April 5, 2024

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What is a Football Secondary? Explained!

7 min read
what is a football secondary

Let’s examine a football secondary in more detail, as well as how most secondary formations work and what each position’s unique specialty is.

There are always 22 football players on the field at once, and each of them is responsible for a specific task. There are players who play close to the ball and others who play farther away. Typically, the term “secondary” refers to the players who play farther away.

In football, what exactly is the secondary?

Cornerbacks and safeties make up the secondary, and their job is to stop big plays and the passing game. On each play, the secondary will either use man-to-man coverage or zone coverage.

What is a Football Secondary?

The defenders tasked with intercepting deep passes make up a secondary in football. They occasionally also defend short passes while rising to assist the run defense.

To better understand why it is called the secondary, let’s take a look at the entire field.

The defensive linemen and linebackers are the players who are most in close proximity to the line of scrimmage and the football. As the first line of defense, consider these players. Due to their proximity to the ball, they primarily defend against the run.

The defensive backfield, which includes the players behind them, is referred to as the secondary. Here is another illustration. Looking at it from the offensive side, the defensive backfield is farther away from the ball. After the linebackers and defensive linemen, they make up the second line.

What is the Role of the Secondary in Football?

As we previously discussed, the secondary’s primary responsibility is to prevent the offense from successfully completing deep passes behind the defense.

They must be able to read, react, and move up the field to make a tackle on a ball carrier when it is necessary. For instance, a defensive back who is backpedaling will change to a sprint downfield at the proper angle once they notice that the offense is running the ball rather than passing it.

Cornerbacks will blitz in certain circumstances to apply more pressure on the quarterback. Losing an additional player in coverage is a disadvantage.

The proximity of secondary players to the line of scrimmage can vary depending on the down and distance. In order to provide more support against run plays, they can line up nearer to the line of scrimmage (i.e. 3rd and 1 yard to go).

what is a football secondary

In situations where the offense is facing a longer down and further away (i.e. 3rd and 15 yards to go).

The defensive play ordered has an impact on the secondary’s duties as well. There are no players defending deep in Cover 0. They are all manned up or blitzing the offense. Only one deep defender is present in Cover 1, and the other players are either manned up or blitzing the offense.

What Positions Play in the Secondary in Football?

Do you know what a secondary in football is? The majority of secondary positions are manageable by safeties and cornerbacks.

The secondary form can therefore be filled out by any player, as you should be aware. To play in the secondary, safeties and cornerbacks are an actual option because of certain physical attributes that they possess.

The positions with duties for each position are identified by their names.

Free Safety

One of the safety features that can completely fill out the form is this one. The weak side of the field, or the side of the formation with fewer players, is where this position is located. It continues to be more concerned with passing than strong safety. With fewer offensive players, the opposition can run the ball to the formation side.

In addition, compared to the strong safety, the free safety can start the play farther from the line of scrimmage.

These weigh a little less in comparison to the strong safety. Improved movement in the defensive backfield is beneficial. The position aids cornerbacks on deep passes and has the longest coverage range. The defender has the ability to cover the deep part of the field in the cover 1 defense.

Strong Safety

what is a football secondary

It could be the formation’s second safety position. Given that those players are positioned on the formation’s strong side, you can expect it to be slightly larger than the previous one.

They have more players standing with them, and the extra player is frequently a tight end. To bring a running back down, it must overcome its block.

The ball is controlled in that direction as the extra player lines up on the powerful side, primarily indicating that they will attempt to tackle the ball carrier on passing plays. The position is overly involved in the passing game.


Wide receivers need to be stopped. Man coverage or zone coverage assignments are made for these players.

In contrast to the first one, which involves every cornerback covering the entire play, zone coverage involves a single player covering a specific area of the field.

When an offensive player enters the zone, the player is required to cover the positions until the player leaves the area. The use of both types in the form is preferred by many defenses.

To tackle the running back, they have to get past the receivers’ barriers. They may set up in a position close to the sideline to cover wide receivers. If there is a space between the ball and the players, they won’t be involved.

Nickel Corner

It is a second cornerback that the defense can call upon when necessary. Despite being near the center of the field, the player is given the same assignment as a typical cornerback. Play is made from the slot in this specific position. Furthermore, they will enter the field if another team uses three wide receivers or more.

Receivers must find openings in these situations if an awkward defensive position uncovers them. A nickel corner position enters the game when the offense adds more receivers to the field by matching the quickness and agility of the extra receivers.

what is a football secondary

People can now notice an increase in passing the NFL. As a result, they are playing a key role in football’s secondary.

How Many Players Are in the Secondary?

The game’s player count is dependent on the coverage. The primary defensive coverages are cover 2 and cover 3.

The remaining defensive players are in cover 2 to defend short and two deep safeties. In addition, cover 3 uses one safety and two cornerbacks to defend a third of the field. You can learn about various defensive coverage variations, though.

For instance, Nickel packages have five defensive backs who are familiar with late downs while the offense passes to gain a first down.

As you can see, each play’s distance, down, and the defensive team depends on the player’s number.

Nickel Defense

Teams will deploy a nickel defense while an opponent sends more receivers onto the field than usual. The defensive formation necessitates adding more players to the secondary. The name nickel first appears when they introduce a fifth player to the fray.

So, a cornerback might replace a defensive lineman or linebacker who was substituted off the field. Three cornerbacks, two safeties, and one other player make up the secondary.

Dime Defense

It is employed, as with the earlier one, when your adversary employs a disproportionate number of receivers. To form the defense format, include a second player. A cornerback can once more be swapped for a linebacker or defensive lineman. When you set up a dime defense, there are four cornerbacks and two safeties in the secondary.

what is a football secondary

Quarter Defense

It’s one of the defensive formations that allow you to alter the secondary player count. In games, the quarter defense will be used infrequently.

In hail-mary situations, defensive coordinators typically favor using the formation. With only one linebacker and three defensive linemen in the box, it has two safeties, five cornerbacks, and no safety. As a result, while a secondary format with four players is common, one with seven players is also possible.

How Do You Play in the Secondary in Football?

Football is a position that requires athleticism, aggression, and intelligence to play.

Defensive backs must always prioritize covering passes before covering runs. More importantly, a wide receiver should never outrun a defensive back in the deep ball.

For instance, in cover 3, the deep third of the field is the cornerback’s to defend. The defense must cover any wide receiver running a route in this deep third to prevent a big play or touchdown.

When a secondary player “bites” on a play in front of them and concedes a deep play over the top, it is a common error at the lower levels of play. The ability to change directions is a requirement for defensive backs. Sprinting, backpedaling, and hip turns are crucial actions for playing the position.

Defenders must be able to shuffle, track ball carriers, and make successful tackles, so moving laterally and side to side is essential.

You need to be physically fit and have the good judgment to take proper angles. To contain players and stop big plays, secondary players must be able to take the right angle to cut off a ball carrier and force them to cut back to the middle of the field.

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