Drills: Teaching Your QB & WR to Read Coverages

SWARCO Raiders Tirol
There will come a time when you need to spend some of your football practice teaching the quarterback and wide receiver to read coverage’s.

We talk about this with our quarterbacks and our receivers the very first time we meet with them, about reading the roofline of the coverage. It’s probably the most elementary way. I think it’s still one of the best ways to potentially dictate coverage’s prior to the snap of the ball.

One of the reasons you’re trying to teach your quarterbacks and wide receivers the ability to read coverage before the ball is snapped is to allow them to have an idea or a plan based on the most optimum release, best optimum stem, if you are making conversions in your routes, what conversions to make, etc. It also allows the quarterback and wide receiver to kind of predetermine what that coverage is dictating them as far as the play goes.


The Roofline

The first thing we talk about when we talk about coverage reads is the roofline. To us coaches, the roofline really has a lot to do with when you look at the overall coverage. How do you do that? I think you can read left to right. I think you can read right to left. How we prefer to do it is by reading strong to weak.

So if our strong side – whether it was the tight end or a flanker to the left, or it was our two-receiver side in a twin set to our left, or whether it was three wide receivers in a trips formation – we would always read the multi-receiver side to the single-receiver side.

If it was doubles – in our case, pro to one side and twins the other – we’d always read the tight end side first because we think the front is tied in more to the tight end side than it is to the split end side. When we talk about that, we’re talking about the quarterback taking a general viewpoint from strong to weak, and as he looks across the roofline, even if the defense is disguising stem in their coverages, each of the coverages seems to have distinct roofline.

So the first thing we talk about is getting a general scan from strong to weak side and see if you can identify based on the outline of the coverage, which we call the roofline. That can give you a pre-snap read on what the coverage is.

Cover 2 Roofline
Now we’re diagramming up some offensive formations and talking about what those rooflines should appear like to the quarterback and receiver.

Coaches, let’s take pro formation, which has the tight end and the flanker strong right and the split end to the weak side, our left side. When we talk about rooflines to our quarterback and receivers, we think that certain coverages have a very distinct roofline as you scan across the field. For example, a cover 2 scheme is low on the edges and high down the middle. That roofline is flat on the edges, as I mentioned, and high across the top.

Cover 3 Roofline
When I scan from right to left, I get the distinct impression, based on the roofline of the coverage, that it is cover 2. If I take that formation a step further, coaches, and diagram up what we call a cover 3, the roofline really appears to be different. There is a straight line across the top, but there’s definitely an indentation low to the two-receiver side. That is what we call an invert.

Sometimes, when you’re first teaching your young kids – maybe he’s a freshman, maybe it’s his first varsity game – by talking about rooflines to them, you give them a little bit of an advantage by taking a general scan from strong to weak. Let me give you a couple more distinct rooflines in analyzing the defensive coverage’s.

Cover 4 Roofline
Another real distinct roofline is what we call cover 4. To us, cover 4 has a very straight line across the top, nobody low on the outsides, nobody low on the insides.

And that’s a coverage where we think we can read, gives us a distinct coverage or roofline lead that they’re in quarters. Now again, you need to figure out what your defensive coverage’s have for rooflines and be able to make sure that the team you’re playing has some coverage’s that you can give your quarterback on distinctive rooflines.

Man 3 Roofline
Let me give you another one that we think is very distinctive. This roofline is very distinctive because it has a safety that’s no longer in the middle third of the field and he’s moved over number two, and we have somebody that’s lower than the invert. This is a very distinctive roofline for us, coaches, when we talk about man or man-free. And again, what we’re trying to do is categorize the general outline of the defense, trying to give our quarterback some elementary information.

Specifically some teams don’t do a lot of stemming, some teams will show you their coverage based on formations. So you want to give as much information as you possibly can to your quarterback and receivers to identify coverage. Roofline is one very easy way to do it.

Let’s take now what we’ve showed you on the diagrams above and apply it to some actual game footage, where you can take a look at what we’re teaching about the roofline of our coverage’s.

Cover 3
Coaches, let’s take some actual game footage here now and give you a chance to really try to see, visually, what we’re talking about. This is a formation for us where we’ve got what we call a wing and twins. And we’re going to read the roofline of the coverage now to help us get an idea of what they’re planning. As you kind of see, we’ve got what we call an invert player to our twins side.

We look like we’ve got a man that’s in an outside third responsibility. We’ll look like a free safety that’s playing directly in the middle of the field between the hashes. And we have a corner that’s a little bit lower, but remember now, he has no wide receiver for immediate outside threat.

So we would tell our quarterback as he scans from strong side to weak side that it appears it’s that roofline that has kind of an indentation to the two-receiver side or, in this case, our twins. We would think that this is going to be cover 3.

Again, that’s the way we would establish what the name of this coverage is. And we’d have a situation where we’d present to our quarterbacks the week of the game that we’re playing this team, we would do as many of these freeze-frames as we possibly can to allow our quarterback to kind of recognize what does the roofline look like.

So as he scans across the top of the field, he’s got relatively three-deep players, an outside third, middle third, an outside third, and he’s got a low safety or an invert safety, as he scans the roofline, to appear to cover 3.

Cover 3 Stem
Coaches, let’s take a look at another formation now and give you another roofline scan about what the coverage is. Here we are now as we’ve moved our formation. What we’ve talked a tight end and a flanker, what we call deuce left and twins to the right. Our quarterback’s scan process should start to the strong side, which is his left, and read across the top.

It appears that there’s a man in the middle third of the field, the free safety, playing cover 3, and the same pattern than we showed you before on the roofline read appears to be cover 3. This is not what we showed you on the roofline, but as I mentioned to you, you always want to make sure does the defense stem or not. This is a perfect cover 3 roofline over here as we read it, but it seems to be a little bit skewed on the top side.

What this particular coverage is going to do is on the snap of the ball, this corner is going to really stem out and fly back to a third area.

If you were just reading one side of the coverage, that might give you a distinct roofline, a cover 2, but as you scan across, only that corner is low, everybody else in the secondary appears to give me a roofline read, a cover 3. So again, it will help you with people that stem in disguise.

Reading coverage’s isn’t always an easy task for a quarterback or wide receiver. Do you think that going over this with your QB and wide receiver during your next football practice will help them better understand it? Why or why not?


Nikola Davidovic, Blue Dragons
Source: Football Tutorials
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