Monday, June 22, 2015

A Safer Way to Play Quarters Coverage

In all my years coaching this coverage, the number one question that arises is "How is my OLB going to run with a wheel route?".  It happens a lot where I coach at, because the post/wheel route concept is the single most popular concept around.  It was made legendary around here in the early 80's when a local team made several playoff and state championship appearances, with the post/wheel concept being their top concept from a twins formation.  Anyhow, around here, you need to have an answer for this question, or you're going to be in some serious trouble.

Originally, my adjustment was to play 2 read to two detached quick receivers.  This was a great solution, and I've written in length about 2 read, and using it as an adjustment to Quarters coverage.  However, at my last the talent pool was as dry as I've ever coached in.  I still wanted to play a pattern match coverage, but the boss man detested the OLB running with the wheel.  I also didn't have a lot of time to deal with to install multiple coverages and checks to various formations.  What I needed was a coverage that would defend well over 90 percent of what we were going to see.  Well, here's what I came up with, and I'll share with you the differences between standard Quarters, and my version.

General Rules
For the safeties, my Quarters was the standard stuff.  Everything in this coverage was based off what the number two receiver did.  Also, the safety and the corner worked in tandem, not by reading number two, but by communicating what they were seeing their respective receiver doing.  I figured, most of our guys were coming out of youth football where they had played man-to-man coverage, so their eyes were used to being on their man (or in poor cases, the backfield).

What did number two do?  In this case...had a drink!

I taught that the number two receiver could do one of four things, and they are listed below.  One unique thing I taught, was our safeties eyes would follow the number two receiver to his next threat.  I got this from talking with a college coach at a clinic a couple of seasons ago and I really liked it, because it naturally makes sense.  Here are the four reads and reactions we taught our safeties:

  1. Go vertical.  If number two goes vertical (depth based on game plan), then the safety would lock on man-to-man.  Standard, 100 percent Quarters stuff right there.
  2. Go out.  This was the only route the safety had to make a call on.  The safety would make a "wheel" call to the corner and the OLB to announce that number two was not vertical and was now threatening the flat area.  When number two was out, the safety got his eyes to number one, and was purely a robber player.  I told them this "Eyes to one, rob curl to post".  That simple.  As you can see, the safeties eyes follow the number two receiver to his next threat.  The number two receiver is out, so the safety's eyes follow him to number one.  At this point the safety is in a good position to break on a route coming into the curl area, or work underneath a post route.
  3. Go in.  If the number two receiver worked inside off the snap, the safety would follow him with his eyes to the next threat, which in this case is the QB.  The safety would now slow pedal, reading the eyes of the QB.  Usually when the number two receiver drags inside, or slants inside, you're getting a high-low concept, such as post/drag, mesh etc., or you're getting double slants.  Again, the safety is in good position to play these routes by reading the eyes of the QB.  The corner will alert the safety as to what route he's getting so the safety will know how to react by either speed pedaling to work under a post, or driving up on a slant cut.  I'll discuss the corner technique at length later.
  4. Block.  I won't discuss run blocking at the moment, because to be honest that horse has been beaten to death on this site (lol).  I'm talking about pass blocking.  In the case of spread offenses this may be a TE or H-back that's been left in to block, rather than run a route.  In this case, the safety's eyes go to his nearest threat, which again, is the QB.  The reactions when the number two receiver block are the same as when number two is inside.
Safety reads vs. #2 out

Safety reads vs. #2 in

Now, depth of these routes are all based on game plan.  In some cases, I've had the safety jump that drag route with a call.  These are just the general rules of our coverage.  Nothing really ground breaking here, except for the teaching of the safety's eyes.  I had never really heard anyone discuss where the safety should put his eyes if number two didn't threaten him vertically.  Now on to the corners.

