Football: A Positional Breakdown


I think I’m gonna start posting a few more of my football memories more often. Mind you, the only things that didn’t actually exist were the commentators voices, haha. There is almost never an actual commentator unless your team is good enough for national television…

Anyway, for those of you that don’t know, I’m gonna be posting the most brief descriptions of each position in football. Let’s see if I can get these descriptions down…

In American and Canadian football, there are always three teams that comprise the larger collective. You have the offense (or first team), the defense (or secondary) and you have special teams. By the way, I will be spelling most things the American way because Canadian football is a little odd…and stupid.

Offense – First Team

The offensive backs and receivers are responsible for generating positive yardage and are charged with scoring.

Quarterback (QB) – The driver of the offensive vehicle. They are responsible for receiving plays from the coaches and relaying them to the offense. They receive the ball at the beginning of each snap (otherwise known as a play) and are expected to do one of three things in order to advance the ball: run the ball across the field, throw the ball (in a forward pass) to a receiver or hand the ball off to a halfback/fullback so that they may attempt a rushing play. The QB always lines up directly under center or in the shotgun. Either way, the QB is always behind the offensive line unless a certain package calls for a different line-up.

Running Back / Halfback / Tailback (RB/HB/TB) – The running back also lines up behind the offensive line. He/she is responsible for rushing the ball and sometimes receiving passes in order to advance the ball. Running backs are often one of two types of athletes. They can either be big, muscular strongmen or small and elusive speedsters. They are also responsible for blocking within the pocket if an offense is looking to deceive the opposing team. There can be as many as three running backs lined up on any given play. A team can also opt to have no running backs on the field on any given play.

Fullback  (FB) – Another variation of the running back. I am only listing it here under the RB category because that is conventionally how they have been defined. I believe that fullbacks should be respected and treated as their own separate position nowadays, but that’s just me. A fullback is usually the largest and strongest of all the running backs on any given squad. He/she has all the same responsibilities as a halfback, but they are primarily used to block and clear paths for the halfback. Fullbacks line up closer to the line of scrimmage in order to be more effective when blocking for the halfback.

Slotback / Wingback (SB/WB) – A slotback or a wingback is the term for a running back that is lined up behind the line of scrimmage and next to a right/left tackle or the tight end. Their job is to block defensive linemen and linebackers in order to give more time to the quarterback to assess his/her throwing options.

Wide Receiver (WR) – Wide receivers are often speedy people with a brilliant ability to catch and secure footballs. Their sole responsibility is to catch passes that are thrown their way. Sometimes, in times of desperation, wide receivers can also act as blockers. They are called “wide” receivers because they line up on the very ends of the line of scrimmage. They begin each play lined up “wide” and are free to run slants, posts, curls, flats…you get the picture.

Tight End (TE) – Tight ends are to wide receivers as fullbacks are to running backs. Tight ends are essentially offensive linesmen, but have the ability to catch passes. They line up on either side of the tackles and guards. They are bigger and stronger than a normal wide receiver and are adept enough at receiving to warrant the attention of an opposing defense. The tight end is a hybrid position: They play on the offensive line but are also pass eligible. That was bolded so as to clear up any confusion because most people don’t get what a tight end is supposed to do…

Offensive Line

The offensive line is expected to create the “pocket”. The “pocket” is the space in which a quarterback should feel safe and is able to assess the field from that position. They are expected to protect the QB from any charging defensive linesmen, tackles and linebackers.

Center (C) – The center is responsible for starting any given play. They are responsible for snapping the ball to the QB and for blocking opposing defensive linemen. As their name implies, they line up in the middle of the offensive line. The center also acts as a defensive quarterback before a play starts: He/she is responsible for adjusting the coverage plan if the defense has shifted their schemes and positions on the field.

Offensive Guard (LG/RG) – The guards line up on both sides of the center. They are commonly called “left” and “right”, hence the names left guard and right guard. They are responsible for blocking on both rushing and passing plays. They have a variety of blocking methods that change depending on the play that has been called.

Offensive Tackle (LT/RT) – The tackles line up next to the guards. They are responsible for blocking, but they are a bit more important than the center and the guards. Depending on the handedness of the quarterback, the left or right tackle is responsible for blocking on the blind side of his QB. So, if the QB is left-handed, the right guard must be attentive and diligent in his protection of that side of the pocket.

A typical shotgun formation. The offensive players are those in the blue circles.

Defense – Defensive Line

The defensive line is the first line of defense on any team. They are responsible for protecting against the run. They are always the larger and stronger men/women on a team .

