By William Mitchell,

Head Coach,

Lewisville High School (SC)

As a grad assistant in the late 90s, I was introduced to a form of pattern reading out of a 4-4 at the IAA level. Later I was at a few places where we tried to run Quarters coverage. In both situations it never seemed to click with our players. Sure, it seemed simple to our coaching staff, but we never seemed to get the production from it in proportion to the practice time used installing it. As my career progressed, I began to embrace the 3-3 package and the Cover 3 / Man-Free concepts that fit so well with this front. But as the offenses we faced became more & more advanced and proficient in throwing the ball, I began to see the need for a change-up. What we eventually came up with is our version of READ Coverage.

Originally I wanted a way that I could turn my 2 inverts (We call them Spurs) loose to play 100 % run vs 2 RBs without telegraphing the fact that we were in Cover Zero. What we came up with is this:

The READ Technique

This technique is used by 2 defenders against 2 receivers. The way that we teach it to the players is by telling them that this is going to turn into Man coverage within the first 5 yards; we are just letting the receivers determine who has who. Once the defenders have identified their responsibility, they attack the receiver as if they are Out of Phase (using the Saban terminology). They drive at the proper angle (more on that later) and try to get in a hip to hip relationship with the WR.

The CB aligns at 7-10 yds deep over the #1 receiver. The interior defender (FS or Spur) aligns 10-12 yds deep over the #2 receiver. Both players will "Read" the #2 receiever.

We tell our players that #2 can do 3 things in the first 5 yards. He can go inside, he can go outside, or he can go vertical.

  • If # 2 goes inside or vertical, both players yell "Stay,Stay" and the FS takes #2 man to man and the CB takes #1 man to man. The FS may have to get on his horse and chase the Drag route but the LBs are looking to wall off anything coming across.
  • If #2 goes outside, both players yell "Switch, Switch" and the CB jumps the route of #2. The FS has #1 but he will take a cut-off angle to defend the go route by #1 first. (Since that can beat us the fastest).
That is it. That is our READ technique. Now this is how we play READ Coverage.
READ vs 2RBs
  • When the Spurs see 2 RBs, they will know that they are Run first / Force players all the way. If it turns to pass, they continue with the rush unless a  back crosses their face. (Pitch/Peel Rule)
  • The CB to the single receiver side is on an island , Man to Man with no help.
  • To the two receiver side, the FS and CB are executing a READ technique.
  • Note: if the #1 receiver is excessively far away from the #2, then the DBs can make an early "Stay" call before the snap and play loose man.

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If the players can count to 3, they can play this coverage. To phrase the rules in a simple way:


  • 1 receiver = Press Man
  • More than 1 receiver = Read #2
  • 1 receiver = Free on the Hash
  • 2 receivers = READ tech
  • 3 receivers = Man on #3
We have been very happy with this coverage as almost a catch-all vs Spread teams. It has simple adjustments yet looks complicated to the opposing QB, which fits our overall philosophy on Defense.

Do You Teach Pattern Read Concepts?  Tell us what has worked for you to communicate these concepts to your players.  Post your comments below.

Comments (9)
  • Jock

    Coach, great stuff!

    Quick Question: How do you align to Spread sets with a TE? Does that change any rules in the coverage?

  • CoachCP

    How would you defend weakside speed or load/lead option vs 21 personnel? Load/Lead Option meaning have one of the backs block the pitch/QB player. With the Free Safety reading #2 to the strongside, he's not in a great spot to fill in the alley and potentially play #1 to the strongside if #2 goes out.

  • William Mitchell

    You're right... not a great spot for the FS...I shy away from playing any form of Man vs option teams however, if I was caught I still have 8 men playing the run. SPUR is run all the way...he would take pitch immediately and hopefully the LBs could get over the top quickly to play on the QB...guess it depends who has the chalk last?

  • William Mitchell

    If the TE is #3 (what we call a Trey set) then the SPUR is locked up on him in his face on the line.....if the TE is #2 in a 2x2 set, the SPUR & CB will execute a Read technique on him...however I do give the DBs the freedom vs a Pro look to make a "Stay" call... this just means that there is a lot of distance between #1 and #2 so the defenders are aready declaring their assignment andplaying loose man.

  • Mike

    Absolutely love the simplicity of this system of reading! Only question I have is the last thing wrote: Spurs
    1 receiver = Free on the Hash
    2 receivers = READ tech
    3 receivers = Man on #3

    ...Could you detail this more? Free on hash? Man on #3, who is reading number 2 then? FS? Thanks

  • William Mitchell

    Sure vs a standard one back set you either have 1, 2, or 3 eligible receivers....if you have 2 on one side then you have 2 on the other...3 on one side, one on th eother, etc, etc...we are defending with 5 (2 CBs, 2$, and the FS) if we have 1 reciever then there must be 3 on the other side...the CB will lock up #1 and the SPUR (who has no other receivers to cover to this side) will line up 12 yds deep on the hash, like a Cov 2 safety. He is free to check & see if the CB needs help, then turn back to help anything coming across on the 3 man side.....to the 3 receiver side, the SPUR locks up #3 man to man and the FS scoots over and plays a READ tech with the CB on #1 and #2 (This causes the secondary to have a 2 deep look)Hopefully this helps!

  • Randy Greenwood

    We do something very similar to what you have presented. We do however play trips a little different. We will lock the the C's on #1 and play the read tech on #2 and #3 with the two S's. It doesn't give us the 2 high S look that you have but by giving the appearance of cover 3 we will seem to get a lot of verts to put the F in a bind. By using the read tech on #2 and #3 it just seems that the S's can play bubble or arrow form #3 better and they can sit on top of verts. You have to coach your Will LB to play the wheel route from the RB witch can be sketchy sometimes. A 30 front helps too especially if you get an empty set.

  • Mack Skelton

    Was wondering if you had some video of your Cover 4 Read out of a 3-3.

  • Shawn Theriault

    Coach, I am wondering what you do with your FS, he seems to be an extra player. Also, do you have any trouble with quick game since the Safties are 12 yards off slots with no apex backer?

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