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In American football each team has 11 players on the field at one time. The specific role that a player takes on the field is called their position. Under the modern rules of American football, teams are allowed free substitutions; that is, teams may change any number of players after any play. This has resulted in the development of three "platoons" of players: the offense (the team with the ball, which is trying to score), the defense (the team trying to prevent the other team from scoring, and to take the ball from them), and the special teams (who play in kicking situations). Within those platoons, various specific positions exist depending on what each player's main job is.
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, 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 ball carriers). Offensive linemen are not eligible to advance the ball past the line of scrimmage during a play.
The organization of the offense is strictly mandated by the rules; there must be at least seven players on the line of scrimmage and no more than four players (known collectively as "backs") behind it. The only players eligible to handle the ball during a normal play are the backs and the two players on the end of the line (the "ends"). The remaining players (known as "interior linemen") are "ineligible" to catch forward passes, so they usually only block. Within these strictures, however, creative coaches have developed a wide array of offensive formations to take advantage of different player skills and game situations.
The following positions are standard in nearly every game, though different teams will use different arrangements of them.
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, or when a player who is normally an offensive lineman takes a different position on the field. The offensive line consists of:
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:
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 defensive team or defense is the team that begins a play from scrimmage not in possession of the ball. The objective of the defensive team is to prevent the other team from scoring. The defense accomplishes this by forcing the offense to turn the ball over, either by preventing them from achieving a first down and forcing a punt, forcing the offense to fumble or throw an interception, or more rarely, forcing a turnover on downs.
Unlike the offensive team, the rules do not restrict the defensive team into certain positions. A defensive player may line up anywhere on his side of the line of scrimmage and perform any legal action. Over time, however, defensive roles have become defined into three main sets of players, and several individual positions.
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, a defensive lineman will have their hands on the ground, in a three- or four-point stance before the ball is snapped; this distinguishes their pre-snap stance from a linebacker, who begins in a two-point stance (i.e. without a hand touching the ground).
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.
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 dime backs) can be brought in in place of linebackers and defensive linemen, when there is a need to cover additional pass receivers.
Defensive formations are often known by a numerical code indicating the number of players at each position. The two most common formations are the 3–4 defense and the 4–3 defense, where the first number refers to the number of defensive linemen, and the second number refers to the number of linebackers (the number of defensive backs can be inferred, since there must be eleven players on the field). Thus, a 3–4 defense consists of three defensive linemen (usually a nose tackle and two defensive ends), four linebackers, and four defensive backs (two cornerbacks, a strong safety, and a free safety)
Special teams are units that are on the field during kicking plays. While many players who appear on offensive or defensive squads also play similar roles on special teams (offensive linemen to block, or defensive players to tackle) there are some specialist roles which are unique to the kicking game.
In gridiron football, not all players on offense are entitled to receive a forward pass. Only an eligible pass receiver may legally catch a forward pass, and only an eligible receiver may advance beyond the neutral zone if a forward pass crosses into the neutral zone. If the pass is received by a non-eligible receiver, it is "illegal touching". If an ineligible receiver is beyond the neutral zone when a forward pass crossing the neutral zone is thrown, a foul of "ineligible receiver downfield" is called. Each league has slightly different rules regarding who is considered an eligible receiver.
A running back (RB) is a member of the offensive backfield in gridiron football. The primary roles of a running back are to receive handoffs from the quarterback to rush the ball, to catch passes, typically out of the backfield, and block. There are usually one or two running backs on the field for a given play, depending on the offensive formation. A running back may be a halfback, a wingback or a fullback. A running back will sometimes be called a "feature back" if he is the team's starting running back.
In gridiron football, a lineman is a player who specializes in play at the line of scrimmage. The linemen of the team currently in possession of the ball are the offensive line, while linemen on the opposing team are the defensive line. A number of NFL rules specifically address restrictions and requirements for the offensive line, whose job is to help protect the quarterback from getting sacked for a loss, or worse, fumbling. The defensive line is covered by the same rules that apply to all defensive players. Linemen are usually the largest players on the field in both height and weight, since their positions usually require less running and more strength than skill positions.
