Looking for clarity: Field Corner and Boundary Corner

Submitted by Mich1993 on July 9th, 2012 at 9:47 PM

I’m trying to understand the difference between field corners and boundary corners to understand whether Michigan’s current abundance of field corners (Countess, Avery, Taylor, Hollowell, T Richardson) and lack of boundary corners (Talbott + freshman in 2013) makes much of a difference after this year.  For 2012, it seems that Floyd should be fine as the primary boundary corner.

What I’ve learned so far is that the boundary corner plays the short side of the field and the field corner plays the wide side of the field.  Also, typically the better of the two corners play the field corner.  The field corner tends to have more coverage responsibilities while the boundary corner has more run responsibilities.

My hunch is that this isn’t a big deal and that if you’ve got 2-3 corners or more that can cover you should be ok.  It seems that the strengths of the field/boundary corners can be accomodated by which safety plays deep.  If the field corner can cover but not play the run, then the safety on his side plays closer to the line of scrimmage.  Same goes for the boundary corner.  Even if both corners struggle against the run, you can still bring one safety up and play 8 in the box to stop the run.

It seems to me if Courtney Avery (or Taylor, Hollowell or Richardson) is better in pass coverage, but not as stout against the run as Talbott then we’d want Avery and Countess starting at the corners in 2013.  What about Countess?  Do we play him at the boundary corner in 2013?

Another question, which was Charles Woodson’s primary position?  He had the size to play boundary corner, but he was clearly our best DB so that would push him toward field corner.  I suspect he played both depending on where the other team’s best receiver was.

Can someone help me out?


Space Coyote

July 9th, 2012 at 10:18 PM ^

Field corner = the corner that has more field to cover.

Boundary corner = the corner that is closer to the boundary.

So if the ball is on the left hash, the field corner would be lined up closer to the right hash, and the boundary corner would be lined up between the left hash and the sideline (or boundary)

Your field corner is typically going to be a smaller, quicker corner.  He is more of a lock down corner because he has to cover more field.  The boundary corner is typically a bit bigger, maybe not as quick, but is better in run support.  This is because he doesn't necessarily have the safety over the top for extra run support. So that's how they are usually split up.  Your not typically going to want to get stuck with someone who can't tackle on the short side of the field, and you're not going to want someone with worse coverage ability in the open field.  Typically you would like players that can do both (I think Countess can grow into this), but at the college level in particular, your corners are typically going to be weaker at something or another.  Hence why Michigan is trying to recruit some bigger corners and some players that others consider safeties.

As for Woodson, he is a rare player that could play both, and therefore sometimes followed wideouts rather than stay stuck playing boundary or field.  I think you see him more as a boundary corner now as he is still very good in run support but has lost a step or two since his prime.

In contrast, someone like Revis for the Jets is a field corner.  Very quick, agile, athletic, but smaller and struggles more in run support. Marlin Jackson or Malcolm Jenkins (former OSU CB, now an NFL safety) are pretty good examples of what college teams look for in a boundary corner.


July 9th, 2012 at 11:16 PM ^

"Your not typically going to want to get stuck with someone who can't tackle on the short side of the field"

Wouldn't you want the player not as good at tackling in less space? Seems like a poor tackler, or angle taker would be more easily exploited on the field side?

Space Coyote

July 9th, 2012 at 11:33 PM ^

Space is more of a relative thing.  There may be more open space, but it takes more time for the offense to reach that space, thus, you can get more support there.  The safety to the field side will more than likely to be outside the tackles, and can come up in run support on that side. On the other hand, toward the field side, you'll probably have the safety lined up over the OT.  It is easier for the offense to get the ball to that side quicker (quick pitch, slant, etc), so that player needs to be a surer tackler and be better in run support. There is less space he needs to defend, but he needs to defend that lesser space now.

Again, you would prefer that your corners can do it all.  You would want a corner that can tackle in space, and cover in space, and everything, but that's not reality.  So you have to go with what's more important, and on the field side the more important thing is staying with the WR to break up the pass or at least allow for pursuit to get there, while on a quick pitch or something, you have to hold the edge now, or make that tackle now, because if you don't there is little help that can get ther that quickly.

