A safety in American football is an important and versatile position on the football field.
As its name states, safety is the defense’s last line of defense. The safety’s job is to make sure no offensive players run or catch a touchdown. They are often the deepest player on the defense.
This article will show you what the safety position does in football and the variations of safety.
Safety Position In Football
In the spread offense era, the safety position is arguably one of the most important positions in football.
The safety’s role on defense is to make sure no big plays happen. Big players are often plays of 20+ yards or more. If the offense can have a big play (otherwise known as impact plays), there’s a high percentage chance of scoring a field goal or a touchdown.
The physical build of a safety is often bigger than that of a cornerback but smaller than a linebacker. The safety position must utilize both tremendous speeds as well as athletism.
NFL safeties such as Ed Reed and Troy Polamumnu are great examples of players covering the pass and run-down running backs that happen to gain big yards.
Slow safeties are not ideal for the last line of defense. The perfect example of this was when Rob Gronkowski tried to tackle Miami Dolphins, running back Kenyon Drake for a touchdown on the game’s last play.
Long before football was a finesse game, teams could pack as many big and strong players onto the field as possible. These players could man-handle the offense to their advantage.
The invention of the forward pass changed all of that. Teams no longer tried to win with pure power but rather speed. Offenses spread out and used throwing the football down the field as the primary offensive strategy.
As football teams started to throw the ball downfield, defenses needed to match this aerial attack by adding speed to the field. This is how the safety position in modern-day football was born.
These safety positions are split into two types of safeties used most commonly.
The free safety position is common in most defensive structures. This player has a unique skill set as they must cover the ground. Players that play free safety are often the lone safety.
When watching a football game, this player will often be the deepest player on the field. The name free safety comes from the fact that the safety is often free to cover the deep part of the field.
For example, in the cover 1 scheme, the free safety supports any deep passes. They don’t necessarily have an assignment but rather help cover the middle of the field.
Many football coaches will put their most athletic and best tackler at the safety position. If a big play happens, this player needs to tackle the ball carrier immediately.
Open field tackling is one of the hardest techniques to do in football. The free safety will practice and specialize in tackling players in the open field.
The strong safety is a little bit different from the free safety.
Strong safeties are often built like linebackers; however, they have the speed of a safety. These players play both the run and the pass, but mainly the run.
They get their name strong safety because they need to be strong and play the run from depth. Often, the strong safety will play at the same depth as a free safety but is responsible for playing a gap or run fit.
In the present-day NFL, the player that provides the best visual for strong safety is Tyrann Mathieu. Not only built tough in stature, but Tyrann also covers any pass that comes his way. His speed and physicality also allow him to play the run effectively, as he’s not scared of larger running backs.
Strong safeties are hybrids between linebackers and cornerbacks. The combination of size, speed, and ability to tackle are all wanted traits of strong safety.
Free Coaching Kit
Get 3 free templates to help you build an organized and structured team. The 3 templates include:
- Practice Template
- Depth Chart
- Season/Game Statistics Template
Variations Of The Safety Position
Football differs from scheme to scheme. Not all football defenses will have players that are named free and strong safety.
The innovation of the spread offense has led teams to bring on more safeties to combat the 5 wide receiver sets that are commonly used.
Coaches will often use different name types to identify their safety positions, such as Rover, Jack, and Dollar.
This depends on the coach’s scheme and how he wants to use each player. Instead of just saying free and strong safety, the actual naming of these positions gives the coach flexibility to spin coverages and blitz if needed.
Free Safety Vs Strong Safety
The difference between free safety and strong safety is typically in the player’s build, speed and responsibility.
The free safety is often a smaller and quicker player. Strong safeties are often taller and strong players who are fast and can tackle.
Strong safeties will have more responsibility to tackle running backs and cover receivers, while the safety is more responsible for covering deep passes thrown by the quarterback.
Below are more articles to help you learn about defensive backs.
Safety’s in football is one of the most important positions in football to ensure that big, explosive plays from the offense do not happen.
The skillset requires safeties to cover slot receivers and have enough speed to catch running backs across the field. The size and strength of safety make them look like linebackers, but the athleticism and speed will often be mistaken for a cornerback.
It’s a true hybrid position that can be used in multiple forms in defensive schemes.
Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with techniques, schemes, and more!
If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page.