1.1 Offensive (Interior) line 1.2 Backs and receivers
2.1 Defensive line 2.2 Linebackers 2.3 Defensive backs
In American football, the offense is the side in which the players
have possession of the ball. It is their job to advance the ball
towards the opponent's end zone to score points. Broadly speaking, the
eleven players of the offense are broken into two groups: the five
offensive linemen, whose primary job is to block, and the six backs
and receivers whose primary job is to advance the ball either running
with the ball or passing it. The backs and receivers are also commonly
known as skill position players or as eligible receivers (or eligible
The offensive line (on left, in orange jerseys) consists of a center (with ball in hand ready to snap) two guards on either side of him, and two tackles.
The offensive line is primarily responsible for blocking. During normal play, offensive linemen do not handle the ball (aside from the snap from center), unless the ball is fumbled by a ball carrier, a pass is deflected and caught by a lineman or when a player who is normally an offensive lineman takes a different position on the field. The offensive line consists of:
Center (C) The center is the player who begins the play from scrimmage by snapping the ball to the quarterback. As the name suggests, the center usually plays in the middle of the offensive line, though some teams may employ an unbalanced line where the center is offset to one side. Like all offensive linemen, the center has the responsibility to block defensive players. The center often also has the responsibility to call out blocking assignments and make last second adjustments depending on the defensive alignment.
Offensive guard (OG) Two guards line up directly on either side of the center. Like all interior linemen, their function is to block on both running and passing plays. On some plays, rather than blocking straight ahead, a guard will "pull", whereby the guard comes out of his position in line to lead block for a ball carrier, on plays known as "traps" (for inside runs), or "sweeps" (for outside runs), or "screens" (for passing plays). In such cases, the guard is referred to as a "pulling guard".
Offensive tackle (OT) Two tackles play outside of the guards. Their role is primarily to block on both running and passing plays. The area from one tackle to the other is an area of "close line play" in which blocks from behind, which are prohibited elsewhere on the field, are allowed. For a right-handed quarterback, the left tackle is charged with protecting the quarterback from being hit from behind (known as his "blind side"), and this is usually the most skilled player on the offensive line. Like a guard, the tackle may have to "pull," on a running play, when there is a tight end on his side. Tackles are typically a taller, longer build than interior offensive linemen, due to the need to keep separation from defensive linemen in pass blocking situations, as well, they tend to have quick footwork skills as they often engage against containing or rushing defensive ends.
Backs and receivers
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback #14 Anthony Morelli hands the ball off to his running back #33 Austin Scott in their 2007 season opener.
The six backs and receivers are those that line up outside or behind the offensive line. There are four main positions in this set of players:
Running backs (HB/FB) Running backs are players who line up behind the offensive line, who are in position to receive the ball from the quarterback, and execute a rushing play. Anywhere from one to three running backs may be utilized on a play (or even none, a situation typically known as an "empty backfield"). Depending on where they line up, and what role they have, running backs come in several varieties. The "tailback" (or sometimes the "halfback", though this term is somewhat archaic) is often a team's primary ball carrier on rushing plays. He may also catch passes, often acting as a "check-down" or "safety valve" when all other receivers on a pass play are covered. The "fullback" is often larger and stronger than the tailback, and acts primarily as a blocker, though the fullback may also be used for catching passes or for rushing as a tailback does. Fullbacks often line up closer to the line of scrimmage than tailbacks do, so they may block for them. A "wing-back" or a "slot-back" is a term for a running back who lines up behind the line of scrimmage outside the tackle or tight end on the side where positioned. Slot-backs are usually only found in certain offensive alignments, such as the flexbone formation. A similar position, known as the H-back, is actually considered a modification of the normal tight end position (see below).
A wide receiver (#87, in white) begins a play in the flanker position
The wide receivers are pass-catching specialists. Their main job is to run pass routes and get open for a pass, although they are occasionally called on to block. Wide receivers generally line up split "wide" near the sidelines at the start of the play. Wide receivers, like running backs, come in different varieties depending on exactly where they line up. A wide receiver who is directly on the line of scrimmage is called a "split end", and is counted among the seven required players on the line of scrimmage. A wide receiver who lines up behind the line (and thus counts as one of the four backs) is called the "flanker". A wide receiver who lines up between the outermost wide receiver and the offensive line is said to be "in the slot" and is called the "slot receiver" or "slotback".
Depending on the style of offense the coaches have designed, the game
situation, and the relative skill sets of the players, teams may run
formations which contain any number of running backs, wide receivers,
and tight ends, so long as the mandated "four backs and seven on the
line" rule is followed. For many years, the standard set consisted of
the quarterback, two running backs (a tailback/halfback and a
fullback), two wide receivers (a flanker and a split end) and a tight
end. Modern teams show a wide variety of formations, from a "full
house" formation with three running backs, two tight ends, and no wide
receivers, to "spread" formations featuring four or five wide
receivers, sometimes without any running backs. The
The four defensive linemen (in red) have their hands on the ground in a "three point stance".
Like their offensive counterparts, defensive linemen (also called rushers) line up directly on the line of scrimmage, close to the ball. There are two positions usually considered part of the defensive line:
Often, though not always, a defensive lineman will have his "hand(s) on the ground," in a three- or four-point stance before the ball is snapped; this distinguishes his pre-snap stance from a linebacker, who begins in a two-point stance (i.e. without a hand touching the ground). Linebackers
This defense (in white) is in a base 4-3 set. Just behind the four defensive linemen (whose hands are on the ground) are three linebackers (numbers 55, 3 &16), and further back are two safeties (numbers 24 & 44). Out-of-frame are the two cornerbacks.