Mr. Yost

July 10th, 2012 at 3:20 PM ^

A lot of the time the boundary corner is jamming or closer to the LOS, also he's less likely to have safety help. Add to the fact that most teams run to the strong side of the field, he's likely to see a lot more opportunities to make a tackle.

A field CB plays off the line a lot of the time. And because there is so much space, it really doesn't matter. Because if a good RB gets a CB in open space with no LB or safety help...he should win. So a lot of the time the field CB has help from LBs and safeties. Sometimes the best move as a field CB when the ball is being run your way is simply to run up and attack the WR so he can't block anyone. Let everyone else flow to the ball

So while you're on more of an island coverage wise, really you have more help in run support and it's not your job to shut off half of the field in the run game. You better get help from the DL, LB and Ss if you're going to stop at team running to the weak side of the field.

Check out this 2nd down play at the 4:17 mark. Blake Countess really isn't even in the play as the field CB...but the play is defended BEAUTIFULLY. It's not the weakside CBs responsibility to stop the run. Sure he needs to be a part of the whole, but he's not the main (or first) person.



July 9th, 2012 at 11:41 PM ^

I think Countess can be that boundary corner, too.  He's a pretty solid tackler and should get bigger/stronger in the coming years.  We're getting a couple decent boundary corner types in the class of 2013, but if they're not ready to contribute early, we'll be pretty small at corner next season with Countess, Avery, Richardson, Talbott, Taylor, and Hollowell.  All those guys are 5'10" or shorter.  I'm not worried about it because I think those guys have talent, but those guys aren't prototypical boundary corners, really.


July 9th, 2012 at 11:33 PM ^

The idea that the field corner is the better of the two in terms of physical tools is wrong.  Boundary corners are often left out 1 v 1 and are the guys who have the physical tools to survive on their own.  Ranging from fighting off the WR's block to come up and stop  run or just fightin it out with a WR.  

The big purpose of the boundary corner is to free up safety support on that side of the field.  VT for example loves to leave their boundary corner off in 1 v 1 and then blitz with the safety.  So in terms of a team needing X boundary corners and Y field corners, it depends on what they want.  If your base pass coverage involves dropping both safeties, suddenly the need for boundary corner is lessened.  If you're hoping to blitz heavily with the safeties, you need more boudnary corner type guys. So you can't look at these guys as just Countess vs Avery or the like.  What matters more is what the defense is trying to do.

As a simple example, if you're running Kovacs as a box safety (run support) you can start a field corner on his side of the field.  If you're blitzing with Kovacs, you want a big boundary dude who can operate solo (in the event Kovacs gets pancaked and the QB responds by throwing in the direction of the blitz or scrambling that way).  

Also field corners tend to be the fast twitch guys that jump routes.  Since they have a safety over top to limit the damge in case they screw up.  A boundary corner tends to be the guy who goes up, fights the WR for the ball, and comes down with it.  So watching how guys get their hands on passes gives you an idea which style they're playing.  


One other thing to consider is most teams with lesser quality quarterbacks tend to throw wide side of the field.  Well in general most teams tend to throw wide side, but those with inexperienced or inaccurate quarterbacks send an inordinate number of balls to the wide side.  So based on QB tendencies you will also see personal assigned to varying areas.  


July 9th, 2012 at 11:30 PM ^

For the most part, it's all preference and usually depends on what coverages the team tends to.  

As a matter of fact, some teams play corners on the same side all the time.  

Mattison is looking at a lot of cover 6 this year (quarter, quarter, half) which is basically a cover two to one side and a cover four to the other.  I would play my best deep cover guy to the boundary in 6 because those guys are the ones getting pushed deep on a solo back side route.

Again, all preference.

steve sharik

July 9th, 2012 at 11:39 PM ^

From the OP:

The field corner tends to have more coverage responsibilities while the boundary corner has more run responsibilities.

This is incorrect.

