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A Comprehensive Guide to Football Positions

    In American football, players can take specific roles depending on the task at hand. These roles are classified under football positions useful for offense, defense, and particular kicking tasks. Teams are allowed a total of eleven players at any time, albeit with an unlimited number of substitutions, which are done during any “dead ball” situation (when the game is stopped for injuries or any instance when the ball is temporarily out of play.

    Task-specific football positions depend on the play style going on during any given instance during the game. The play styles offer a wide variety of football positions the players can take up. Let’s see how to get these football positions explained.

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    Football Position Names For Offensive Players

    Offensive play begins when the team in possession of the ball attempts to run towards the opponent’s line and score. Players taking up these football positions require unique attributes to get the job done.

    Offensive players have to block the defending players from reaching the ball, making open runs to areas with no nearby defenders for passes, and running to the touchline. This offers the following football positions up for the taking:

    1. Offensive Interior Positions


    The center begins to play from the scrimmage by snapping the ball to the quarterback. He plays at the center of the offensive line and is flanked by the offensive guard. This position is responsible for blocking defending players and adjusting the blocking assignments depending on the opponent’s defensive alignment.

    Offensive Guard

    Two guards line up right beside the center. Their job is to block all running and passing plays. Sometimes they can “pull” where they come out of their positions to block opponents intending to tackle a ball carrier. In such cases, the guard is known as the pulling guard.

    Offensive Tackle

    Two tackles play outside the guards. Their job is to block opposing players from running and passing. For a right-handed quarterback, the left tackle protects the quarterback from being hit, and this player is usually the most skilled player on offense.

    Occasionally, the tackles can “pull” where they charge at opponents trying to tackle the ball carrier to help the play advance toward the touchline.

    1. Backs And Receivers


    The quarterback receives the ball from the center to start the play. This is the most influential position because the team’s progress downfield depends on his success. He is responsible for receiving the play strategy from the coach and communicating it to the team.

    The quarterback may need to make on-the-fly changes to the intended play at the scrimmage start depending on the defensive alignment. The quarterback can start with any one of three positions near the center or some distance away.

    When he receives the ball while positioned in contact with the center, this is allied “under center.” Otherwise, he can start pistol formation, a short distance away, or shotgun formation a little further out. Upon receiving the ball, he can run the ball on his own, hand it to another ball carrier or pass the ball forward to a player further upfield.

    Running Back

    Running backs are positioned behind the offensive line and receive the ball from the quarterback to execute a rushing play. There can be one to three running backs or sometimes none (empty backfield). Depending on the flag football positions they start, running backs come in different varieties.

    • Half backs are usually the primary ball carrier on rushing plays. They may also catch passes and act as a safety valve when other receivers are covered.
    • Full backs are usually larger and stronger than half backs and primarily function as blockers. They line up near the scrimmage and block opponents for the halfbacks.
    • A wingback is one of the nicknames for football positions, referring to a running back lined up behind the scrimmage on either side of the offensive line. They are considered as a modification of the usual tight end position.

    Wide Receiver

    These are the pass-catchers and are usually tall and fast. Their main task is to run into pass positions and are occasionally called to block. They are typically lined up near the sidelines.

    A wide receiver directly in the scrimmage line is called a “split end,” and one lined up near the running backs is called a flanker. One lined up between the scrimmage and the outermost wide receiver position is “in the slot” and is called “slot receiver.”

    Tight End

    Tight ends are considered hybrid players because they function between a wide receiver and a lineman. Since they are near the linemen, they are usually called to block opposing players on running plays. However, since they are eligible receivers, they can also catch passes and advance the play forward.

    Depending on the style of play, the formation of offensive players can change on the fly. The number of wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends can change as long as there are seven linemen and four running backs.

    Defensive Player Positions

    Defensive play starts with the team that begins the game without possession of the ball. Their objective is to prevent the offensive team from reaching the touchline and win control of the ball for their team.

    They do this by intercepting passes, forcing an offensive mistake that offers them an advantage, and preventing them from achieving a first down (advancing more than ten yards into the opponent’s line. This creates a variety of football positions for players.

