The strong safety must be one of the most athletic players on the field. He must be able to do a solid job against the run, cover receivers who try to go deep and use his instincts to force turnovers and make plays on the ball. A strong safety splits their duties between crushing the run and breaking up passes. Strong safeties must be good at pass coverage, like a corner back, but also be able to tackle like a linebacker.
It is the strong safety’s job to stop the run (or force it inside) if it’s run, and to drop in pass coverage if it’s pass. He is assigned to cover the “strong side” of the offense and plays closer to the line than the free safety does, and assists in stopping the run. He may also cover a player, such as a running back or fullback, who comes out of the backfield to receive a pass. A strong safety’s duties are a hybrid of those belonging to a linebacker in a 46 or 3–4 defense and those of the other defensive backs, in that he both covers the pass and stops the run.
A blitz happens when someone other than a defensive lineman rushes the passer. Strong safeties must be ready to attack the line of scrimmage if the playbook calls for blitzing. Instincts must be sharp for a strong safety because he must follow the eyes of the quarterback and track if the ball is being thrown or handed off.
The strong safety lines up on the strong side – whichever side of the center has the most lineman on it. If both sides have an equal amount of lineman, the strong safety will typically line up across from whichever tight end they want to shut down in the passing game or whichever side they believe the run is going to go to.
Tackling is the most important skill a strong safety must have. They are relied upon to step up and make tackles on all kinds of offensive players, including running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and sometimes quarterbacks. Tackling also includes the ability to pursue offensive players, wrap up, and bring them to the ground. You’ll need to be able to cover both man-to-man and zone. In man-to-man, you’ll often be matched up against a tight end. They will have the size advantage on you, so you’ll need good fundamentals to cover them. Occasionally, you’ll need to cover a slot receiver or a running back running routes out of the backfield. This can be trickier, but good fundamentals will help you.
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