From Space Coyote:

Your field corner is typically going to be a smaller, quicker corner. He is more of a lock down corner because he has to cover more field. The boundary corner is typically a bit bigger, maybe not as quick, but is better in run support. This is because he doesn't necessarily have the safety over the top for extra run support. So that's how they are usually split up. Your not typically going to want to get stuck with someone who can't tackle on the short side of the field, and you're not going to want someone with worse coverage ability in the open field.

This is incorrect.

The correct answer is: it depends. (Shocking, I know.) It depends on the other personnel on the field, the scheme the defense is deploying, and the offensive scheme faced.

Is Mattison a coach who likes to employ split coverage? In other words, does he have defenses that play Cover 3 to the boundary side and Cover 2 to the field, for example? If so, then in this case the field corner (Cover 2) would want to be better in run support b/c the field corner is secondary force.

When the ball is on the hash, many offensive formations will put multiple receivers to the field and a single receiver to the boundary. Defenses will often rotate safeties and bring more defenders to the field to defend the extra receivers, thus isolating the boundary corner one-on-one with the solo receiver, either explicitly or effectively. Again in this situation, the boundary corner has to be a better coverage player.

Of course, there are plenty of situations where the boundary corner might indeed need to be a better run defender depending on the scheme of the defense. This also can be true by offensive formation. For example, if the boundary corner has no wide receivers to his side, and only a TE and/or a wing, he may have to be a primary force player (i.e., the player in the defense responsible for forcing the ball back inside by squeezing any lead block on the perimeter).

Naturally, there are situations where both corners have the exact same responsibilities in both pass coverage and run "fit" (the place in the run defense where he fits). And if the offensive formation is perfectly balanced, then the corners will be essentially mirror players.

The overall point is, don't make any assumptions about the responsibilities of the field and boundary corners. Additionally, Mattison may decide to play his corners differently this year from last so offensive coordinators can't get a read on his tendencies. Bottom line, the field corner always lines up to the wide side of the field and the boundary corner always lines up to the short side of the field. As outside observers, this is the only thing we know for sure.

Space Coyote

July 10th, 2012 at 12:17 AM ^

There will always be wrinkles and positions will sometimes change depending on the situation (and so an offense can't simply pick on a weakness in coverage), but the majority of the time (note I said "typically" in that quote) what I said is what you're looking for.  You are correct that teams will roll coverages and put the boundary man in 1 on 1, but for the most part they are doing that with what I described as the boundary corner, they just have faith that he can also cover his man. You are rarely going to see a team put a smaller CB on the short side of the field, regardless of coverage, instead they will call the type of defense they have based on the personel and their personal abilities and abilities relative to the other players on the field. With multiple receivers toward the field side, that field corner can get away with not being as sure of a tackler (usually the man covering the slot will be responsible for primary leverage), but that boundary corner still needs to be a better tackler (often times here you will see some sort of jam coverage, to exploit the fact that he is probably a bigger corner but limited in coverage ability).

The exact scenario you explained, where there is no WR to the boundary side and thus the CB needs to be the force (the primary leverage), is why you are rarely going to see the small guy on that side. It may be that your boundary corner is a better cover guy as well (this may be Countess in 2013, and may be Floyd now depending on your POV), so you do things to help out the field side, but your boundary guy will almost always be your better tackler. It just happens to be that usually your best cover guy isn't as good at tackling and your better tackler isn't as good at coverage. There are exceptions to almost everything in football, but I think what the OP is asking more than anything is a "majority of the time" scenario.

steve sharik

July 10th, 2012 at 8:26 PM ^

..that situations I described are exceptions (which they are not, those are 4-3 101 rules) and that situations you described are generalities.  This is irrational.

As far as the TE/wing into the boundary...any OC worth his salt will know you're putting the small guy to the field and put the TE/wing to the field, two backs in the backfield, a SE to the boundary, and kill you on the perimeter with all that grass to run toward a small defender.  At least if it's to the boundary there is less space for the calvalry to cover to pursue.

As a former coach, I personally never liked field/boundary b/c OC's can pick on your personnel.  Some games we would align field/boundary, some right/left, some to running strength/weakness and some passing strength/weakness.

