Safety is one of the most important and potentially game-changing positions on the defensive side of the ball. There are several advantages to operating from this position, the main one being that as the last line of defense you have the opportunity to get involved in the greatest number of plays.
Stopping the run from the safety position is easier because you have more time to see where the running back is going to go, a better angle to get to them, and you will most likely be unblocked or be able to avoid blocks very easily. Safeties are generally faster than linebackers also, so speed is an advantage as well.
Against the pass, playing safety allows you to be in a position to disrupt the greatest number of passes, and offers the opportunity to make impact plays on the defensive side of the ball. If you seize your opportunities, safety is a position of glory -- but it is also a position of great responsibility. One mistake could spell a very long and embarrassing touchdown for your opponent. Here are a few tips to help you run as the safety in NCAA and Madden.
#1 - Know your assignment
This sounds obvious but is probably the most important thing to remember. As a safety you will often find yourself in a deep zone, covering anywhere from one quarter to all of the deep half of the field. If this is the case, it is absolutely imperative you do not allow any receivers to get behind you. If a quarterback has enough time, and you get lazy, a wide receiver can slip right behind you and there will be no way to recover. Always keep the receivers in front of you.
Just when you decide to improvise is usually when a fullback slips into the flat and gets an easy big gain.
If you are in man, make sure you’re aware of who you are covering, and watch what they do as soon as the ball is snapped. Safeties most often man up against running backs or tight ends, but that does not mean you can ignore them as receiving threats. Too often players think a man assignment against a fullback or a second tight end is like a free pass to do whatever they want, and this can be a devastating miscue.
Just when you decide to improvise is usually when a fullback slips into the flat and gets an easy big gain. If your man begins to block, you have a little latitude to pursue other options, but don’t forget about delay routes, as sometimes you find your man becoming an eligible receiver a few seconds after the play starts.
Stick to underneath (robber) zones whenever possible. One of my favorite plays is the Quarter - FS Robber Lurk, which has the strong safety in a deep zone, the free safety in the underneath zone, and blitzes one corner while everyone else is in man. Underneath zones are great because they stick your player right in the intersection of several possible passing lanes, and eliminate the responsibility to stay back and prevent the deep ball. I would say these zones are the best for getting picks, as you can really cheat and try to jump certain routes without consequence.
#2 - Strafe is your friend
Generally speaking, if you are unsure about where to move your player during the play, you should be strafing. Strafing keeps your player squared to the play, and ensures you will be able to break most effectively once you know how to react. If you don’t strafe, your player will be all over the field, and it will be hard to adjust quickly enough to accomplish whatever you need to do. As soon as the ball is snapped, your first move should be to strafe backwards a few feet. This allows your player to get a head start on downfield coverage should the play be a pass play, but also allows separation from offensive lineman should one get upfield far enough to engage you in a block.
Since you are still squared to the play, if you need to break in and disrupt a run, you can do square up without losing much space. If the play turns out to be a quick pass, you are probably already in the passing lane, ready to make a pick. If the play is a long pass, stay squared until the receiver passes you, then turn your hips and stay on them. Either way, strafing is the best way to stay in control. Also, its much easier to get picks if you are squared to the ball, so keep that in mind when you are cheating on a certain route.
Beginning the play by strafing back a few steps. also helps in maintaining discipline on play-action passes. By not breaking in immediately, you will have more time to decide if the play is really a running play or not. Before each snap, you should remind yourself of the possibility of the play fake and prepare yourself for that possibility. By waiting an extra second, even if the play is a real run play, you still allow blockers to get engaged and holes to open up. When playing the run, try to get inside the running back's head and anticipate which gaps they are going for. Then break in and plug them.
If you do bite on a play fake, recover deep immediately. Do not hang around underneath and try to jump an underneath route and definitely do not try to keep running in for a sack. Running in for a sack might work once in a blue moon, but more often than not you will get punished in your deep half.
