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Football Players' Roles in Team Offense and Defense

Whether on an offensive or defensive line, each player in a football lineup has a specific job to do. Each player/position has a specific role to play. The offensive positions are shown in the lower half of the following figure, and the defensive positions are shown in the upper half. The offense and defense face each other across the line of scrimmage.

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The line of scrimmage is simply the spot on the field from which the football is hiked.

The figure shows the 4-3 defense (a four down linemen and three linebacker scheme) lined up against a strong-side-right offense. These lineups are common in the NFL, as well as at other levels of football.

Football offensive positions

The offense's primary job, as a team, is to move the ball down the field and score — either by touchdown or kicking a field goal. There are other ways to score as well, but those are primarily left to special teams. Within the offense, the functions are divided among these key positions:

  • QB = quarterback: The leader of the team. He calls the plays in the huddle, yells the signals at the line of scrimmage, and then receives the ball from the center. Then he hands off the ball to a running back, throws it to a receiver, or runs with it.

  • C = center: The player who snaps the ball to the quarterback. He handles the ball on every play.

  • RB = running back: A player who runs with the football. Running backs also are referred to as tailbacks, halfbacks, and wingbacks.

  • FB = fullback: A player who’s responsible for blocking for the running back and also for pass-blocking to protect the quarterback. Fullbacks, who are generally bigger than running backs, are short-yardage runners.

  • WR = wide receiver: A player who uses his speed and quickness to elude defenders and catch the football. Teams use as many as two to four wide receivers on every play.

  • TE = tight end: A player who serves as a receiver and also as a blocker. This player lines up beside the offensive tackle to the right or the left of the quarterback.

  • LG and RG = left guard and right guard: The inner two members of the offensive line, whose jobs are to block for and protect the quarterback and ball carriers.

  • LT and RT = left tackle and right tackle: The outer two members of the offensive line.

Football defensive positions

The defense's primary job, as a team, is to keep the offense from scoring — by tackling members of the offense, intercepting the ball, and generally preventing the offense from moving the ball close enough to their goal to create a scoring opportunity. Within the defense, the functions are divided among these key positions:

  • DT = defensive tackle: The inner two members of the defensive line, whose jobs are to maintain their positions in order to stop a running play or to run through a gap in the offensive line to pressure the quarterback or disrupt the backfield formation.

  • DE = defensive end: The outer two members of the defensive line. Generally, their jobs are to overcome offensive blocking and to meet in the backfield, where they combine to tackle the quarterback or ball carrier. On running plays to the outside, they’re responsible for forcing the ball carrier either out of bounds or toward (into) the pursuit of their defensive teammates.

  • LB = linebacker: The players who line up behind the defensive linemen and generally are regarded as the team’s best tacklers. Depending on the formation, most teams employ either three or four linebackers on every play. Linebackers often have the dual role of defending the run and the pass.

  • S = safety: The players who line up the deepest in the secondary — the last line of defense. There are free safeties and strong safeties, and they must defend the deep pass and also the run.

  • CB = cornerback: The players who line up on the wide parts of the field, generally opposite the offensive receivers.

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