Cover 3 Zone Defense in Youth Football

Press Coverage Technique | Bump and Run Coverage

Cover 3 Zone Defense

The majority of youth football teams play man to man coverage, which is the case in my league as well.  We are one of the few teams that actually use cover 3 zone defense with our youth football team . We had instances or situations where we would play a mixture of man to man and zone coverage. We usually utilize both with the older kids.  We have the most success defending the pass in our cover 3 zone defense.

Cover 3 Zone Defense

About Cover 3 Zone Defense

I like cover 3 zone defense because it allows us to cover every area of the field.  It also helps to defend against mobile QBs.  Many teams with good mobile QBs will just have the receivers run the defenders off leaving the field open to run.

We will cover all the deeps 3rds and wide side flat. The flats and deep 3rds  are usually attacked the most in youth football. The 53 defense will have 3 deep defenders playing deep 3rd coverage and it will have the outside backers covering flats. Our defenders to the short side of the field will play curl to flat zone because there is not as much field.  The 53 defense will also give you 8 defenders in the box, which is strong against the run.  The best way to beat cover 3 is to flood the zone (pretty much how you beat any zone). Many youth football teams that play zone coverage do not understand how to play zone coverage with depth. Coaches do not understand how to teach their players to play deep to underneath when multiple receivers are in or around their zone (always play deep threat, then come down on the underneath route once thrown).

You can use the middle linebacker to spy a QB, play a middle zone, or even blitz. With 3 deep defenders it will lessen the number of big plays given up. When you have 3 deep defenders there is less ground each kid has to cover. If you are in cover 1 (single high safety) or even cover 2 there is a lot of ground those safeties have to cover.

The cover 3 zone defense can be used easily out of any defense. When we play a spread youth football team we will jump into a 44 defense to help us get more speed on the field vs. these 3,4 or even 5 wide offensive formations.  I feel that cover 3 is great to use against spread teams. It gives you flexibility with having 7 defenders committed to coverage, while still have 4 down linemen to rush the pass and fill gaps.  

Cover 3 Zone Defense 44 DefenseI think zone coverage is under utilized in youth football. I also feel a lot of coaches think youth football players, especially younger ages cannot play zone coverage. I think young youth football players are able to play zone coverage and I have used cover 3 zone defense with success on every age level of youth football. It is actually easier to teach them to cover a zone rather than figuring out what player they are responsible for.  I feel cover 3 zone defense offers the best balance between defending the run and pass.

Coaching Tip: Corners are 6 yards deep aligned on the outside should of the TE or aligned on the inside shoulder of a receiver split wide to his side. Have the corners (with no receiver on their side) watch the TE and if the TE releases you know it is a pass and your CBs won’t get caught up in the back field misdirection. Make sure your players know who is eligible for a pass and key them. Also, remember that you are responsible for a zone, do not play the receivers on your side only.

Here are some route concepts that you have to make sure your corners stay in their deep 3rd. Any eligible receiver on the field is a threat to your deep 3rd coverage. Practice defending this routes drawn up below. You can see if the corner bits on the short routes they will hit him over the top. 

zone coverage

Here is why we don’t play much man to man and prefer to play cover 3 zone:

  • Asking a linebacker or corners to read run and pass is quite difficult.  Play-action passing plays kill man to man, especially on “none passing downs”.  Asking a linebacker to read run and then recognize if it is a play action pass is tough. I mean you can have them try to notice linemen stances or even figure out a player for him to key to try and get some tells- but,  a good run fake will make linebackers bit up which will take them out of position and leave them unable to cover their assignment. Whereas in zone, if there is a good run fake and the defender bites, he then knows he has to open up and get to his zone. Play-action is great against man or zone but zone you are able to recover a little easier. Man to man is terrible against mobile QBSs as well.
  • Flats will be wide open.  Linebackers that are responsible for a tight-end or running back will usually play run hard, allow the tight-end to slip into the flat.  Once you beat the LB with play-action they will be less hesitant to fly up for run.
  • Combination routes are a killer.  Good combination routes are how you beat man to man. My favorite is the post/corner off of jet sweep action! I also like the Smash concept I drew up above.
  • You can use motion to take a defender from one side to the other. When you use a fast motion across the formation like fly, jet, or rocket motion the defenders usually do not keep up and you can out run them into the flat or deep.
  • A lot of kids are not able to get out of their backpedals and locate the ball in the air.  Playing man to man with good technique I feel is very hard in youth football and finding the ball in the air is a real challenge. In cover 3 zone defense, you can have your defenders turned towards the formation, allowing them to see the ball easier.

Do you play cover 3 zone defense or man to man?  Join our Facebook discussion!

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