An American Football Running Back’s Job Description

In an American football game, a running back has a responsibility, or assignment, on every play. Running backs may have the toughest job on the football field because they have to not only know every play like a quarterback, but also make physical contact on virtually every down.

Here’s a rundown of a running back’s job description:

  • He’s an every-minute player. While he’s on the field, he never has a minute to let up, and he never has a chance to take a play off. He can’t afford to line up and merely go through the motions. When he doesn’t have the ball, he must follow through with his fakes and pretend that he has the ball.

  • On every play, he must know what down it is and how many yards the team needs for a first down. He must know when to lower his shoulder and go for a first down, and when to keep a drive alive by making a move and gaining a little extra yardage, helping his team move into scoring range.

  • He must know the time on the clock. He needs to know when to go out of bounds and when to turn upfield and gain extra yardage. Stopping the clock is critical when a team is behind in the score.

  • He must know the defense’s various alignments and then adjust his thinking to those alignments on pass plays and running plays. On a pass play, he must know the protection scheme because he may be asked to throw a block to give the quarterback time to pass.

  • He must know every play and all its variations. For example, on one running play, he may have to block a linebacker. But on the same play called against a different defensive front, he may be asked to block a defensive end.

  • On running plays, a running back must know the opposition’s defensive schemes. He needs to be able to predict which defender will be the first guy coming to make the tackle. Although this information may not be important to the runner carrying the ball, it’s valuable for the other back who’s asked to block on the play.

  • He must know every pass route called because he may be the first receiving option on a play. He must know the defense’s coverage in order to adjust his route accordingly. For example, if the linebacker goes out, he may have to go in, and vice versa.

    He must know how deep he has to get on every pass route so that he’s timed up with the quarterback’s drop. Because the quarterback may throw the ball before the runner turns to catch the ball, he must run the exact distance; if he doesn’t, the timing of the play will be messed up.

  • He must know every hole number in the playbook. A typical NFL playbook may contain between 50 and 100 running plays. The holes, which are numbered, are the only things that tell the running back where he’s supposed to run with the ball. The play will either specify the hole number or be designed for a specific hole.

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