Free Safety: The 'Centerfielder' of the Defense
The free safety is more apt to be faster and have better pass catching skills than the strong safety. That is why the free safety is involved in deep pass coverage requiring only one of the safeties. The free safety patrols the middle of the field, assisting cornerbacks and linebackers in defending pass routes, and making sure no receiver gets by him. If the defense is playing man-to-man pass coverage, the free safety covers the second receiver to that side of the field.
Strong Safety: The Linebacker Assistant
Normally the stronger and more physical type of the two safeties, the strong safety aligns on the side of the field where the offense has the most players. The strong safety will line up a few yards closer to the ball in order to help stop the offense from running the ball, but may also drop into pass coverage if the defensive call is Cover 2 -- pass coverage where the two safeties share deep defender coverage. In man-to-man coverage, the strong safety typically covers the tight end.
Preparing to Play Safety
The first step toward becoming a safety involves walking through the weight room door. Upper body weight training exercises will help develop strong shoulders, chest, and back muscles -- to deliver solid hits on ball carriers -- while lower body weight workouts will provide a strong and solid base -- to deflect the hits of larger offensive blockers. Agility training is another conditioning mainstay for a safety. Exercises involving speed ladders, jump ropes, and plyometric boxes will enable a safety to become better at pass coverage.
Stance of a Safety
A safety must start out in a balanced athletic stance. The chest is over the knees and the knees are slightly bent. The feet are shoulder width apart, the inside foot slightly behind with the toe aligned to the heel of the opposite foot, and the body weight is equally distributed on the balls of the feet. Think about "credit card" heels, with heels off the ground just enough to slide a credit card underneath.
Become a Technique Master
To determine whether the play is going to be a run or a pass, look at the play of the offensive tackle. If the tackle's weight seems to be leaning forward, a run play is likely. If the tackle's weight is distributed equally, the play is a pass. A safety in Cover 2 pass defense can also look at the wide receiver. A release to the outside means a fade or a comeback route. If it is a run play, the receiver will run straight at the cornerback to block, so a safety must get into run support quickly. A receiver releasing to the inside could run a slant or crossing route away from the safety, or be prepared for a corner route if the receiver passes the cornerback.