Lots of youth football coaches are unsure if they should play man or zone coverage for their youth football teams. While man coverage is the ultimate accountability tool and is fairly easy to teach, zone has its advantages as well. This post is going to talk about zone coverage.
The biggest advantage to zone is your defenders can start with their eyes into the backfield instead of their “man” like they have to do in man coverage schemes. You can get 11 players with eyes looking at the ball instead of 6 or 8.
Zone is great when you are playing run heavy teams or teams that have a dangerous runner at Quarterback. I remember a big tournament game a few years back where my 5-6 grade kids played a team that had a man child playing Running Back. He was an amazing older player who for whatever reason was cleared to play. Tall, fast, elusive and several years older than most of my team, he was a man among boys. Every time this team got behind the chains, they would put this kid at QB and split out 5 Receivers.
The 5 receivers would just run off my man coverage players and this kid would only have to beat 1 kid to score. They had us by 2 scores at halftime. After we switched to zone in the second half and added more pressure we held them to a single score and were able to squeeze out the win.
Zone also allows you to defend all areas of the field. You don’t have problems with picks/rubs nearly as much as in man. Youth football plays like slant/wheel and slant/arrow are usually easier to defend. If some of the offenses you match up against don’t have good spacing on their pass routes, sometimes you can even cover 2 players with just one of your own. In zone I’ve also found kids rally to the ball better.
So should we all switch to playing zone defense for our youth football teams? Not so fast everyone. In zone if you have a weak player in your scheme, they are easy to exploit. All a team has to do is run their best player to the area your weak player is playing. In man you can match up your best to their best. In zone you are stuck defending an area, if that stud runs into the area defended by your weaker player, you are at a disadvantage.
If you decide to play zone, expect teams to flood your zones with formation nuances, shifts and motion. When you play better coached teams, they will come at you with numbers. You can also run a combination of man and zone with something like man free. Man free has man coverage under a deep safety playing zone.
Like all things in youth football, everything is a trade-off. What fits the unique equation your youth football team will be next year? In 2015 I started in man and was able to move to zone by midseason, by design. Once the ball is in the air or if a team consistently runs a set grouping of pattern concepts you are going to be in man coverage. If you can play both, you have a lot of flexibility in addressing the variety of teams you’ll face.
In any event, zone coverage makes sense for youth football and you may want to consider it for your scheme. For more info on how I run my defense with zone- including a 170 page e-book and DVD go here: Dave Cisar’s Defense