The corners reads are the biggest change in my version of Quarters with the old standard way of doing things.  Most coaches teach the corner in Quarters that he has the number one receiver man-to-man on anything but a shallow crossing route.  I was no different, and my teaching still starts out this way, but with a few added twists.  Again, I teach a numbers game and teach the corners that the number one receiver can only do one of four possible things.  The reads and reactions are shown below:

  1. Go inside.  If the number one receiver goes inside, then the corner will give an "in" call to alert the OLB and safety that the number one receiver is attacking the inside of the flats to the curl area.  He will stay over the top of number one and play for the double move (think sluggo).  The only call that switches this reaction, is if the corner hears a "wheel" call from the safety.  Now the corner knows, he must become a pure zone player has he may have another route entering his zone.  This is where my coverage takes a different turn than traditional Quarters.  It's not as aggressive as say, Michigan State's, but for high school football, it works just fine.  Later I'll go over route concepts so that you, the reader, can see exactly how these reactions work out.
  2. Go outside.  Any route that doesn't threaten the corner vertically, gets a call (see above where the corner calls "in").  Here, the corner will call "out" to alert the OLB that the flats have been threatened immediately.  The corner will stay over the top of this route and work for depth, looking for two things.  First, he always plays the double move, which in this case would be the out-and-up.  Second, the corner will get depth to help the safety play any deep out cut by the number two receiver on concepts such as smash.  The corner, in the case of smash, is really a free player.  He can rally to the out (or hitch, some folks run it both ways) and assist on the tackle, or he can bait the QB into throwing the corner route and come outside and under and play the ball.  Either way, the corner's main job is to make the QB hold the ball by playing in between these two routes.
  3. Stop short of vertical.  In other words, run a hitch.  In this case, the reaction is the same.  The corner calls "China" to alert the OLB that the flats are being threatened from the outside.  The corner plays the exact same technique as when the number one receiver runs a shallow out cut.
  4. Goes vertical.  For most Quarters coaches, this is where "it's on" and the corner locks on man-to-man.  For me it is the same, to a point.  If the corner does not hear any call from the safety, it's man.  However, if the corner hears the "wheel" call, he is now a zone player, NOT a man player.  This simple adjustment in technique is the key to the coverage.  The corner, on a wheel call, will now play a zone technique and would squeeze the post to the safety.  Now, if there is no actual "wheel" route, the corner ends up playing the high shoulder of the post as he would in old-school Quarters.  If the number two receiver actually does run the wheel route, the corner will squeeze the post to the safety and come off late on the wheel route.  The key to making this coverage work vs. this in-out switch stuff offenses are running nowadays lies in how the OLB reacts to all of the above.

Corner's calls

The OLB is an important piece of making my version of Quarters work.  The thing most coaches will note, is the fact that I do not change a thing from the way regular Quarters teaches it's flat players to how I teach it.  The only difference is, I give the OLB a safety net with the corner helping late over the top on a wheel route.  The OLB is called a "match 2" player in pretty much any Quarters schemes I've ever taught, and this one is no different.  The OLB will look to match the number two receiver to the flats.  Let's look at how the OLB fits into the system with his reactions to the number two receiver.

  1. Number two goes out.  This one's simple.  If number two is out, the coverage becomes man for the OLB.  The OLB will now run with the number two receiver wherever he goes, this INCLUDES running with him on a wheel route.  The good  news is, he has help over the top in the zone corner (due to the safety giving a wheel call-see the safety section for clarification).  
  2. Number two goes in.  The OLB will still drop to the flats, but is now completely trusting the corner with what the number one receiver is doing.  If the OLB hears "in", then he settles his feet, eyeing the QB and sits in the slant window.  If the OLB hears "out" or "China", he must, as I put it, "get on his horse" and get out to the flats to play inside and underneath these cuts.  If the OLB doesn't hear anything, but ends up having a three two switch (where the number two and number three receivers cross), then the OLB will play the new number two with the same reactions as he would if this receiver were originally the number two receiver.  
  3. Number two goes vertical.  Here, the reaction is exactly the same as if the number two receiver goes inside.  One coaching point, and it's a major disagreement I have with the way Michigan State teaches their Quarters, versus mine, is that the OLB should NOT reroute the number two receiver if he's going vertical.  I do not want my OLB "muddying" up the read for the my safety.  MSU teaches the OLB to knock this receiver down, I don't want this.  Number one, it's another technique I have to teach my LB, and number two, it messes up the safety's read on this receiver.  I simply have the OLB drop to the flats.  He does not reroute.  This is VERY important because if the OLB reroutes he may be late to his intended drop target and is doing exactly what the offense is wanting him to do (think pick or rub routes here).  
Ok, now that we have the rules in place, let's look at how all this shakes out vs. some of the various concepts many of us see.

