3 High Safety Defense

Updated: Mar 5

By Josh Runda

Defensive Coordinator, Linebackers

Bluffton University, OH

Twitter: @Rundatheball


At Bluffton University we base out of the 4-2-5. However, when I became the Defensive Coordinator, I knew I wanted to be able to run the 3 High Safety defense as well. This would allow us to be multiple and make offenses prepare for 4 man fronts and 3 man fronts. The trick was finding a way to marry the two defenses and be able to have variations of the same coverages out of both looks. Our identity is simplicity and at the end of the day we want our players playing fast and playing with confidence. Our goal is to be able to run our coverages in our 4-2-5 and 3 High Safety defense without changing the language. The 3 High Safety defense also gives us the ability to run different variations of drop 8 coverages.

The Basics

If you aren’t familiar with the 3 High Safety defensive structure, here is a look at our base alignment to a 2x2 attached tight end formation.

Positionally upfront we play with an End (E), Nose (N) and End (E). At linebacker we play with two in the box linebackers, our Mike (M) and Will (W). Our Sam (S) is a true field player. In the secondary we play with two Corners (C), a Strong Safety (SS) which travels to the field, our Boundary Safety (BS), and our Star (ST). The Star is our middle safety.

Our Base Coverage

We are a split field coverage team working in triangles. Our strong safety works with the sam and the corner to their side and the boundary safety works with the will and the corner to their side. Our safeties align on the outside shoulder pad of the #2 WR to their side. Based on their alignment, they decide if they can give help to the corner to their side. If they do think they can give help they will put us in a Cover 2 call to that side. This means all three defenders are going to read off the #2 WR’s release. If the safety does not think they can give help they will put us in a Cover 4 call to their side. In both coverages the mike is going to have eyes to #3.

We are a +1 mentality to the box and because we often count the Star as a run first defender, we utilize him as a “takeaway” defender in our base coverage. This simply means that we will utilize the star to take away something the opposing team does well in the passing game. We also can add him on to the rush or use him as a spy vs. mobile quarterbacks.

In this clip we go Cover 4 to the boundary. The boundary safety (#11) makes a “Man” call meaning he is not locked on the tight end. We utilized the star (#18) as a middle hole defender because we knew they liked to get the running back out of the backfield.

Here we utilize the star (#18) as a “crosser player” meaning he was taking first crosser.

Again here we use the star (#18) as a “crosser player” which allows our will to carry the seam longer.

This team had a mobile quarterback. We were able to use the star (#18) as a “Spy” and still play our normal split coverage rules.

We added the star (#18) on as a fourth rusher in this clip. He creates good pressure and we remain in our base coverage.

3-2 Box Fits

We are a single gap run fit team at Bluffton. We look at the 3 High as another way to get to the 4-2-5 just doing so post snap. When we talk run fits with our players, we want them to understand that out of base run fit rules we should still be a +1 box to any formation we align to. The star has a true gap fit, but we try not to over coach this position. We want the star to be a backside hip of the ball carrier player. This gives him the ability to fit off what he sees and correct a misfit. We try and keep our linebacker rules simple and let them play fast. They read off the guard to their side.

Linebacker Reads

· Block down – go off his outside hip

· Block out – go off his inside hip

· Pull away – scrape

· Pull to - spill

Looking at Diagram 2, here is power to the tight end side. Out of this look we consider the linebacker who is getting action to their side as our 3 technique, it’s just happening post snap. In Diagram 2 the will is getting action to their side and their guard is blocking down so here they become the 3 technique by working off the outside hip of the guard. The mike is getting a pull away from their side making the mike a scrape/cutback player. By accounting the star in the fit, we still get our 4-2 box. The star, who is reading G-C-G is becoming the spill player and our boundary safety who would be in a Cover 4 call off the tight end is becoming the fit man off of the spill because the tight end is blocking down.