How to Build The Best Secondary

A football team’s secondary can make or break the overall success of that squad. Today’s game no longer exists in a manner where a team primarily plays two cornerbacks and two safeties. Offenses are spreading the sets out wider with even more receivers on the field. 

The only way to combat this is to have a stable of capable defensive backs with the ability to play coverage. No one has adopted this mantra more than the Seattle Seahawks. Who have quickly created one of the most dominant defenses in the world anchored by the Legion of Boom.

Speed 

Offenses consistently want to speed up the game. One potential way to fight speed is to offer superior speed from yourself. As a defensive back, you need the speed to keep up with receivers in coverage and shooting the gap. An article from Bleacher Report describes this concept of game speed perfectly by stressing concepts such as “angles to the ball, body control at the break point and clean footwork that allows a defensive back to plant, drive and accelerate out of his cuts.” 

An example of the Legion of Boom possessing this trait is with the safety, Earl Thomas. Thanks to his incredible speed, Thomas has the ability to read plays from anywhere on the field and put himself in a position to make a play on the ball.

Physicality

You don’t earn a title like “Legion of Boom” for playing off coverage and utilizing arm tackles. Rather, this group of defensive backs earned it for their hard-hitting nature and ability to play press coverage. If you want to build your own “Legion of Boom,” begin looking for players that aren’t afraid to wrap up for a big hit or be put on an island on the outside.

Here Coach Jarred Holley from University of Albany talks about drills and practices to improve secondary tackling.

Source: Jarred Holley – Safeties Teaching Progression & Drills

With Seattle, they have a strong safety in Kam Chancellor who is one of the hardest hitters in the entire NFL. This is exactly what a strong safety should be. Although they’ll have to cover tight ends at times, their primary asset is the ability is to make stops in the run game.

Here Coach Adam Gaylor from Oklahoma talks about the importance of a physical secondary.

Source: Tower Defense To Stop Wing -T

The second aspect of physicality is the ability to play press coverage. Between Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and Byron Maxwell, the Seahawks have had cornerbacks that can play their position technically. As well as get in the heads of receivers. When you have cornerbacks that aren’t afraid to take a man one-on-one with no help, you have a confident group of guys. It is not often that a secondary can dictate the flow of a football game like this.

Single High Safeties 

One of the common defensive formations for the Seahawks is single-high safety packages with Cover 1 and Cover 3. Obviously for this defense to be effective you need a free safety able to hold his own in coverage. Teams that don’t have this personnel will struggle with a single high coverage. With the free safety able to handle center field, the strong safety (Chancellor) can play more in the box, which suits his skillset better. 

Ultimately, in running a single-high safety defense, the coach needs to be aware that this is generally going to be a more aggressive defense. It allows for more defenders near the line of scrimmage, thus potentially creating some difficult match-ups on the backside. The corners need to be able to play bump-and-run coverage as a result.

Here Coach John Rice from Riverside Poly discusses the 2 read coverage. 

Source: Intro to Split Safety Coverage Package

Confidence

When it comes to football, you have to be confident. After you put in the hard work all offseason and the week leading up to a game, you need to truly believe that you’re better than the guy on the other side of the line of the scrimmage. 

There is no one that displays this confidence more than the Legion of Boom. Cornerback Richard Sherman said, “I don’t want to be an island. I want to be a tourist attraction. You stop here, I take your money and you go.” Yes, Sherman is one of the best corners in the NFL, but it is his confidence that has the ability to intimidate opposing receivers. He doesn’t care who lines up opposite him, even if it’s Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones, because he is confident in his talents and won’t back down.

Ball-Hawking Ability 

Over the years, I’ve heard countless coaches say the best way to win a game is to come out on top in the turnover battle. Turnovers can quickly turn a game either in your favor or your opponent’s advantage. The Legion of Boom doesn’t just have physical players, but ones that are technically gifted in finishing off interceptions. 

In four NFL seasons, Sherman has racked up 24 of them, which is definitely an impressive mark at the NFL level. Sometimes, people say the reason these players are on defense is because of their poor hands. As a coach, you need to change this lifestyle. Defensive backs are often placed in positions to come away with turnover opportunities. Whether or not they capitalize on these can be the difference between a win and a loss.

Depth 

Finally, your depth and backups are essential to having in place. Injuries are a constant in the game of football. There is no way of getting around the fact that you never know when a player may pick up a knock during a game or practice. The best way to combat this is to have guys ready whenever their name is called. 

Furthermore, the high school and college games are seeing more spread offenses. Particularly in the high-octane passing attacks, offenses may feature up to five wideouts. It doesn’t take a math genius to know you’ll need more than just the starting defensive backs to cover a set like this. Similarly, rotating guys in and out ensures players will stay fresh for both the current game and the rest of the season.

Meet the Legion of Boom 

The Legion of Boom has featured various star players in recent years, with some still suiting up for the Seahawks and others that have moved on through free agency. Here are a few of the bigger names:

  • Richard Sherman ­– I’ve featured Sherman’s name throughout this article. He is probably recognized as the leader of the legion due to his vocal personality and talent as one of the best cornerbacks in the game.
  • Kam Chancellor – At 6’3”, 232 pounds, Chancellor is a flat out beast as a strong safety. He is routinely in the box and has made a name for himself as a hard hitter. He and Earl Thomas make up one of the most potent safety units in the NFL.
  • Brandon Browner – Although not currently with the Seahawks, Browner was one of the original members. Coming off a CFL career, Browner has unique size for a corner at 6’4”, 221 pounds. This can definitely be a tough test for opposing receivers, particularly in the bump-and-run game.

Start Your Own 

The Legion of Boom is effective for a reason. Despite playing against some of the greatest athletes in the world, they never seem to get rattled. As a coach, it is your job to find the guys that aren’t afraid to put in the work to be great. They need both speed and strength. As with Sherman, they also need confidence that they can handle whatever test they’re presented with. In order to have a Legion, you need prime-time players.

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