#3 - Stay inside
This tip is a big one: always stay inside of receivers. You have a lot more time to react to an outside route, and it is generally better to concede passes to the sideline anyways. If a receiver gets an inside edge, you can be all over them and still not be able to legally defend them. Furthermore, in the game the swat only works from an inside position, so keep that nugget of information in mind when positioning yourself.
Again, strafe as long as is practical in these situations. Especially if you are in man coverage, staying inside the receiver and squared up to the play means if the quarterback attempts to throw at your player you will be all over it. In fact, if your positioning is perfect, your timing does not have to be. As soon as you see the pass coming towards your man, tap Y (or triangle on PS3) and you will most likely jump it and probably take it back for six.
As a general rule, safeties are better suited to go for low hits, which are activated by flicking down on the right stick. These can be a great way to take out a ball carrier's legs and make a safe tackle.
For example, if you have one receiver streaking and one on a deep post, keep fading back to play the streak but also move towards the center of the field to stay with the post. If you stay in between both routes you should be able to defend either. Don’t forget underneath routes but remember to cover the deep ones first.
Also, like when playing the run, try to get in the quarterback's head. This is especially true against human opponents. Try to anticipate who they are looking for and where they will expect them to be open. I have played against a lot of people who like to roll out with their quarterback and let long crossing routes develop to the roll out side. If you sense this happening, cheat up with the safety and try to anticipate when the pass will come. If you see the receiver is about to pass a linebacker or enter an open space, jump on it and you will most likely be rewarded.
#4 - Make the safe play first
As tempting as it is to go for the highlight pick or the fumble inducing Hit Stick, remember why they call them safeties. You are the last line of defense; your first responsibility needs to be to make the play. If there is any doubt in your mind about whether you can make a pick, just swat at the ball. The swat maneuver is very powerful, and a well-timed swat can thwart almost any receiver.
I have discovered that receivers tend to have a huge advantage in one-on-ones if both players go for the catch, so don’t try to be a hero. In fact, I would strongly advise against ever attempting a pick if your player is not squared to the ball and you are not already a step ahead of the play. If you line it up and anticipate it, you can make an easy snatch, but if you react too hastily you can put yourself at an irrecoverable disadvantage.
The most important part to effectively playing the safety position is remaining poised during the play. It sounds silly when talking about a video game, but it can be easy to lose focus and get carried away when playing as a safety.
Especially on any over the top pass play, don’t overestimate your player’s ability to rise up and pick off a pass. Some of the hardest plays to make are ones where your player is standing still, so if possible try to make picks on the run. If you find yourself too close to the play to reposition, just tap the swat button and your player should take care of the rest.
Against the run, always take the corner away and keep the ball carrier inside. Do not beeline for the runner, instead take the safest angle to ensure that you can stop him without gaining too much yardage. Unless you have a perfect line with a big hitter, do not try to Hit Stick, just run onto the player and make a safe tackle. If you are one among a cluster of defenders poised to make the play, then you can consider either going for a Hit Stick or a strip.
As a general rule, safeties are better suited to go for low hits, which are activated by flicking down on the right stick. These can be a great way to take out a ball carrier's legs and make a safe tackle. Also, perhaps the best time to use the Hit Stick is on receivers across the middle. If you are a step behind on a pass, forget trying to break it up and just position yourself to hit the receiver. These can be the most satisfying plays in the game.
The most important part to effectively playing the safety position is remaining poised during the play. It sounds silly when talking about a video game, but it can be easy to lose focus and get carried away when playing as a safety. Remember your responsibilities and adapt as the play evolves. Try to get inside the offensive coordinator's head and anticipate what is going to happen. You can usually tell right off the bat if it is going to be a run or a pass, and if so what kind. If you sense an outside run, don’t be afraid to get to the edge before the running back. There is nothing wrong with being in front of the play; just trust your instincts and get to the play quickly and confidently. If you follow all of these tips, you will be changing games from the defensive side of the ball in no time.