Defensive Linesmen / Defensive Tackles (DL/DT/NT/NG) – The nose tackle/nose guard (as they are most commonly referred to as) is essentially the center of the defense. There may be up to three nose tackles/nose guards on any given play. They are responsible for rushing the opposing quarterback. They are often large, strong and physically imposing beings. They line up directly across the ball and are often face-to-face with the offensive tackles and guards (hence the name nose tackle/nose guard).

Defensive Ends (DE) – Defensive ends act like guards. They line up on either side of the defensive linesmen/tackles and are responsible for rushing the opposing quarterback and for containing any possible running plays. The faster of the two defensive ends is always placed on the blind side of the quarterback so as to maximize his effectiveness and to hurry the QB and his/her passes.

Linebackers (LB) – The linebacker is the quarterback of the defense: He/she is responsible for rushing the passer, covering zones (or receivers) and defending against rushing plays. Linebackers often call the play given to him/her by the coaches and are responsible for calling out any adjustments made by the offense and readjusting the defense to play accordingly.

Middle Linebacker (MLB) – Specialize in stopping running backs, pass coverage down the middle of the field and blitzing the quarterback. The MLB is usually the captain of the three linebackers.

Outside Linebackers (LOLB/ROLB/SLB/WLB) – Left outside linebacker (LOLB)/right outside linebacker (ROLB) are kind of a mouthful to say. These two positions are often divided up and called weakside linebacker (WLB) and strongside linebacker (SLB). The strongside linebacker lines up on the same side as the tight end of the opposing team. He/she is responsible for covering the tight end and covering that side against any running backs. The weakside linebacker lines up  on the side where a tight end is not present. He/she is responsible for rushing the opposing quarterback and for covering any running back.

Defensive Backs – The Secondary

Defensive backs are responsible for pass coverage. While the defensive line occupies themselves with run defense, blitzing and mid-field coverage, the secondary is expected to be able to cover short, mid and deep passes.

Cornerback (CB) – Typically the two fastest defensive players on the team. The cornerbacks are responsible for covering the wide receivers no matter how long or short the passes are. During running plays, they are expected to tackle the running back, redirect the running back towards the middle of the field where they can subsequently be taken care of by a 350-pound DT/DE or to push him/her out of bounds.

Safety (SS/FS) – These two men/women are the last line of defense. They are essentially cornerbacks, but are far more adept at tackling. The safety position is divided into two designations: strong safety (SS) and free safety (FS). The strong safety lines up on the strong side of the field, closer to the line of scrimmage. They are used to help linebackers during rushing situations. They are always the stronger and larger of the two safeties on the field. The free safety is charged with covering the quarterback…but since the QB is often locked away inside the pocket, he/she is “free” to cover any player that they feel needs to be covered. The free safety often watches the play unfold before dashing towards an opposing player. They usually help the cornerbacks in pass coverage and can also blitz the passer. The free safety is the smaller and faster of the two designations. Both safeties are expected to be sure tacklers.

Special Teams

These positions are often filled the rookies, second-string and even third-string players on a team. They may be working towards a promotion or are just back-up players.

Field Goal Unit

Kicker (K) – He/she kicks the ball…okay, seriously though. He/she is responsible for scoring extra points and field goals whenever the opportunity arises.

Holder (H) – He/she receives the snap before a field goal/extra point attempt. The holder is often the back-up quarterback or a fellow kicker/punter.

Punting Unit

Long Snapper (LS) – The long snapper is usually a back-up center that is able to snap the ball much further than a center would be able to. He/she snaps the ball directly to a kicker/punter instead of a quarterback.

Punter (P) – This player is only used after one situation: Your team has failed to reach first down. The punter is a kicker…sorta. They kick the ball high into the air when relinquishing possession of the ball to the opposing team. They kick the ball as far down the field as they can in order to make the opposing team’s job a bit harder.

Returning Unit

Punt Returner (PR) and Kick Returner (KR) – These are essentially the same positions. The punt returner and kick returner are often the fastest offensive players on the team. Sometimes, teams will use the same player to fill both positions. They are responsible for receiving kicks/punts and for running them as far up the field as they possibly can.

Gunner (G) – The gunner is a scrappy tackler that bolts down the field in an attempt to block the punt/kick. That’s about all I can say about this position…

The defense, pictured in the red circles, is lined up in a typical 4-3 formation.

I hope you guys learned something. If not, feel free to tell me everything I did wrong and I’ll try to clarify or explain further! I’m really sleepy, so I’m gonna head off now. I’ll post my NFL Week 12 recap tomorrow.

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