Understanding What is a Football Secondary

What is a Football Secondary?

In American football, the “secondary” refers to the defensive players who line up behind the front seven or eight players (the defensive line and linebackers) and primarily consist of cornerbacks and safeties. Their primary responsibility is to prevent the opposing team’s passing game from gaining yardage and scoring touchdowns. Read about What is a Biltz in Football

The Cornerbacks

Cornerbacks, often referred to as “corners,” are typically the fastest and most agile members of the secondary. They play on the edges of the defense and are responsible for covering the opposing team’s wide receivers. They must possess excellent man-to-man coverage skills, the ability to read the quarterback’s eyes, and the agility to break up passes or intercept them.

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The Cornerbacks
The Cornerbacks

The Safeties

Safeties are the last line of defense on the football field. They are responsible for helping the cornerbacks with coverage, stopping deep passes, and making open-field tackles. There are two types of safeties: free safeties, who roam the field and make plays on the ball, and strong safeties, who are more physical and involved in run support.

The Role of the Secondary

Now that we understand who makes up the secondary, let’s explore their critical roles on the field.

Pass Coverage

The primary role of the secondary is to provide tight coverage on the opposing team’s wide receivers and tight ends. They must stay close to their assigned receiver, disrupt their routes, and prevent them from making receptions. This task requires exceptional agility, anticipation, and ball skills.

Zone Defense

In addition to man-to-man coverage, secondary players often play in zones. In zone defense, they cover a designated area of the field rather than a specific receiver. This strategy helps in preventing deep passes and forces the quarterback to make more challenging throws.

Run Support

The secondary is not only responsible for defending against the pass but also providing run support. Safeties, in particular, must be ready to step up and make tackles near the line of scrimmage when the opposing team runs the ball. This dual responsibility showcases their versatility.


At times, secondary players are called upon to blitz the quarterback. This aggressive tactic can disrupt the opposing team’s passing game by pressuring the quarterback, forcing hurried throws, or even sacking the QB.

Strategies and Techniques

Football secondary players rely on various strategies and techniques to fulfill their roles effectively.

Press Coverage

Cornerbacks often use press coverage, where they physically engage with the opposing receiver at the line of scrimmage. This disrupts the receiver’s route and gives the cornerback a chance to read the play and make a play on the ball.

Zone Blitz

Coordinators may employ zone blitzes, where a defensive back blitzes while a defensive lineman drops into coverage. This unexpected tactic can confuse the offensive line and create opportunities for the secondary to make big plays.

Reading the Quarterback

A crucial skill for the secondary is reading thequarterback’s eyes. By following the quarterback’s gaze, defensive backs can anticipate the direction of the pass and position themselves for interceptions or pass breakups.

Evolution of Football Secondary

The role of the football secondary has evolved significantly over the years.

The Era of Lockdown Corners

In the past, cornerbacks primarily played man-to-man coverage. Players like Deion Sanders and Darrelle Revis became legendary for their ability to shut down the opposing team’s top receivers.

Modern Versatility

In today’s NFL, versatility is key. Defensive backs are expected to play both man and zone coverage, tackle effectively, and even contribute as return specialists. Players like Tyrann Mathieu exemplify this modern trend.

Impact on the Game

The secondary’s role in the NFL has never been more critical. With the passing game becoming increasingly prominent, a shutdown secondary can be the difference between a championship and a losing season.

Impact on the Game
Impact on the Game

Challenges Faced by the Secondary

Playing in the secondary comes with its unique set of challenges.

Speed and Agility

Secondary players must be incredibly fast and agile to keep up with the blazing speed of modern NFL receivers.

Mental Toughness

Cornerbacks, in particular, need to maintain unwavering confidence, as they often find themselves in high-pressure, one-on-one situations.

Avoiding Penalties

Secondary players must balance aggression with discipline, as pass interference penalties can be devastating to a defense.


In the grand theater of American football, the secondary may not always receive the applause or attention showered upon other positions, but their impact on the game is undeniable. From covering elite receivers to providing crucial run support and executing complex defensive strategies, the football secondary is the bedrock of any successful defense. As the game continues to evolve, so too will the responsibilities and expectations placed upon these unsung heroes, ensuring that the legacy of the football secondary endures in the annals of this beloved sport.

In this extensive exploration of football secondary, we’ve uncovered the basics of their roles, their strategies and techniques, the evolution of their position, and the challenges they face. As the sport continues to captivate fans worldwide, let us not forget to celebrate the skills, dedication, and resilience of these players who stand tall in the face of adversity, ready to defend the end zone and secure victory for their teams.


Q1: What is the football secondary?

A1: The football secondary refers to the defensive players who line up behind the front line of defenders. It primarily consists of cornerbacks and safeties whose main responsibility is to defend against the opposing team’s passing game and prevent them from gaining yardage and scoring touchdowns.

Q2: What are the roles of cornerbacks and safeties in the secondary?

A2: Cornerbacks are responsible for covering the opposing team’s wide receivers, using their speed and agility to stick to them closely and prevent them from making receptions. Safeties, on the other hand, play a role in both coverage and run support. Free safeties focus on reading the quarterback’s eyes and making plays on the ball, while strong safeties are more involved in tackling and supporting against running plays.

Q3: How do secondary players defend against the pass?

A3: Secondary players defend against the pass by using a combination of man-to-man coverage and zone defense. In man-to-man coverage, they stick closely to their assigned receiver, while in zone defense, they cover a specific area of the field to disrupt passing lanes and force the quarterback into making more difficult throws.

Q4: What is the importance of reading the quarterback’s eyes?

A4: Reading the quarterback’s eyes is a crucial skill for secondary players. By following the quarterback’s gaze, they can anticipate the direction of the pass and position themselves to intercept the ball or break up the play. This skill can make the difference between a completed pass and a turnover.

Q5: How do secondary players contribute to run defense?

A5: While their primary responsibility is against the pass, secondary players also contribute to run defense by providing support near the line of scrimmage. Safeties, in particular, are often called upon to make tackles on running backs if they break through the front line of defense.

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