Football has many positions from which to choose. A game of football is a game of defense and offense. Defensive position is what you play in the defensive half of the field.
Offensive position is the one that plays in the offensive half of the field. On our Football blog, we cover defensive and offensive positions, football terms, NFL news, stats and more.
What are the Defensive Positions in Football?
In American football, the team that doesn’t have the ball and is trying to stop the other team from scoring is on defense. When defending, the defense, like the offense, can have 11 players in different spots on the field at the same time.
In football, there are three main kinds of defensive players: defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs.
In this picture, the white-clad players show how defensive linemen are usually lined up closest to the ball and the line of scrimmage.
Most of the time, the defensive backs are the ones who are the farthest back and to the sides of the field. The linebackers are usually next or to the side.
The defensive line has two types of players: the tackles, who are the players closest to the ball, and the ends, who are the players who line up outside the tackles. Most of the time, these defensive players are the tallest and heaviest ones on the field.
As you can see in the picture, players in a three-point stance crouch down and put one hand on the ground. In a four-point stance, both hands are firmly planted on the ground.
Some defensive formations have two ends and two tackles, and the single tackle in these formations is called a nose tackle or nose guard. In a defensive formation, when there are two tackles, they may be called the “nose tackle” and the “under tackle,” respectively.
Especially in leagues for younger players, it’s not unusual for a defense to have five or more defensive linemen.
A defensive line could be made up of two ends, one nose guard, two defensive tackles, two guards, and two tackles, or players in positions with similar names.
As you can see in the picture above, one of the main jobs of defensive tackles and defensive ends is to stop the offense from rushing the ball.
They do this by either standing their ground against offensive blocks or breaking free from them and tackling the offensive player carrying the ball.
The main job of defensive linemen is to put pressure on the quarterback whenever the offense tries to throw.
That is, they try to sack the quarterback, which means they tackle the quarterback before he or she throws the ball or get close enough to the quarterback to stop the throwing motion.
In the next picture, the defense is putting pressure on the quarterback when he has the ball (the players in yellow jerseys).
Linebackers are the most important part of the second line of defense. Outside linebackers are the two linebackers who are the farthest from the middle of the field. They might line up right behind the defensive ends, a little to the side, or even outside the defensive ends on the line.
Behind the offensive and defensive lines, a defense can use either one middle linebacker or two inside linebackers.
Outside linebackers may line up in three-point stances when they are on the line and outside the defensive ends, but the vast majority of linebackers take their positions standing straight or slightly hunched, as shown in the image below.
The linebackers’ jobs depend on the defensive strategy and the offensive play call. The middle linebackers and inside backers are most concerned with stopping the ball carrier.
Depending on whether or not the offense runs the ball, the defense must decide whether to rush the quarterback, cover a receiver, or defend a certain area of the field.
Even though 3-4 defenses (three linemen and four linebackers) are common, outside linebackers in these formations are much more likely to rush the quarterback than their counterparts in other defenses.
The middle linebacker, who is sometimes called the “inner linebacker,” is usually bigger and slower than his outside counterpart.
Which side of the field an outside linebacker plays on depends on how the offensive players are lined up. This is called the strong side or the weak side. Depending on where they play on the field, these players are called strongside linebackers or weakside linebackers.
They may also be called “Sam” and “Will” linebackers, or “Mike” and “Ted” if there is only one middle linebacker and two inside linebackers.
Using these rules, an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system who is good at rushing the quarterback could be called a “Jack” linebacker.
Most defenses have defensive backs in the secondary. These players are often the shortest and fastest on the field.
Cornerbacks are on the outside and can be anywhere from close to the line of scrimmage to 10 to 15 yards back (about 9.1 to 13.7 m). Most of the time, the safety positions are in the middle or deepest part of the defense.
A defense usually has two cornerbacks and two safeties. If their jobs are different, one safety may be called “strong” and the other “free.” Everyone knows that free safety mechanisms work faster and better than their more sturdy counterparts.
If the defense thinks the offense will mostly throw the ball, they could switch out some linebackers or defensive linemen for more defensive backs. The fifth defensive back on the field is called the nickel back, while the sixth defensive back is called the dime back.
Most defensive backs are experts at stopping passes, but they may also rush the quarterback, and strong safeties may be asked to stop runs. In the picture above, the guy in the gray shirt is an example of a defensive player who is trying to stop an attacking player from passing the ball.
As the receiver tries to catch the ball, the defensive player may try to distract him or make him drop it. When the offensive player catches the ball, like in the picture below, the defensive player will often try to tackle him as soon as possible.
The cornerback’s main job is to cover the wide receivers on the other team and pick off any passes that are thrown to them.
To cover receivers well, cornerbacks often need to be very fast and agile. This is because they have to be able to react to the receivers’ every move as they run their throw patterns.
Depending on the matchup, safeties may have to watch out for the other team’s running backs, wide receivers, and even tight ends. In double coverage, a player helps another player cover a receiver by helping them cover the receiver.
When the offense tries to pass, defensive backs and linebackers are sometimes told to defend certain areas of the field, called “zones,” when the offense throws the ball. In man-to-man coverage, a defensive back follows a single receiver no matter where he or she goes.
In zone coverage, a defensive back is in charge of covering any receiver in the area of the field that is assigned to him or her.
The defense will often switch between man coverage and zone coverage, or the other way around, to confuse the offense. Some defenses will use one or the other more than the other.
It’s not unusual for the defense to try to confuse the offense by switching one of their players’ positions. When defensive players, usually linebackers or safeties, rush up to the line of scrimmage before the start of a play to make a more direct and quick charge through the offensive formation, this is called a blitz.
This player can also act like they’re going to blitz to throw off the other team’s attack. A safety could also be lined up near the linebackers to help the team’s run defense. In some defenses, a player who moves around the field a lot is called a “rover” or “bandit.”
In football, players who play defense need more than just the right size, speed, and other physical skills. They also need the right mindset. Defensive players have to actively go after the ball and the person who has it so they can make a tackle or steal the ball.
As you can see in the picture below, a defensive player in a dark jersey hits a quarterback right after the quarterback throws the ball.
They also try to hit or tackle offensive players as hard as they can. A hard hit can hurt, but it can also make an attacking player lose control of the ball and let the defense take it.
Some football leagues make players in each defensive position wear uniforms with a certain number. This makes it easier to see where each player is on the field. The numbers 50–79 can be worn by the defensive line, and the numbers 90–99 can be worn by the secondary.
Linebackers can wear numbers 50–59, and defensive backs can wear numbers 90–99. But, unlike some offensive players, a defensive player is not penalized for switching positions or wearing a different jersey number at any time during a game.