American Football Positions
The following diagram shows you football positions in
Big Picture mode.
For the moment, forget about the individual labels on our football
positions. Just notice that the players on the field are broken up
into two teams of eleven men each, the offense (who are trying to
move the football down the field into the end zone) and the defense,
who are trying to stop them.
Between them, as you can see, is the line of scrimmage. Although
indeed there are
lines drawn across the football field,
the line of scrimmage is not one of them. The line of
scrimmage is, in fact, an imaginary line that is used to
indicate where each play will begin, with the offensive
football positions set on one side of the line, and the
defensive football positions set on the other. All lined
up and ready to rumble!
Except when the play is begun by kicking the ball to
the opposition (at the beginning of the game, after the
halftime break, after points have been scored, and when
the offense has failed to make the required ten yard minimum
in their series of downs). Then they have a longer way to run
before the . . . errr . . . rumbling can begin.
Okay, then. The first breakdown of football positions
is into the broad categories of offensive team versus
Within these two broad categories of football positions,
there are, for both offense and defense, two more broad
categories: line and backfield.
For the team on offense (i.e., the team with the ball),
the responsibility of the linemen is to protect the
backs so that they can get free to move the ball down
The 'head back,' by the way, is the quarterback. He's sort of
the general of the offense. He 'calls plays,' which means he yells
out a code at the beginning of each play that tells the rest of the
team what the game plan is, and what their individual assignments
The responsibility of the backs is to move the ball forward either by
running with it, or 'getting open,' i.e., free from the defense, so that
they can catch the ball if it is thrown to them (usually by the quarterback).
Since only one player can have the ball at a time, the backs without the
ball can also help protect the back with the ball, or they can be used as
decoys to confuse the defense, a common ploy in American football.
Of course, the defense has the opposite assignment, i.e.,
they are trying to break through the offensive line and
stop the backs from moving the ball.
The defensive backs are pretty much the 'opposite number'
of the offensive backs, and may try to stop them by being
assigned one man to 'cover' (i.e., control or stop), or by
setting up zones of coverage so that the assignment passes
from one defensive back to another as the offensive back
moves down the field.
Now, you probably noticed that all the little players in our
diagram have been labeled. But did you notice that there
are a few labels left laying around (like 'Nickel Back' and
'Defensive Tackle') that haven't been stuck on any of the players?
The reason for this is that sometimes football positions
are given names unique to the specific formation being used.
Formations, for future reference, are designed plays, rather
like choreography in the dance world, in which positions are moved around in an attempt to gain strategic
And yes: we'll get to that. But we said we'd give you the
basics first, and getting into plays and formations now would
be like trying to master a souffle before you learn how to
boil an egg.
Bu don't worry. You can watch a whole game without knowing if
someone's a nickel back. So for now, stay with learning to recognize
offense, defense, line and backfield. Unless and until you're
hankering to coach the Dallas Cowboys, that's really all you
need to know about football positions.
And remember: understanding the game is just a stepping stone. You'll see. Jumping from
football positions to football for lovers
is really gonna be a breeze!