A linebacker is a playing position in gridiron football. Linebackers are members of the defensive team, and line up approximately three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive linemen, and therefore "back up the line". Linebackers generally align themselves before the ball is snapped by standing upright in a "two-point stance".
A wide receiver, also referred to as wideouts or simply receivers, is an offensive position in gridiron football, and is a key player. They get their name because they are split out "wide", farthest away from the rest of the team. Wide receivers are among the fastest players on the field. The wide receiver functions as the pass-catching specialist.
The tight end (TE) is a position in American football, arena football, and formerly Canadian football, on the offense. The tight end is often seen as a hybrid position with the characteristics and roles of both an offensive lineman and a wide receiver. Like offensive linemen, they are usually lined up on the offensive line and are large enough to be effective blockers. On the other hand, unlike offensive linemen, they are eligible receivers adept enough to warrant a defense's attention when running pass patterns.
This is a glossary of terms used in Canadian football. The Glossary of American football article also covers many terms that are also used in the Canadian version of the game.
Strategy forms a major part of the game of American football, and both teams plan many aspects of their plays (offense) and response to plays (defense), such as what formations they take, who they put on the field, and the roles and instructions each player are given. Throughout a game, each team adapts to the other's apparent strengths and weaknesses, trying various approaches to outmaneuver or overpower their opponent to score more points in order to win the game.
American football positions have slowly evolved over the history of the sport. From its origins in early rugby football to the modern game, the names and roles of various positions have changed greatly, some positions no longer exist, and others have been created to fill new roles.
The 46 defense is an American football defensive formation, an eight men in the box defense, with six players along the line of scrimmage. There are two players at linebacker depth playing linebacker technique, and then three defensive backs. The 46 defense was originally developed and popularized with the Chicago Bears by their defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who later became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
A formation in football refers to the position players line up in before the start of a down. There are both offensive and defensive formations and there are many formations in both categories. Sometimes, formations are referred to as packages.
In sports, a starting lineup is an official list of the set of players who will participate in the event when the game begins. The players in the starting lineup are commonly referred to as starters, whereas the others are substitutes or bench players.
Center (C) is a position in gridiron football. The center is the innermost lineman of the offensive line on a football team's offense. The center is also the player who passes the ball between his legs to the quarterback at the start of each play.
Single set back is an offensive base formation in American Football which requires only one running back lined up about five yards behind the quarterback. There are many variations on single back formations including two tight ends and two wide receivers, one tight end/three wide receivers, etc. The running back can line up directly behind the quarterback or offset either the weak side or the strong side.
The flexbone formation It is an offensive formation in American football that includes a quarterback, five offensive linemen, three running backs, and varying numbers of tight ends and wide receivers. The flexbone formation is a predominant turnover formation derived from the wishbone formation and it features a quarterback under center with a fullback lined up directly behind the quarterback. There are two smaller running backs called slotbacks aligned behind the line of scrimmage on each side of the offensive line. The slotbacks are sometimes incorrectly referred to as wingbacks. But in order to be a wingback, there must be a guard, tackle and tight end all on one side of the center on the line of scrimmage and then the wingback off the line of scrimmage.
The triple option is an American football play used to offer several ways to move the football forward on the field of play. The triple option is based on the option run, but uses three players who might run with the ball instead of the two used in a standard option run.
In American football a play is a close to the ground "plan of action" or "strategy" used to move the ball down the field. A play begins at either the snap from the center or at kickoff. Most commonly plays occur at the snap during a down. These plays range from basic to very intricate. Football players keep a record of these plays in their playbook.
The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.
In American football, a back is a player who plays off of the line of scrimmage. Historically, the term "back" was used to describe multiple positions on offense and defense, although more descriptive and specific position naming is now common. Thus, "back" can refer to positions including:
|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End||Kicking players||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|