Install a 3-3/3-4 Cover 1

By Zach Davis

The longer I coach high school football, the more I realize the need to be as simple as possible on the defensive side of the football.

Most high school programs have a lot of two-way players who also play on multiple special teams. The offense will always be more complex than the defense because it takes more practice time. So, a high school defense must simple so your players can get a lot of reps at the correct alignment, assignment and techniques.

This version of the 3-3 is the simplest version I have ever seen, and it is sound versus various formations and personnel groupings.

There are two basic philosophies of defense: attacking and reading. I believe that you can win with either philosophy, but you have to make a decision each season about what style you want to play.

I will always play some version of man coverage (Cover 1 or Cover 0) but how we play our front each year changes on the personnel. If we need extra people in the box, we will use a lot of Cover 0. If we believe we can hold up against the run with even numbers in the box, we will primarily use cover 1.

I have worked for head coaches who wanted me to be aggressive and ones that wanted to make the offense drive the field. As an assistant coach, it is imperative that you use a style of defense that your head coach likes because it is his program.

This version of the 3-3/3-4 adjusts easily to various formations. The ability to align to a multitude of formations is very important because in high school you can see spread, pro, wing-T, triple option, single wing, etc., all in the same season. Your alignment rules need to be really simple so your players can align and you are not changing your defense every week.

I prefer to have a limited number of fronts, coverages and blitzes and be sound than have an exotic package that is changed every week based on the opponent. Below are the alignments to different formations:


Alignment and assignment are the most important aspects of any defense. This defense allows your players to align and identify their assignment quickly.

  • The corners have No. 1 man to man
  • The Raider has No. 2 to the strength/field
  • The Bandit has No. 2 to the weak side/boundary
  • The Sam has No. 3 to the strength/field
  • The Mike will banjo the back or take No. 4 strong versus quads
  • The Will covers No. 3 to the weak side/boundary or banjo the back with the Mike.
  • The free safety is always free, and he is 10 two 12 yards from the ball. He can align over the center or on the goal post and that is based on game plan. If a removed receiver or wing goes in motion, you run with him. If a back goes in motion, we will bump the linebackers.

The running play we see most often versus the spread is zone read out of various formations. Our No. 1 play on offense is zone read, so we teach our players their responsibilities from Day 1.

Against zone read, the ends will play the quarterback to the cutback. The linebackers will track the path of the back and fit their gap versus zone read. The other players are in man to man which will take away the RPO elements of inside zone. We will rush three a lot in this defense and may rush a fourth based upon the release of the back.


Zach Davis is the head coach at Riverside High School in Belle, W.Va. Visit his website at and download his podcast Mind of a Football Coach on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @ZachDavis24.