Quarterback is the most recognised position in American Football, A Quarterback is the leader of the team and takes on responsibility for the Offence’s performance. The Quarterback gets most of the media attention in the NFL, often making them superstars.
The Quarterback calls the plays in the huddle and once the Offence is set in the right formation, he calls out the coded signals (also called the “cadence”) that let his team-mates know when the ball will be snapped or if he is changing the play. Once the ball is snapped the QB can either hand off or pitch the ball to a Running Back, Pass (throw) the ball to a Wide Receiver, Tight End or sometimes a Running Back, or run with the ball himself (although QBs don’t do this often!). Quarterback’s must know what every player is assigned to do on every single play in the Offence’s playbook. They must have a strong arm, nerves of steel (waiting for the perfect moment to throw whilst defenders are charging towards him takes courage!) and must have the respect of their team-mates.
Running Back (RB)
These players are the workhorses of the Offence; they perform many duties including running the ball (also known as rushing), catching passes and blocking defenders. They must be very fast and agile as well as being tough enough to withstand the punishment they must endure on most plays.
Once the QB hands off to them at the start of a running play it’s up to the Running Back to find room created by the Offensive Line to run through…after that it’s a simple matter of avoiding 11 angry Defensive players on the way to the Endzone! Fullbacks (FB) are generally big Running Backs, with good catching ability but are mainly used to “lead block” for the other Running Back, leading the way on running plays, taking on Linebackers to clear a path for their team-mate.
Wide Receivers (WR)
Receivers are fast and agile. With great catching ability, they run specific pass patterns (or routes) designed to take them to a designated area of the field and help them elude defenders who are covering them – running specific routes means the QB knows before the ball is snapped where his Receivers are going to be (or should be!) on each play.
A Receiver must be able to catch the ball no matter what the circumstance, even if he knows he will be hit hard by a defender as soon as the ball is in his grasp. As American coaches are fond of saying, Receivers will end up getting hit on the play anyway, so they might as well catch the ball too!
Tight End (TE)
The Tight End is a combination of the pass catching skills of a Receiver with the blocking ability and strength of a Lineman. They are versatile players who can run pass patterns on one play and can then be called on to block for a Running Back on the next. The Tight End usually lines up outside a Tackle on either the left or right of the Offensive formation. The side the TE lines up on is called the strongside by the Defence.
Offensive Linemen (O-Line)
The Offensive Line Must act as immovable objects on passing plays, protecting the QB by blocking the Defence that are trying to get to him before he passes the ball. On Running plays they become the irresistible force, surging forwards to push defenders out of the way and create room for Running Backs to sprint through.
This “Five Man Army” – must act as a unit, each of them knowing their own assignments as well as what the other linemen will do on each play or when the Defence suddenly shifts formation. The Centre (C) is the only player on the field apart from the QB who handles the ball on every play. He must snap the ball to the QB on the right verbal signal, making sure the ball gets to the Quarterback’s hands smoothly, all the while looking at the Defence and the Defensive Linemen opposite who are primed to attack. The Guards (G) line up either side of the Centre, with a Tackle (T) on the outside of each Guard. Left to right, it is Tackle, Guard, Centre, Guard, Tackle.
Guards and Tackles must be equally good at run blocking, where they try to force defenders out of the way and create a “hole” for the Running Back, and pass blocking, where they form a wall of blockers around the Quarterback to give him time to make the throw (creating a space or “pocket” for the QB). Offensive Linemen are the unsung heroes of the team, as they do a tough job but rarely get recognition for it. Every other position has statistics to show how well they have performed, whether it’s number of yards gained rushing for Running Backs, or number of tackles by any defensive player, all except the O-Line get the numbers to talk about.
