to prevent the offense from scoring. But there are a couple of really cool things that can happen, besides a sack and tackle, when it comes to the defense.
Interception - When a defensive player interrupts a pass and catches the ball intended for the offensive receiver.
Forced Fumble - A forced fumble is when a defensive player forces the ball away from a receiver after he gains possession of the ball as seen in this photo below. The defensive player hit (tackled) the ball carrier so hard the ball carrier lost control of the ball and it popped out of his hands.
Stripping the Ball - When a defensive player uses his hands to pull the ball away from the receiver’s hold of the ball.
PBU - A Pass Break Up is when a defensive player knocks down a ball, in the air, before it can get to the receiver’s hands or knocks the ball out of the receiver’s hands before he has control over it.
Pick Six - When a defensive player intercepts the ball and runs it in for a touchdown.
Football is such a fun sport to watch but it can be confusing too. So far we’ve gone over some cool offensive plays and assignments as well as some defensive opportunities and formations. Tomorrow we will touch on one other group of guys that is very important to every football organization and those are the 11 players that make up the special teams.