The Complete Guide to the Defensive Tackle Position

Posted by Throw Deep Publishing Staff on

Modern offenses in football place a high value on throwing the football, and utilizing speedy playmakers to generate successful football plays. With this being said, you may ask, where does the typically bigger, slower defensive tackle fit into the game of football?

While the game evolves, the answer is unchanging, as defensive tackles play a critical role in stopping the run, and putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Their job is blue-collar and hard-nosed, and their effort is one that often doesn't match with flashy stats and recognition.

Whether it’s swallowing up double teams, batting down a pass, or coming up big in 3rd and short situations, defensive tackles are a centerpiece to defenses looking to establish the tone upfront.

What does a Defensive Tackle do?

In the run game, defensive tackles are one of the biggest factors in stopping opposing offenses from running the football. As offensive coordinators game-plan in the run game, their primary focus is finding favorable leverage and numbers advantages to run at. However, as any football coach will tell you, the talent – or lack of talent of your players overrules the importance of scheme. Defensive tackles have a prime opportunity to take advantage of this.

No matter how good of a run scheme the offense draws up, defensive tackles making big plays through quick backfield penetration, shedding a block to make quick tackle, or chasing down a ball carrier, are an elite piece to forcing the offense to resort to moving the ball through the air.

As they line up in the interior, they will face a barrage of double teams in the run game. Their battle in the trenches is one that isn’t always one that shows up on the stat sheet, as the willingness of defensive tackles to fight double teams all game long looks to free up second and third level defensive players to fill downhill and make tackles.

Defensive Tackles
While defensive tackles are known for their run-stopping prowess, their role in rushing the passer provides value as well. As many offenses utilize zone protections, with their running back getting involved if needed, defensive tackles are far less likely to have a 1 on 1 matchup in rushing the quarterback. They must operate in a small space when pass rushing, as centers and guards typically have help in some capacity.

Defensive tackles' big, heavy frames are less built for making fancy moves rushing the quarterback as their teammates at the defensive end position. But this doesn’t mean quarterback sacks are out of the equation – but are rather well earned from defensive tackles due to their path in the trenches they must take to get to the quarterback.

As quarterbacks and defensive coordinators will tell you, equally important is their willingness to take up double teams to free up edge rushers, as well as getting backfield penetration in any manner disrupting the quarterback.

Why is it called the Defensive Tackle?

Defensive tackles line up in the interior of the defensive line with the defensive ends outside of them. The exact origins of the term are unclear, but it developed over the decades from a nose guard, to the most common name for the position being a defensive tackle.

This is different from the offensive tackle position in football, who lines up on the outside of the offensive line, on the other side of the ball.

What are some other names for the Defensive Tackle?

Abbreviation: DT

A defensive tackle can also sometimes be called a Nose Tackle or a Nose Guard, especially if they line up over the center, in the middle of the defensive line, much like your nose is located in the middle of your face..

What are the Skills and Body Type needed to play Defensive Tackle?


Body Type: (General Estimate)
Height- 6’2-6’4
Weight- 300-335 Pounds
Build- Thick, Sturdy

Defensive tackles typically display a more compact, dense figure than that of their teammates at the defensive end position. Battling in the trenches all game long, their big bodies are built to handle the physical demands of the game in the interior.

Who are some of the best Defensive Tackle ever?

Aaron Donald (2014-Present) – Winning his first Super Bowl title in 2022 with the Los Angeles Rams, Donald is already considered one of the best defensive lineman of all time. To date he has received a record 3 NFL defensive player of the year honors, as well as being selected to the Pro Bowl in every single year of his career.

"Mean" Joe Greene (1969-1981) - Greene was a dominant force for a dominant Pittsburgh Steelers team throughout the 1970’s. His efforts helped propel the franchise to 4 Super Bowl titles in that timeframe. Piecing together many other accolades, Greene was a 2x NFL defensive player of the year, along with being selected to 10 Pro Bowls.

Mean Joe Greene

Why is the Defensive Tackle so important?

The battle in football games truly starts up front. The grueling work of defensive tackles sets up the entirety of the defense up for success causing havoc throughout the entirety of the game.

Their work in rushing the passer is huge in throwing off the rhythm of opposing offenses.

The quicker a defensive lineman can get in the backfield or affect the quarterback in any manner, he is able to lessen the amount of time linebackers and defensive backs have to sit back in coverage.

With this, it frees up defensive coordinators to call a simple game. In other words, if a defense can get pressure on the quarterback without sending extra players on a blitz, they can use those same players in pass coverage and cover up the space where the quarterback could find an open receiver.

A similar theme exists in the run game, as elite defenses are able to defend the run with lighter boxes. Whether it’s handling their gap responsibilities, getting penetration into the backfield, or swallowing up double teams, defensive ends are tone setters upfront for the defensive unit.

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