Football fans everywhere love to watch their favorite teams play every week, but if you're new to the sport, it may seem very overwhelming to watch.
American football is one of the most unique sports in the world, because almost every player on the field has a different job, and if you're watching the game for the first time, you may have trouble fully understanding what's going on.
In this article we're going to cover all of the offensive football positions you're going to see when you watch an NFL game on Sunday or a college football game on Saturday.
Understanding Football Offense
Football offensive positions are incredibly specialized, with each person and position having a very specific job.
The goal of the offense is to advance the ball down the field, gaining field position, and eventually getting the football into the end zone. If they're unable to do this, they may still be able to kick a field goal if they are within their kicker's field goal range.
Take a look at the diagram of offensive football positions below for a visual guide to each position on the offense, and keep reading to learn more.
The quarterback is the leader of the offense. He will touch the football on every single play and needs to be able to make good decisions about who to throw it or hand the ball to.
On passing plays, the quarterback is responsible for analyzing the defense (before and after the snap), finding the open receiver, and throwing the football to him so he can catch it. This sounds like a simple job until you realize that once the ball is snapped and the play starts, the quarterback really only has about 3 seconds (at most) to get rid of the football before he's swallowed up by the defensive line.
On running plays, the quarterback has to execute the proper footwork in the backfield to avoid accidental collisions with other offensive players, and get the ball to the ball carrier (usually a running back) in the right spot so that they don't have to break stride and can hit the point of attack at full speed.
Calling an Audible at the Line of Scrimmage
If the quarterback sees a defensive alignment that he does not expect, especially something that could cause a potential problem with the play call, he can change the play before the ball is snapped. Some teams allow the quarterback to do this (usually at the college or professional level), and when they do, it's called an "audible".
For example, if the offensive team has a run play called, and the defense has a lot of defensive players lined up close to the line of scrimmage, the quarterback could decide to change the play call to a pass play.
Another situation that comes up a lot for the quarterback could be if he wanted to change one or more of the pass routes on a specific pass play for the wide receivers. For example if he saw the chance to get his best receiver the football in space against the worst player on defense, he may decide to change the pass routes. In this scenario the quarterback is not changing from a pass to a run play, he's just changing from one pass play to another.
Click this link for an even more in-depth analysis of the quarterback position in football.
The running back position has a lot of responsibilities, but it all starts with, you guessed it, the ability to run the football.
While his primary job is to carry the ball on rushing plays, the most dangerous running backs to defend are also very good at catching passes, as well as being able to block defensive players on both running and passing plays.
A running back needs the ability to get the ball from the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage and follow the blocks of the offensive linemen in front of him to get yardage and move the offense forward. This is not always a clean and simple task, since the middle of the field is crowded by lots of offensive and defensive players, so the running back has to have a mix of patience and toughness to be able to find the open gap for the run and attack it to move the offense forward.
The running back also needs to be able to actually hold onto the ball as big strong defensive players are trying to take it away from him. He accomplishes this by holding the football correctly, and also covering it with two hands whenever he's about to run the ball in a situation where he's going to have to make contact with a lot of defenders in a short yardage situation.
Click this link of an even more in-depth analysis of the running back position in football.
The tight end position is one of the most versatile positions in football. He's a mix of a wide receiver and offensive lineman. This player usually has a bigger body than typical wide receivers, but also spends a lot of time playing next to the offensive linemen and blocking defensive players.
He needs the right mix of athleticism, toughness, size and pass catching ability, because the best tight ends are asked to do a little bit of everything.
Because of their blocking ability, many defenses watch where the tight end lines up in the offensive formation before deciding which way to line up. If the offense is going to call a running play, the tight end is usually going to be involved in a very important spot, whether he's blocking straight ahead or heading in the opposite direction to open up space for the running backs.
On the other hand, on pass plays, he'll be asked to run pass routes and get open for the reception, or at least create space for someone else to get open.
Attached Tight Ends vs Sniffers
Tight ends are usually split into a couple of different categories: "Attached" tight ends and "Sniffer" tight ends.
A sniffer tight end is a player who usually plays off the line of scrimmage, is put in motion before the snap a lot by the offense, and is used partially like an old school fullback who blocks for the run play. This position is also sometimes referred to as an H-back.
The sniffer is not just a blocker, since he can catch a lot of passes as well from his position, but he excels at blocking and enjoys the physical nature of the job, so the offense can use him to create an advantage for the run game.
Attached tight ends are slightly different. While they are also responsible for blocking, the number of tasks they're asked to do are smaller, and they're usually much more of a vertical threat to go down the field and get open on pass plays.
They are called attached tight ends because in their basic alignment, they are "attached" to the offensive line, lining up right next to the offensive tackle on the line of scrimmage. Still, other times they will be split out like a wide receiver and used as another potential threat to catch passes.
