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Learn The Basics Of Cover 1 In Football

Cover 1 is coverage in American football that helps the team cover all eligible receivers on offense. Teams will play cover as a mix-up to other traditional coverages.

Cover 1 is man coverage, with one single safety in the middle of the field. The defensive backs and linebackers will play man coverage, which the safety will play zone coverage.

This article will show you what cover 1 is and why coaches may choose to play it.

Cover 1 In Football

Cover 1 is a coverage that is played for coaches who want to play man coverage, also known as cover 0 but want a zone player on the field.

The basics of cover 1 in football are man coverage. Teams with 4 defensive linemen will use 6 defensive backs and linebackers to play man coverage against the offense’s 5 eligible receivers.

Oftentimes, coaches will sub in a nickel package when they’re playing cover 1. That way, they can have more speed on the field to keep up with the offense’s speed.

Cover 1 in football
Cover 1 In Football

Cover 1 Rules

The rules of cover 1 are simple. The defensive backs and linebackers will play man-to-man coverage on all of the eligible receivers.

Man coverage in football means they will follow them wherever the receivers go. The objective is to make it as hard as possible for the receivers to catch the football.

Football teams will play cover 1 because it puts stress on the quarterback to make a perfect throw. It’s hard to throw the ball in the perfect spot, especially when the man coverage is played perfectly.

As shown above, teams can choose to cover the running back with 2 linebackers, or more commonly, they will blitz one of the players.

Cover 1 blitz in football

Now the Mike or Sam linebacker is responsible for blitzing toward the quarterback. A 5 man pressure in football is often called a “dog” and can be used effectively against teams that only keep 5 to protect the quarterback.

Cover 1 can be a base defense for coaches, or they may sprinkle it to confuse the offense.

Free safety is one of the most important positions for teams that play cover 1. Coaches will often use the free safety in different roles, depending on the team they’re playing.

Free Safety In Cover 1

Free safety may play multiple roles, depending on the coach’s game plan and philosophy.

Deep Player

The first role the free safety may play, and most common, is the deep middle player. Coaches will often have this player in the center of the field to ensure no posts or deep middle-breaking routes occur. This protects the middle of the field and gives the defense a safety blanket for any deep throws.

Cover 1 with a deep player is shown above. This is the most common type of cover 1 and the easiest to install for all players.


The next role is the spy. Coaches may determine to use their deep cover safety as a spy for the quarterback. If the other team has a mobile quarterback, the coach may decide to put the free safety on him.

This means that wherever the quarterback goes, the free safety will go. In the NFL, players like Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton often need a spy because of their running ability. The dangers of playing cover 1 mean that all defensive backs will turn toward their man during the play. Quarterbacks often take advantage of this by rolling out and running. Defenses will counter this by having their free safety spy.


Another role for the free safety to play is the “rat.” This means that the single-high player will come down from the deep middle zone and essentially look to rob or “rat” any crossing routes. Coaches may use the rat in different ways.

Rats are commonly used to deny any crossing routes. This means that the free safety will deny crossing routes and essentially double team any player that runs across the field. Coaches will use this to help nickel backs or linebackers forced to cover speedier players in the slot position.


The hole position is in the middle of the defense. However, instead of playing the deep middle, the hole is found at linebacker depth. Due to the fact this area is going to be vacated by the linebackers, offenses may take advantage of it if they identify cover 1.

To fill this void, coaches may have their free safety drop into the middle hole. This means they are responsible for reading the quarterback’s eyes and dropping into the vacated spot left by the linebackers.

This is common for coaches against teams who throw short underneath patterns to running backs or tight ends.

Double Team

Last is the double teams. Teams will often use the double team if the offense has a dominant receiver in the slot or outside.

The free safety will shade over to the dominant receiver’s side and relieve the defensive back. This is the flexibility the free safety brings in the defense as they allow for 2 players to cover 1.

Double-teaming is any team’s best option when trying to neutralize a dominant receiver on the offense.

Keep Learning

Cover 1 means there is 1 single safety in the middle of the field, while the other defensive backs and linebackers play man coverage. Cover 1 is common among teams that want to play man coverage but still have safety in the deep middle of the field.

Teams can also elect to change up to zone coverages, including cover 2, cover 3, and cover 4.

While man coverage is risky, it allows teams to be aggressive with a 5 man pass rush. Teams who often play cover 1 will use their free safety in many roles. These roles include deep middle, spy, rat, hole, and double team. Cover 1 is a simple coverage and allows teams to do multiple things with the defensive lineman to confuse the offense.

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