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Advantages of the 3 Safety Defense: Why We Converted

Posted by John Grayson on

Coach Gill and Shiloh Christian had an issue. The Saints had suffered a loss, a state championship loss. “We ran out of bullets,” he commented, “We were a 4 down, 2 high, middle of the field open, even spacing type of team.” Shiloh Christian, even with the loss, has won 8 football state titles. Their most recent title coming in 2020, so if they felt the need to adapt and look inward, I’m here to listen.

This is just a small segment from a great video series Coach Gill put together on this whole process. See more video clips from his 6-part series on the 3 safety defense HERE.

More Spread = More Speed with the 3-High Safety Defense

Like a lot of defenses around the country, Coach Gill is having to defend more and more versions of the spread. Whether it’s the classic air raid, or the “power spread” that has a little bit heavier run game threat, the offenses they have to defend have lots of speed on the field. 

Naturally, they needed to find a way to match those faster personnel groups by putting their own fast guys on the field. 

By moving to a 3-safety defense, they found that they could get an extra “speed body” on the field at either the second or third level.

Defend Width & Depth Every Snap

Adding extra speed gives them the ability to defend the width and the depth of the field every snap. 

Well-coached offenses do a good job of stretching the field horizontally and vertically, and ultimately they want to be able to put their best players in space with the football. 

3-High Safety Defense - Jacob Gill

Coach Gill and the rest of the defensive staff came to the conclusion that adding an extra skill position body on the field, and using this 3 high safety structure, allows them to add more bodies in space and defend those concepts better.

They began this transition by moving to a dime defense, and trying their best to keep the principles the same as their base defensive structure.

Using Your Best 11 vs 11 Best

Your job as a coach is to find the best way to use the talent of your players, and that’s another reason why Coach Gill decided to make the move to the 3-safety defense.

Having this structure in their defense gives them more ways to put their best players on the field, but also leads to situations that help develop their best individual players into their best group.

Defensive football is about eleven guys playing as one, so now they have another way to take their most talented players and put them in a situation to be a more cohesive unit on the field.

Manipulate Box Counts and Run Fitters

As they began to really explore the details of the 3-high safety structure, they began to realize how much variance that 3rd safety provided to their defensive scheme, and how many looks they could give the offense with the same personnel on the field.

The offense has to account for all threats in the box, and depending on how you play that 3rd safety, and where you originally line him up, they often have a very difficult time getting everyone blocked up front.

Coach Gill goes into more detail about how they use 3 Safety Personnel to defend the RPO HERE.

3-High Safety Coverage & Pressure Options

As they started to work this system into what they were doing, they started to recognize how creative the 3-safety structure allowed them to be with pressures, coverages, and run/pass responsibilities.

The advantage of this is that you can really craft your defense to the strengths of your kids, plus in Coach Gill’s case, they were able to tie it into what they were already doing and make the transition as seamless as possible for the players.

Hard to Prepare For

During the process of transitioning to the 3-safety defense, Coach Gill and the defensive coaches had a lot of conversations with the guys on their offensive staff. As they were running it in spring and summer ball, they got a lot of direct feedback about what kinds of things gave the offense challenges, and what they didn’t like to see.

When you force an offense to go to their Plan B or Plan C, and you hear them say that, it adds another layer of affirmation. 

Coming out of that first spring ball period, Coach Gill and the other assistants had a realization that this gave them a great opportunity to really add to what they’re doing, and make it more difficult for people to prepare for them.

One of the most important things to Coach Gill is that they be difficult to prepare for, and the 3-high safety defense accomplishes that goal.

Want More?

See even more video clips from this series on the 3-High Safety Defense HERE 

3-High Safety Defense - Jacob Gill