What is the secondary in football? July 12, 2023 – Posted in: Featured Articles – Tags:

Teams in football are typically divided into three (3) broad categories:

  • Special Teams 
  • Offense 
  • Defence

Subcategories of these categories are subsequently created, which are typically referred to as “position groups.”

Although each player inside these position groups has a unique job, the groupings were created since all of the players within them generally have the same overall responsibilities. The secondary is one of those groups of positions on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerbacks and safeties are all included in this position category since they excel at pass coverage for the defense. Of course, the secondary players must also support the run defense, but their strengths naturally lend themselves to excellent pass coverage.

Let’s examine the secondary in football in more detail, as well as how most secondaries are built and the unique specialization of each position: 

What in football is the secondary?

Any cornerback or safety in defense is considered to be part of the secondary. The majority of base defensive alignments place a total of four (4) players on the field at all times: two (2) cornerbacks, a strong safety, and free safety.

But in today’s game, defenses are increasingly running nickel or dime packages that involve adding a third cornerback, making a total of five (5) players instead of four. Defensive coaches may decide to replace a safety or cornerback with an extra defensive lineman or linebacker depending on the circumstances of the game. However, the secondary is typically made up of four or five players.

The Cornerback’s Function

The top pass-defense players are typically regarded as cornerbacks. Their main duties are to cover the wide receivers for the offense. They either use zone coverage or man-to-man coverage to accomplish this.

Cornerbacks utilizing “Man-to-Man Coverage”

They will go off against a wide receiver one-on-one in a man-to-man situation. The cornerback will follow the receiver wherever he goes in an effort to prevent him from being able to go open and grab a pass from the quarterback.

Cornerbacks engaged in “Zone Coverage”

The safeties over the top will provide some more assistance to the cornerbacks in a hybrid zone. When playing a full zone defense, the cornerbacks simply cover every receiver who enters the particular portion of the field they are in charge of.

Cornerbacks practicing “Run Coverage”

In addition, cornerbacks are responsible for run coverage. They may not be the defense’s greatest tacklers, but by taking solid angles and driving ball carriers into the middle of the field, where the defense’s best tacklers are, they can be effective in run coverage. The quarterback may occasionally be asked to be blitzed by the cornerbacks to confuse him and force him to throw an error.

Free Security

Cornerbacks with a bit more size and tackling prowess are often free safeties. People who play this position should be extremely swift and have excellent vision because they frequently have to cover a big area of the field and read and react to plays as they develop. The free safety will frequently serve as the final line of defense on a play. In the event that a receiver sneaks up on a cornerback, they will add extra coverage over the top. This may be difficult for several reasons:

  1. Scrutinizing the Whole Field

First, sideline-to-sideline coverage is frequently requested for free safeties. In order to avoid getting too out of position, they will therefore need to be able to rapidly determine where their assistance is required.

  1. Excellent quickness and speed

Second, in order to keep up with receivers sprinting downfield, they must decide where to offer assistance before running as swiftly as they can to that location. In general, free safeties may make better tackles than cornerbacks but not as well as linebackers. They might be the final defender standing between a ball carrier and the end zone, thus this is significant. They must make strong tackles on ball carriers or at the very least drive them off the pitch.

Enhanced Safety

Strong safety is the last significant cog in the secondary. This position requires players that are more built like tiny linebackers. Despite their size, they should still be able to move as quickly as the other secondary members despite their size. A good strong safety should have the following qualities:

  1. They are incredibly adaptable

They must be able to effectively cover passes in zones when wide receivers are present. They are frequently assigned to cover large tight ends and smaller, but swift running backs in man-to-man situations.

  1. Usually excellent tacklers and powerful hitters

As a result, defensive coaches frequently instruct them to reach the line of scrimmage before the snap to offer more assistance against the running game. Strong safeties must be larger than most other players of the secondary since they frequently line up in this area of the field. They’ll blitz a lot during passing plays and contribute significantly to the run support. They may even fill in for an outside linebacker who might be blitzing in more complex defensive play designs. Strong safeties must therefore be versatile and quick to switch between different roles. They might be in pass coverage on one play. They might blitz the quarterback on the following play. They can then be asked to assist with the run coverage close to the line of scrimmage on the subsequent play. This is a lot to ask, which is why having great safeties can make all the difference in defense.


One of the key position groups on the football defense is the secondary. The cornerbacks, free safeties, and strong safeties on a team make up the defense. As the last line of defense, this unit is largely in charge of pass coverage but also needs to help the run defense effectively.

Secondary in Football FAQs

1) What does football’s “into the secondary” phrase mean?

The group of players who make up the defensive backfield on an American football team is known as the secondary. Defensive backs, the collective term for all secondary players, are further broken down.

2) In football, what is the secondary line of defense?

There are two linebackers and two cornerbacks in the second line of defense. These four players have a wider range of vision because they are positioned behind the linemen.

3) How many different football positions are there?

Each NFL team has about 50 players overall, with 22 players on the field at once and 24 different football positions (college teams have even more players).

4) What’s the number of players in a secondary? 

Defensive coaches may decide to replace a safety or cornerback with an extra defensive lineman or linebacker depending on the circumstances of the game. However, the secondary is typically made up of four or five players.