Cornerback Alignment: How and Why we changed from pre-snap to cover 3

Cornerback Alignment: Why we changed from pre-snap

For as long as I can remember my cornerbacks have had trouble defending a basic smash concept when in a standard cover 3. For years, no matter what I did it seemed like our corners were constantly biting on the hitch or now screen component of the smash concept and giving up the corner route over their heads. I distinctly remember a year at team camp in which our corners played very well except for giving up multiple corner routes in cover 3 vs the smash concept. On that day it was clear that something had to change.
Defensive cornerback alignment
For years my response to our inability to cover the smash concept was to do more drills, get more reps, or create new drills. All of my efforts failed. Watching our corners get burned by smash over and over again was incredibly frustrating. Something had to be done. But what?


What we expected our corners to do in cover 3

In the end we made significant changes to our pre-snap cornerback alignment, but before I get into the changes we made to our corners’ pre-snap cornerback alignment that ultimately improved our ability to cover the smash concept I want to explain what we expect our corners to do in cover 3.

  • Read the offensive tackle for run/pass read.
  • Low aggressive hat=run
  • High passive hat=pass
  • Work outside in on pass
  • If #1 threatens you deep you simply go with him
  • If #1 hitches or slants get your eyes on #2
  • If #2 threatens deep stay deeper than him anticipating the corner route

That’s pretty straightforward, standard stuff, but for some reason our kids were really struggling no matter what I did. Also, our pre-snap cornerback alignment, at that time, was outside eye and 7 yards off the LOS with our shoulders square to the #1 receiver, our inside foot back and our eyes on the offensive tackle.


Why we changed from pre-snap to cover 3

At some point it dawned on us (I say us because I can’t remember whose idea this was) that if we changed our corners’ pre-snap alignment it might help them go through the assignments of cover 3 more effectively. Now our corners line up 7 yards off the LOS and 1 yard outside of the #1 receiver with their backs to the sideline. This alignment makes it easy for them to see the offensive tackle and then get their eyes on the #1 receiver in a passing situation. If the #1 receiver runs a hitch our corners, with their backs to the sideline, can easily and quickly get their eyes on the #2 receiver. With a relatively small amount of teaching and drilling our corners learn to work from #1 to #2 just like we want them to in cover 3.

This simple change in our pre-snap alignment has dramatically reduced the effectiveness of the smash concept against our corners. It has also allowed our younger and/or less experienced corners to step in and execute a cover 3 much more quickly than before.

Cornerback Alignment: How the cover 3 helped us improve our defense

Not only did our new pre-snap alignment change but our technique verses a fade/go route by the #1 receiver changed. When we changed our pre-snap alignment we began teaching our corners to try and maintain their 7×1 alignment when the #1 receiver ran a fade/go route throughout the play until the QB released the ball. Doing so kept our corners’ eyes inside and ready to make a play on the ball. We feel like we have had a lot more success making a play on the ball from this position.

There has also been a significant byproduct to the technique as well. From our back to the sideline pre-snap alignment our corner can easily disguise and jump into a jam technique that we use in cover 2 and a roll or cloud coverage that we use.

Overall, simply changing our pre-snap cornerback alignment to 7×1 with our backs to the sideline has been one of the most helpful changes we have made in our cornerback alignment play over the years. It has helped our players go through their reads more effortlessly and put them in positions where they can make a play on the ball more often.

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