Linebackers play behind the defensive line and perform various duties depending on the situation, including rushing the passer, covering receivers, and defending against the run.
Middle linebacker (MLB) Sometimes called the "inside linebacker" (especially in a 3-4 defense), and known colloquially as the "Mike" linebacker, the middle linebacker is often known as the "quarterback of the defense", as they are frequently the primary defensive play callers and must react to a wide variety of situations. Middle linebackers must be capable of stopping running backs who make it past the defensive line, covering pass plays over the middle, and rushing the quarterback on blitz plays.
Defensive backs, also known as the "secondary", play either behind the linebackers or set to the outside, near the sidelines. Defensive backs are primarily used to defend against pass plays. Defensive backs also act as the last line of defense on running plays, and need to be able to make open field tackles, especially when the ball carrier has gotten past the other defenders. A normal complement of defensive backs includes two cornerbacks and two safeties, though specialty defensive backs (nickelbacks and dimebacks) can be brought in in place of linebackers and defensive linemen, when there is need to cover additional pass receivers.
Safety (S) The safeties are the last line of defense (farthest from the line of scrimmage) and usually help the corners with deep-pass coverage. The strong safety (SS) is usually the larger and stronger of the two, providing extra protection against run plays by standing closer to the line of scrimmage, usually on the strong (tight end) side of the field. The free safety (FS) is usually the smaller and faster of the two, and is usually the deepest player on the defense, providing help on long pass plays.
Nickelback and dimeback In certain formations, the defense may remove a linebacker or a defensive lineman to bring in extra pass coverage in the form of extra defensive backs. A formation with five defensive backs is often called a "nickel" formation, and the fifth (extra) defensive back is called a "nickelback" after the U.S. nickel coin, a five-cent piece. By extension, a formation with a sixth defensive back is called a "dime package", a 10-cent dime coin being "two nickels (nickelbacks)." Rarely, a team may employ seven or eight defensive backs on certain plays.
Defensive formations are often known by a numerical code indicating
the number of players at each position. The two most common formations
A placekicker (Mason Crosby, #2) prepares to kick the ball from the hand of a holder (Jon Ryan, #9).
Also called the "placekicker", he handles kickoffs, extra points, and field goal attempts. All three situations require the kicker to kick the ball off of the ground, either from the hands of a "holder" or off of a "tee". Some teams will employ two kickers: one kicks extra points and field goals, and the other, known as the kickoff specialist, handles kickoffs. Most however use a single kicker for both jobs, and rarely, the same player may also punt.
Usually positioned 7–8 yards (6.4–7.3 m) from the line of scrimmage, he holds the ball for the placekicker to kick. The holder is often a backup quarterback or a punter because of their "good hands", feel for the ball and experience taking snaps from the long snapper (center) during plays from scrimmage. A holder is occasionally used on kickoffs if the weather or field conditions repeatedly cause the ball to fall off the tee.
A specialized center who snaps the ball directly to the holder or punter. This player is usually distinct from the regular center, as the ball often has to be snapped much farther back on kicking plays.
Usually lines up 15 yards (14 m) behind the line of scrimmage (this distance has to be shortened to avoid being on or behind the end line). The punter, upon receiving the snap, drops the ball and kicks it from the air. This is usually done only on fourth down, and is done to relinquish possession to the defensive team as far downfield as possible.
Kickoff specialist (KOS)
Kickoff specialists are exclusively used during kickoffs. Teams employ kickoff specialists if they feel neither their kicker nor punter is good enough at kicking off. Due to their specialized nature and the limited number of active roster spots, professional KO specialists are rare.
Returners are responsible for catching kicked balls (either on kickoffs or punts) and running the ball back. These are usually the fastest players on a team. Teams may use the same player for both positions, or may have a separate returner for punts and for kickoffs. Typically a running back, wide receiver or defensive back.
A blocking back who lines up approximately 1–3 yards (0.91–2.74 m) behind the line of scrimmage in punting situations. Because the punter plays so far back, the upback frequently makes the line calls and calls for the snap to be received by the punter. Their primary role is to act as the last line of defense for the punter. Upbacks may occasionally receive the snap instead of the punter on fake punts, and normally run the ball but may throw it.
A player on kickoffs and punts who specializes in running down the field very quickly in an attempt to tackle the returner. They usually line up near the sidelines where there will be fewer blockers and thus allow them to get down the field quickly.
Jammers try to slow down gunners during punts or kickoffs so that returners have more time to return them.
Offense (Skill position)
Linemen Guard, Tackle, Center Linemen Tackle, End Kicking players Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist
Backs Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback Backs Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback Returning Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer
Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy
v t e
American–Canadian comparison Burnside rules Glossary
Arena Indoor 9-man 8-man 6-man Flag Touch Street/Backyard Powderpuff Wheelchair Rules of gridiron football codes
Levels of play
Pop Warner AYF
Varsity Junior varsity
Hash marks Goal line Sidelines
Line of scrimmage
End zone Red zone Neutral zone Coffin corner Flat Gap Hole Pocket
Touchdown One-point conversion Two-point conversion Field goal Safety Single (rouge)
Fumble Interception Muffed punt Turnover on downs
First down Three-and-out Fourth down conversion Dead ball
Timeout Kneel Spike Time warnings
3 min. 2 min. 1 min.
Clock management Running out the clock Untimed play Garbage time
Total quarterback rating
Yards after catch
Yards from scrimmage
Two-a-days Oklahoma drill Three-cone drill Film session
Official (American, Canadian) Chain crew Penalty Penalty flag Instant replay
Running up the score