Defensive Linemen (D-Line)
Many people get confused by the two lines in American Football, thinking that the Defensive Line protects the Quarterback. Nothing could be further from the truth, as these players are the first in line to try and get to the QB, or whichever unlucky “target” has the ball on the play. Defensive Linemen can be either Defensive Ends (DE) or Defensive Tackles (DT). As the name implies, the End plays on the end of the Defensive Line, the Defensive Tackle is between the Ends. In a 4-3 formation, there are 2 DEs and 2 DTs, in a 3-4 formation, there are 2 DEs and 1 DT, sometimes called the Nose Tackle (NT) because he plays right in front of the Centre.
Just as Offensive Linemen must be good both run and pass blocking, Defensive Linemen must be equally good at pass rushing (getting through the O-Line to the Quarterback) and stopping the running plays. In this way, they must also alternate between irresistible force and immovable object! The battles between both lines are intense and violent, as no matter what play it is, these large, strong aggressive players are fighting it out.
Linebackers must be versatile as they have several responsibilities. A Linebacker may be called upon to rush the QB on a pass, or drop back and cover a Receiver running a pattern. On some plays they must watch for Running backs darting through any holes in the lines. With these tasks in mind, they must be fast and agile enough to cover Offensive players running patterns but they must also be strong enough to take on big Fullbacks and Offensive Linemen who try to block them.
Linebackers can play in a variety of positions; Middle Linebackers (MLB) are responsible for the centre of the field and typically must be big enough to take on Running Backs charging straight at them through the lines. Outside Linebackers (OLB) have the perimeters of the field to cover, and must watch for Tight Ends and speedy Running Backs. In a 3-4 formation, there are 4 Linebackers, 2 at outside and 2 inside. Teams can use this formation to confuse an Offence and have more players available to Blitz.
The Cornerback is the Defence’s answer to Wide Receivers. Corners must cover Receivers when they are running their patterns and ensure that they make a tackle as soon as the Receiver makes a catch. Better still, is when a Cornerback can Intercept a pass intended for a Receiver. Should a Receiver score a Touchdown however, it can be a long walk back to the huddle for the Cornerback who got “burned” on the play.
They must be every bit as fast and agile as a Receiver, but have a harder job as they often run backwards at first to stay focused on the Receiver. Cornerbacks must also be strong (and brave enough) to take on bigger players like Running Backs should they elude the other members of the Defence.
The Safety’s motto is “if everyone else misses, don’t miss.” They are the last line of Defence but are sometimes the first to attack, with a brutal combination of speed and power they are combinations of Linebackers and Cornerbacks, with the ability to cover Receivers and bring down Running Backs. There are normally 2 Safeties on the field; the Strong Safety (SS) will line up on the same side as the Tight End and will cover him, the Free Safety (FS) is free to move to where he is needed in coverage.
The player who kicks the ball on kickoffs, extra point attempts, and field goal attempts. A Kicker either kicks the ball while it’s being held by a teammate or kicks it off a tee.
The player who catches the snap from the Centre and places it down for the Kicker to attempt to kick it through the uprights of the goalpost. On an attempted field goal, the holder must catch the ball and put it into a good kicking position, ideally with the laces facing away from the kicker. This must be a player with great catching ability, or used to handling the ball. Often a back-up QB, or the Punter.
Kick Returner (KR)
The kick returner is the player that catches kickoffs and attempts to return them in the opposite direction. He is usually one of the faster players on the team, often a Wide Receiver.
The player who stands behind the line of scrimmage, catches the long snap from the Centre, and then kicks the ball after dropping it toward his foot. The punter generally comes in on fourth down to punt the ball to the other team with the idea of driving the other team as far back as possible before they take possession of the ball.
Long Snapper (LS)
The Centre position as it would be played on Offence, but this player specializes in making longer snaps for punts and field goal attempts. A Long-Snapper generally has to snap the ball seven-to-eight yards behind him with the accuracy that allows the Holder or Punter to handle the ball cleanly.
Punt Returner (PR)
The job of a Punt Returner is to catch the ball after it has been punted and run it back toward the punting team’s end zone.
The members of the special teams who specialize in racing downfield to tackle the Punt Returner. The Gunners usually line up on the outside of the Offensive Line and are often double teamed by blockers. Must be fast as well as good at tackling. Often Defensive Backs.