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Inside the Clemson Offense: Reading Coverage Basics

I don't think folks realize that Chad Morris has taught several really good QBs in his background. Kevin Kolb went to the Eagles and played for him at Stephenville Jevan Snead, Brandon Stewart, Garrett Gilbert and Kody Spano are others he's put into Division 1. The man has a record of teaching QBs, and it starts with reading coverages. Before I go back to the quick passing game, I wanted to hit on this stuff.

What does it mean when the defense is in 2 High, Cover 4, 1 High, MOFO and MOFC? You have to know where to look to recognize it.

MOFO= Middle of Field Open = no Safety up the middle of the field. Cover 2 and Cover 4.

MOFC= Middle of Field Closed = there is a Safety in the middle. Cover 1 and Cover 3.

Cover 4 is one I have purposefully stayed away from on the blog because its kinda tricky to tell when a defense is in Quarters, or if they're really playing Cover 2.

There is a reason why the base formation is aligned the way it is. We don't line up WRs just anywhere beyond the Tackle. We line them up at a series of spacings to attack the defense and create seams within normally tight coverages, but we also line up in a base set to see where they line up, because it hints at the coverage they are playing.


As the offense lines up, and this is in a non-quick pass situation usually, the QB will look for the safeties. We always look at the safeties first. He wants to see where they try to get leverage on the slot WRs. In Cover 4, the Safety will be deeper, 10-12 yards, and he's going to lock his eyes on the #2 receiver to his side. He'll align himself slightly to the inside of the receiver. Our slot receivers align at the same width pre-snap, and the QB knows where that is, so he'll get used to reading the leverage of the Safety on that receiver. This requires experience.


Both Safeties aligned inside #2 to their side, and the offense has not adjusted yet.

In C2, the Safety gets outside the hash, and plays a step or two deeper. He has no run support responsibility so he'll bail quickly and drop back. His eyes may lock on #2 initially, but you'll see him look to #1 if the #2 starts a crossing route of some kind. The CB will be tight on the outside WR and looking into the backfield (he has run support responsibility here).  Now is it man or zone? The Safety gets further back in Man. The next thing to look is inside, at the OLB or nickel corner. The man on the #2 receiver should be lined up with inside leverage in Man, head-up to inside leverage. If all else fails, motion the RB and see how they adjust to it. 


Notice the Safeties widen and the underneath coverage has better leverage on all the receivers. On the SS, he can split the difference between #2 and #3 or be head up on #2 as I've put him.  The offense has not adjusted yet.

In 1 High, it can be C1 or C3. The QB looks to the outside Corners, to see their depth. If theyre 7 yards or more back, its probably C3. If theyre tight on the WR, its probably C1. As you go up in levels of football, its harder to read these things because the Corners are playing games with the offense by staggering their depth and hiding what they are really doing. 

Everyone on the field is taught to see whether its a 1 or 2 High look. Once the QB sees 2 High, he looks at the Corners, then looks to the OLB/Nickel to see if theyre covered down. That leaves 5 men in the box, so you want to run the ball. He'll now check to a run play. He doesn't have to stand there and count men in the box, that would take up too much more time. The number of safeties dictates whether or not you want to run the ball.

Vs a 1 High Look, the #2 spaces himself 5 yards from the OT. He slides in tighter than normal. This will help the QB read the OLB's leverage. The outside WR spaces at the bottom of the numbers, wider than normal. This creates space up the seam of a C3 defense and puts the CB on an island if its C1. The receivers also change their route running style a little.


Is it C1 or C3? One CB is back and the other pressing, so it could be either. Everyone reads 1 High, and widens their spacing. The next thing to do is motion the 3 or 4 back in and out to see if a LB will go with them, which tells us if its Man.


Seams in Cover 3

The Arrow/Curl combo is another quick passing set that Morris likes. its a horizontal stretch of the defense. The inside WR runs a roll-cut arrow route to the boundary while the outside WR runs a Curl or Slant. The QB is reading the OLB/Nickel coverage all the way on the arrow. The concept is below.


In a Trips set, or when theres 3 receivers strong as above, the play is tweaked to add a seam route to pull the deep safety back for the underneath routes, or to attack the seam in a Cover 3, for example.


Vs a 2 High, the #2 widens as far as his defender will go. This will create a seam for the outside WR, who aligns tighter, 6 yards off the #2. We want the QB to hold the ball here, so the defender on #2 will come down to defend the arrow, and this will help get the slant open behind him.


2 High, so it can be C2 or C4. We widen the spacing on #2 for the same play, and bring the #1 a step inside.

We can change the tag here on the outside WR to attack the 2 High with a Fade or Go tag on the #1 outside to pull those safeties back down the sidelines. In 2 Zone, the CB will sometimes go with the #1 vertical even if he's got Flat assignments, so the arrow will come open as an easier throw. To really put the OLB in a bind, release the Fullback up the seam right at him.