What Is A Secondary In Football

A secondary in football refers to the group of players that play deep into the defenses backfield. These players act as the last of defense for a football team. The secondary’s main responsibility is to stop the opposing team from completing passes.

The secondary is also quite involved in the run game. Often times running backs will get past the defensive line and linebackers leaving only the secondary to bring these players down.

What Positions Are In The Secondary?

The players in the secondary often have similar responsibilities though it is made up of several different positions. Full safeties, strong safeties, and cornerbacks make up the positions of the secondary.

Below we will break down the responsibilities of each position.

Free Safety

A free safety is one of the two safeties that make up the secondary. The free safety lines up on the weak side of the field. This means the side of the formation that has fewer players.

The free safety slightly is more involved in the passing game when compared to the strong safety.

This player is typically the furthest back in coverage and is often tasked with helping cornerbacks on deep passes.

Strong Safety

The strong safety is the second safety position in the secondary. The strong safety is typically a little bit larger than the free safety. The reason for this is because they line up on the strong side of the formation.

The strong side is the side of the formation with more players. This extra player is often a tight end. The strong safety will often have to get through the block of the tight end to bring down a running back.

This safety is also heavily involved in the passing game. Often tasked with the responsibility of helping with receiver coverage as well as covering the tight end.


Cornerbacks are players that are tasked with shutting down wide receivers. On each play the cornerbacks will have an area or a player on the field to protect from the pass.

On running plays these players will have to get past the blocks of the receivers in order to tackle the running back.

Though the main purpose of a cornerback is to stop the opposing teams passing game.

Nickel Corner

A nickel corner is an extra cornerback that may join the secondary in specific situations. This player has the same job as a regular cornerback though they are lined up closer to the middle of the field.

A nickel corner typically plays from the slot and usually comes on the field when a player

How many players are usually in the secondary?

A traditional secondary is made up of two safeties and two cornerbacks.

In most cases, the cornerbacks will be lined up wide on each side while the safeties will line up closer to the middle of the field.

The cornerback’s setup out wide will cover the two wide receivers that most teams send out each play. But when the opposing offense sends out more receivers the secondary adapts.

Nickel Defense

When an offense sends more receivers than usual onto the field teams may respond by using a nickel defense. This defensive formation changes the secondary to feature more players.

In this circumstance, a fifth player is added to the secondary. This is where the name nickel came from.

In these situations, a defensive lineman or linebacker will be subbed off the field and replaced with a cornerback.

At this point, the secondary is made up of three cornerbacks and two safeties.

Dime Defense

Similar to a nickel defense a dime defense is used when the opposing team is using a larger amount of receivers than normal. With this defense another player will be added to the secondary.

Again a linebacker or defensive lineman will be removed in place of a cornerback.

When a dime defense is used the secondary is made up of four cornerbacks and two safeties.

Quarter Defense

The quarter defense is yet another formation that changes the number of the players in the secondary. The quarter defense is rarely used in games. Typically defensive coordinators use this defense in hail mary situations.

A quarter defense features two safeties and five cornerbacks. At this point, there is usually only one linebacker and three defensive lineman in the box.

So, in conclusion, there are usually four players in the secondary but in some instances, there can be as many seven.

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