The tight end position is an extremely versatile position on offense, and a great tight end makes an offense especially difficult to defend.
Click this link for an even more in-depth analysis of the tight end position in football.
The offensive line is usually overlooked by the fans, but this position group is actually just as important as any of the others, and many would say the offensive line is the most important group on the offensive team. After all, if you can't block the defensive tackles or defensive ends, you'll never be able to run any plays at all.
The offensive line consists of five offensive linemen, two offensive tackles, two offensive guards, and a center, and in the next few sections we'll talk more in depth about each of them. However in this section we'll cover the similarities between all three positions.
Offensive linemen are responsible for blocking on running plays and passing plays, either getting in the way of defenders trying to get to the quarterback, or clearing a path through the defense for the running back behind them.
While it's true that offensive linemen are usually some of the biggest guys on the field, it doesn't mean that they're not athletic. (Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid likes to joke that when he started playing football as a kid, they put all the big guys who could run on the defensive line, and all the big guys who couldn't run they put on the offensive line.)
Still, in order to play the offensive line position well, you need to be able to match up with guys who may be faster and quicker than you at the line of scrimmage.
Almost every formation in football has five offensive linemen, and most of the time these guys are not allowed to catch a pass. In certain special situations, an offense may decide to bring in other offensive linemen to add extra muscle up front and create more blockers for the run game, but in most situations there are only five of them.
Click the link for an even more in-depth analysis of the offensive lineman position in football.
Offensive Tackles play out on the outside of the offensive line, and they are responsible for blocking the defensive linemen, especially the defensive ends, lined up across from them. The left tackle position in particular is incredibly important, since most quarterbacks are right handed and have their back turned to the left side of the line of scrimmage, so the left tackle is responsible for protecting the quarterback's "blind side" when he drops back to pass.
On the other hand, traditionally the right tackle has been thought of as more of a run blocker, though often times there is not really much difference between the two.
Click the link for an even more in-depth analysis of the offensive tackle position in football.
Offensive guards play in between the center and the tackle on both sides of the offensive line. These guys are usually involved in more "double team" blocks with the offensive lineman on either side of them on either running plays or passing plays.
They are also more likely to "pull" on run plays, meaning that instead of blocking the defensive lineman right across from them, they will first move in either direction horizontally before engaging another defensive player who was not within reach of their initial alignment.
Click the link for an even more in-depth analysis of the guard position in football.
The center plays right in the middle of the offensive line, and he's the only player on the football team who touches the ball on every single play, other than the quarterback. The center is usually considered the "captain" of the offensive line, since he has the best viewpoint right in the middle of the offense to make sure the rest of the offensive players at the line of scrimmage are aware of any potential issues from the defense.
For example, if the middle linebacker starts to walk up to the line of scrimmage before the snap, the center will let everyone know and make sure they see him, so that the offense can make any necessary changes before the play begins.
Click the link for an even more in-depth analysis of the center position in football.
The first job of the wide receiver is to catch passes from the quarterback. Wide receivers who can run routes and catch passes well will never have trouble getting on the field during the game.
A good wide receiver does not necessarily need to be the fastest guy on the field, but he does need to be able to change direction quickly, and create space for himself whenever he's matched up against a defensive back or a linebacker in coverage.
The best all-around receivers are also players who block for the run well. Receivers don't always enjoy blocking, because it's a lot less glamorous than catching passes and scoring touchdowns, but a receiver who is a great blocker can make an offense extremely tough to defend.
Different Types of Wide Receivers
Just like other positions on this list, there is more than one kind of receiver. A lot of coaches start by dividing up receiver types into three main categories:
Split End / X Receiver
Flanker / Z Receiver
The Split End (or X receiver as it's called in most playbooks) is usually a bigger bodied receiver who can play physical. The X is typically lined up directly on the line of scrimmage, so he's much closer to defensive backs who are lined up across from him and trying to press or disrupt his release.
The Flanker (Z receiver) is usually someone who may not be quite as big or physical but has a lot of speed. He may be just as good of a pure receiver as the X, but since he will usually line up about a yard back off of the line of scrimmage he won't have a defensive back who can reach out and bump him as easily coming right off the line. Legendary receiver Jerry Rice had trouble beating press coverage early in his NFL career, which is why his coach Bill Walsh put him at flanker to make his job easier.
The slot receiver is usually a smaller bodied receiver than the previous two types we discussed. He will line up inside of the formation, usually about halfway between the outside receiver and the offensive tackle. This part of the formation is called the slot, thus the term 'slot receiver'. Slot receivers are responsible for getting open underneath and across the middle, and have to be able to beat a defender like a safety or linebacker lined up across from them by being quicker than them.
Click the link for an even more in-depth analysis of the wide receiver position in football.
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