Defensive Line 101


The offense and defense each have 11 players on the field at all times. Defenders use strategies and formations as often as the offense uses plays. Below are descriptions of each defensive position and how their roles affect the game.

  • Defensive Tackle (DT): These two players are on the inside of the “defensive line,” the first line of defenders. They usually stand opposite of the offensive guards. They are known to be the strongest players on the team, ideal for running through gaps in the offense towards the quarterback (QB) and disorganizing the offensive play.
  • Defensive End (DE): The two defensive ends are usually faster and smaller than the other defenseman. Their goal is to get past the offensive “blocks,” essentially a wall of offensive players preventing defenders from reaching the QB. They run on the outside to reach and tackle the QB or offense player with the ball. If the ball carrier is running downfield, the DE will herd them out of bounds or towards their teammates for a tackle.
  • Linebacker (LB): These players are the most reliable tacklers on the team. They stand behind the first line of defensemen and in front of the safeties. The LBs prevent passes and runs from getting through. A team can have anywhere from three or four LBs at once, depending on their defensive strategy. There are three types of linebackers: strongside, weakside, and outside.
    • Strongside Linebacker (SLB): Usually the strongest of the three, the SLB is there to get past offensive blocks. He lines up across from the offensive tight end (TE) or the most congested offensive side. Along with defending passes and runs, he will also occasionally be used to “blitz,” making a direct run at the quarterback to tackle him down.
    • Weakside Linebacker (WLB): This linebacker is the fastest of the three. His duty is to follow a pass and tackle the offensive player receiving or carrying the ball.
    • Outside linebacker (OLB): The OLB watches the outer offensive players to prevent them from moving the ball downfield. Like the SLB, he is occasionally called upon to blitz the quarterback.
  • Safety (S): There are “free safeties” and “strong safeties.” Both are located in the defensive backfield as the last line of defense.
    • Free Safety (FS): He focuses on the QB while analyzing the play unfolding. The QB is his man to cover, but he is usually protected by the offensive players in what is known as the “pocket.” In this case, the FS will double cover another offensive player running down the line.
    • Strong Safety (FS): The SS is usually bigger than the FS. He’ll stand across from the “strong side” of the offense where the most players are lined up. His two jobs are to stop the run and cover the pass.
  • Cornerback (CB): These players are on the widest ends of the defensive backfield. They stand across from the offensive wide receivers in order to prevent offensive passes and make tackles if the offense runs the ball. They have a big build and can move quickly. If a CB is good enough, he is known as a “shutdown corner,” when the quarterback recognizes that their offensive player is so well guarded by the CB that he will avoid making plays to that side of the field.

Article written by: Emma Rusnak


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