Route Combos
The first combo is slant/arrow.  Against this combination, the safety, seeing number two expand gives a "wheel" call.  This alerts the OLB he's got a flat threat and the corner that he's now a zone player.  The corner will shuffle or pedal out for the three step drop, then upon hearing "wheel" knows he needs to bail into his quarter.  As the corner sees the slant, he calls "in" to alert the safety that the curl is now being threatened.  The safety, shuffles laterally to match the number two receiver's release until hearing the "in" call, at which time he drives on the slant.  These are some of the best collisions in all of football.  My safeties love driving on the slant because they are coming from depth and can adjust on the fly, as well as the fact most receivers are unsuspecting of the safety playing this route.  The OLB, cares nothing of the "in" call because he's heard the "wheel" call which overrides anything the corner says.  The OLB is expanding and trying to "top" the arrow route.  The corner, is over the top of all of this protecting against the double move (sluggo).



Now let's move on to the slant/wheel combination route.  This is where the coverage takes better shape and you can see the subtle differences between traditional Quarters coverage and my version.


Here we see the safety driving on the slant, due to the "in" call by the corner.  The safety would have also given a "wheel" call which alerted the corner, he's a zone player now, and also alerted the OLB he HAS to run with the number two receiver now.  What the modification in coverage does, is allow for the corner to play a double move by number one (sluggo), and play off and help the OLB with the wheel route.  The OLB's play, helps the corner squeeze the slant to the safety.

A better example of this is shown below, and that is how the coverage adapts to handling the post/wheel combination.  The safety gives the wheel call and gets eyes to number one.  As one climbs vertical the safety will open to him and must expect the post or dig routes.  Once the receiver's hips sink, the safety can now turn into the post.  I tell my safeties to "run the post for the receiver".  In other words, run the same route the receiver is running.  The corner, will hear the "wheel" call and knows now, he is a zone player.  The corner squeezes the post to the safety, but will do so, keeping leverage on the wheel.  The corner can squeeze down inside on the post, because of the play of the OLB.  With the OLB carrying the wheel, it gives the corner time to help pass the post off to the safety as well as get back over the top of the wheel.  Through repetitions, what I was finding was that the corner was able to drop off and read the QB versus this combination and was breaking more on the throw, rather than the route.  This gives the defense, the old "plus one" advantage we are always looking for.

The next combination, is the curl/arrow and curl/wheel.  This is one of the toughest to defend because the curl is so enticing for the corner to jump.  From the illustrations you can see that the safety would give the "wheel" call, this alerts the corner he's a zone player, and the OLB that he must now run with the number two receiver man-to-man.  The corner will high shoulder the curl, and is in perfect position to leverage the number two receiver if this route turns in to the wheel route.  The safety, will continue to expand with number two, because he has not gotten a call from the corner.  Again, the OLB's technique is what makes the coverage work.  The OLB by expanding works into the curl window, long enough to buy the safety time to work to the curl.  If the arrow turns into the wheel route, the OLB buys the corner some time to adjust off the curl and take over the wheel route.


As you can see, the coverage is not all that unlike traditional Quarters coverage.  The only difference is that the OLB is not forced into running with the wheel route by the number two receiver alone.  He has help over the top in the form of a pure zone cornerback.  Yes, this coverage is not as aggressive as traditional Quarters coverage, but remember, it's built for lesser athletes.  Sometimes being overly aggressive with lesser talent can lead to trouble.  What this coverage DOES DO, is still gives you a means of pattern matching that allows defenders to cover receivers and not grass, while having some built-in help for the lesser skilled coverage player (the OLB).

What routes are you seeing?  Send me an email to and I'll feature it in the new Mailbag posts.  In the next post, I'll focus on some of the problem routes, and the calls and adjustments used to help the defense defend these adaptations.