Space Coyote

July 10th, 2012 at 10:49 PM ^

From Mattison, a quote:

"Corners are corners" but the field corner (Countess) is not involved with "heavy work" and usually just has to clean up plays that have been strung out. The boundary corner (Floyd) has to be a bigger guy better in run support. It's a seven man front; if you go eight you'd "better have a war daddy" at field corner because he's got to cover an outside receiver with little additional help."

Most of the time the scenario I stated is correct.  If you put all that power to one side a DC will shift his defense.  What you're asking a defense to do is essentially flip corners in a particularly scenario where the offense tries to put a lot of power to one side.  What if the TEs flip?  Do you still switch them then?  No.  If you're philosophy as a DC is field/boundary corner you are the majority of the time going to stick with the rules I described, the exception may be on clear passing downs, or exceptions to the typical rule.  He will most likely still have the SAM or the SDE (depending on his defense) or the SS as the primary leverage to the outside.  The fact that the running back would get strung out to the far side of the field means more help can get there.  It's basic angles.  On the boundary side the defense has less time to get there and help.  As someone who has also coached a 4-3 defense, I've always used Right and Left corners, but that's because they are high school kids, it's just easier for them.  Look at Michigan's defense last year, probably 95% of the time Floyd is playing boundary, regardless of who he is covering, and Countess is playing field.  It's because of their strengths, Floyd is better at tackling, Countess is better on an island.

You may have played it different, and that's fine, but in Mattison's system, and most systems that I've come along, the difference between Boundary and Field corner is as I described.


July 9th, 2012 at 11:50 PM ^

my understanding is that not all defensive schemes have them. wouldn't woodson have just been following the other team's best receiver around anyway?

(related: a recent comment on tremendous's blog mentions woodson's role with the packers, but not michigan.

The coaches have now told a few players that they are looking for a boundary corner who can slide in on 3rd down to be the nickel back. They compare this position to Charles Woodson as Green Bay does this with him. The Woodson position wouldn't just cover the slot, but be more of a hybrid. Just as Woodson does, it'd be a position that on 3rd downs could drop into man-to-man, drop into zone, or blitz - a kind of rover making plays. Spribling, McQuay, and Westphal have all had this told to them, big corners will play boundary 1st and 2nd downs, move to nickel on 3rds and bring in another pure corner (The opposite of most teams now, including us).

that's from the bottom comment on this entry.)

Space Coyote

July 10th, 2012 at 12:11 AM ^

Some even play Right Corner and Left Corner (note that most offenses are "right handed" and will therefore have there bigger CB as the LCB, and this also avoids confusion for when the team is between hashes, etc). It really depends on scheme, personel, down and distance, etc.  From what I recall, Woodson did a lot of following around, especially on passing downs, but that is mostly because he was so interchangable because of his skill set.

If I'm not mistaken though, Michigan ran with a BC and FC even back in '97 for the most part


July 10th, 2012 at 9:16 AM ^

Hopefully this helps on the field/boundary corner debate.

The boundary is more often than not your best 1 - on - 1 defender against the pass.  This also depends on what kind of personnel packages you are seeing. 

10 = 1 back - 0 TE / 11 = 1 back - 1 TE  /  21 = 2 Back - 1 TE and so on.

vs. 21 personnel (I formation type packages), teams will formation the field more often than not, leaving their best WR(the SE) to the short side.  You want your best DB to be locked on him.  If he is really good, it lets you play different games with your boundary safety, getting him the run game or doubling that kid on passing downs.

vs. 10 and 11 personnel, Michigan will usually get into what they call their "sub" package.  This is where the nickel comes in for the SAM.  In our case, our SAM will become a rush end and our 3 tech or 1 tech will come off the field.  We usually play 3 techs on both guards in the sub package.  Again, more often then not, teams do not put trips to the boundary.  You have more help to the field for the field corner if they are running any 3 x 1 or 2 x 2 sets.  The boundary is put more on an island in either set.  You want your better pass defenders to the boundary to erase that side of the field and make them throw to the wide side where there is more help. 

You can say the field corner has more space to cover, but usually has more help.  In my experience, it is much easier to play the field side and the boundary side.  As a coach, our boundary is by far our best DB and our field corner can be the superintendant's kid.

Does this help?