4 Big Mistakes You Are Making in Zone Coverage

By: Chad Wilson
IG: @alleyesdbcamp

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just line up in man coverage all the time without getting tired or having the offense do things to beat it? Of course, that would be simple but it’s not reality so every defense has to be able to run zone coverage.

As true as that previous statement is, the fact remains that many teams are unable to run zones for a variety of reasons. In this article, I’m going to go over the four biggest mistakes that players and teams make when running zone coverage

Not Communicating

This is the biggest problem that teams have when playing zone. As stated in the book 101 DB tips, in zone, you cover with your mouth as opposed to covering with your legs the way that you do when playing man. Zone coverage requires you to most often be dedicated to a certain zone on the field. Once the offense snaps the ball and the routes start to unfold, it is crucial for the defenders, especially in the secondary, to communicate to one another where the routes are coming from. We only have two eyes and often times they are focused on a variety of things. When the secondary communicates with each other, each defender essentially has more than just two eyes. They are now receiving information from each other about who is entering their zone thus allowing them to be in the proper position should the ball be thrown there.  it is essential for players and coaches to emphasize communication heavily when teaching and playing zone coverage.

Not Aligning Right

As the old saying goes, it starts with your alignment. Players can put themselves at a disadvantage in zone coverage before the ball is even snapped if they are not aligned correctly. This is one of those details that are very important as a defensive back. Not aligning with the proper outside or inside leverage can allow a receiver to attack your zone and receive the ball before you are able to get there.  Aligning too shallow or too far off can allow either an easy completion in your zone or a big play in your zone because you were not at the proper depth. Take your alignment seriously when you are playing zone. Some players think zone coverage is a time for them to be lazy because they are not going to be chasing a receiver. However, you can fall asleep in zone and give up a big play that hurts your team. Alignment before assignment, should be your motto.

Eyes In the Wrong Place

Again, some players think zone is the time to take a play off. One of the biggest areas where players will slack off is not reading their keys in zone coverages. You are required to read one receiver to determine where another receiver will end up. Failing to key on that receiver that you are supposed to be watching will allow the other receiver to attack your zone without you knowing it. Failing to read your keys will strip you of your ability to anticipate a route coming to your zone which in turn makes you late to the ball when it’s thrown.  Make it a point to have your eyes on the proper key. If you were supposed to be reading a wide receiver, have your eyes there. If you are supposed to be reading the quarterback, make sure you lock your eyes in on what he’s doing. Reading your keys gives you the ability to anticipate. The ability to anticipate leads you to interceptions.

Chasing Routes

If you want to get benched by your coach in a hurry, chase routes in zone coverage. Zone coverage is just that zone coverage. You are responsible for a zone, not a man. Players, who can’t differentiate  between the two and chase players leaving their zone wide open, are often pulling splinters out of their rear end from sitting on the bench. Lock in on what coverage you are in and what your responsibility is. Also, know the responsibility of the others around you in zone coverage. Knowing this will prevent you from chasing routes that you are not supposed to be chasing. Knowing what you are supposed to do is one thing, but knowing who has the other zones will prevent you from getting tricked by routes getting run by the offense.  Study your playbook, take notes and ask questions about the different zone coverages if you do not have a full understanding of them. A full understanding means knowing your job plus everyone else’s job.

Staying away from these four big mistakes can allow you to be a master when it comes to zone coverage. Often times zone coverage gives a defender more opportunities to make interceptions. It’s cool to be a lock down man-to-man defender. However, also being great at zone makes you More valuable to your team and an overall better player.

For more information on how zone coverages work, check out the All eyes Db Camp members area. I have videos in there that break down several of the zone coverages that your team may be running right now. Click here For more information on the All eyes Db Camp members area.

Author: Chad Wilson

Chad Wilson is the owner of All Eyes DB Camp and author of "101 DB Tips". He played college football at the University of Miami and briefly in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. Over his 15 year high school football coaching career, he tutored over a dozen Division I defensive backs and as a trainer has worked with NFL All Pros, first round draft picks, college football All Americans and Top 10 ranked high school football prospects.

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