I saw a recent interview with Davante Adams where he was discussing what he does when he comes to the line of scrimmage. According to Mr. Adams, he puts on his Terminator mask, scans the DB and determines the many possibilities available to him to win at the line of scrimmage. Adams may be a little drunk with success at the moment but it got me thinking, this is what safeties should be doing when they line up.
As a safety in the post or on the hash, you have a unique vantage point as you set up behind your teammates. As the deepest man on the field, you can essentially have a clear view of every member of the offense. To you, things can literally look like they do on film.
With this being the case, a safety should scan the formation and determine the number of possibilities from the offense. Many young safeties just take their spot on the field (hopefully at the proper depth) and just sit their waiting to react to something. When you are playing right you are anticipating the moves by the offense instead of being caught on your heels having to react to everything they do.
Anticipation is a by product of film study. However, the film study must translate to on field performance. To do that, a safety must take careful note of what is happening in front of him. Like Adams, you should be putting your Terminator mask on and scanning the enemy. How many backs are in the backfield? Where is the tight end located and how is he aligned? What are the splits by the wide receivers and what do they mean? Furthermore, safeties should be reading the uncovered linemen pre-snap to get clues. Finally, a careful examination of the quarterback as he gets ready to call the cadence could be the ultimate tell. Heck, the quarterback is doing the same to your defense when he comes to the line of scrimmage.
Guess who the safety is on defense? Yes, you guessed it, the quarterback. Use your eyes to scan the offense and collect data. From there you can cancel out possible plays and zero in on a handful of things that can result from the information you gather. After you have done that, it becomes easier to call out any coverage checks, communicate with defenders and move guys into position. On top of that, you can get the jump on plays you expect to come after your suspicions are confirmed with the action post snap.
Above all other things, intelligence is a must for a safety. Show me a non-intelligent safety and I’ll show you a defense that has to be simple. If you are very simple on defense then you are really relying on your athletes being better than your opponent’s. At some point, you will find out that isn’t always the case. That’s when the trouble starts. Don’t limit your defense by not being smart enough to study, intelligent enough to understand what you are seeing and not savvy enough to line up your fellow defenders. Survey the offensive landscape and pick up the clues.
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.