    1. Football Positions Names For Defensive Line

    Defensive linemen start directly on the line of scrimmage. There are two available positions

    Defensive Tackle

    Also called the defensive guard, defensive tackles play the center of the defensive line. Their function is to rush the passer and prevent running plays toward the middle of the scrimmage. The innermost defensive tackle lines up directly with the offensive center and is called the “nose tackle.”

    Defensive End

    Defensive ends line up outside the defensive line and attack the passer to stop offensive runs to the outer edges of the scrimmage line. The faster defensive end is lined up on the left (blindside) of a right-handed quarterback.

    Their stance distinguishes defensive linemen and ends. Linemen take a two-point stance (without hands touching the ground). Defensive ends usually take a three-point (one hand) or four-point (both hands) stance.

    1. Linebackers

    Linebackers play behind the linemen and take up various roles.

    Middle Linebacker

    This is the quarterback of the defense, as they primarily call the defensive play. They must stop running backs who make it past the defensive line, cover passing plays through the middle, and rush the offensive quarterback.

    Outside Linebacker

    Nicknames for football positions of this kind come in a wide array. Some teams have their linebackers in the same place at all times. Other teams have a strong and weak linebacker. The strong linebacker is lined up with the offensive tight end, and the weak linebacker is lined up with the side without a tight end.

    The strong linebacker is responsible for covering the tight end. The weak linebacker is responsible for rushing the quarterback in blitz play where a large number of defensive players charge at the quarterback to tackle him or force him to hurry his passes, losing his passing accuracy; increasing the odds of offensive fumble allowing the defense to possess the ball and start attacking.

    1. Defensive Backs

    Defensive backs play behind the linebackers or outside near the sidelines. They function to stop passing plays and are the last line of defense against running plays. They need to be good at open field tackles when the ball carrier runs past the defensive line.

    Typical defensive lineups include two cornerbacks and safeties though special arrangements can be made for nickelbacks or dimebacks when extra receivers are in the offensive play.


    Cornerbacks attempt to interrupt passing play by swatting the ball away from its intended receiver or catching the passes themselves. Their task is to contain the runners by tackling them on their own or directing them to the inside of the field to be tackled. They can as well force them out of the field.


    Safeties are the last line of defense and cover the corners from deep passes. The strong safety is usually the larger and stronger of the two and is lined up with the offensive tight end to protect against running plays by standing closer to the scrimmage. The free safety is the smaller and faster of the two coming in handy against extended pass plays.

    Nickelbacks And Dimebacks

    In certain situations, the defensive formation may change by removing some flag football positions like a linebacker or lineman to bring in extra pass coverage in the form of extra defensive backs. A formation with five defensive backs is called a Nickelback formation (five-cent coin), and the extra defensive back is called a Nickelback. A formation with a sixth defensive back is called a “dime back formation” ( ten-cent coin) because of a second Nickelback.

    Special Team Spots

    Sometimes teams need specialized players with unique skills and roles. These specialists are called upon during kicking situations and other unique instances during play. Kicking specialists come in different flavors so let’s have these football positions explained.

    1. Kicker- kickers handle kickoffs, extra points, and field goals. All these require the kicker to kick the ball off the ground either from the hands of a holder or off a tee. Some teams employ two kickers- one for field goals and extra points and another for kickoffs. Most, however, use a single one for both jobs.
    2. Kickoff Specialist- these are used only during kickoffs. Teams have this player when the kicker is not good enough at kicking off. This is quite rare, though, because of the limited roster slots.
    3. Punter- usually lined up behind the defensive line. His job is to drop kick the ball away from the defensive line as far as possible to force the offensive team to retreat but relinquishes the ball’s position from his team in the process.

    Other Special Team Positions:

    1. Holder- usually positioned about 8 yards from the scrimmage line. He serves as a backup quarterback for the punter as he has a good feel for the ball when the center snaps the ball to him. He helps keep the ball in place for the punter to kick when the weather or field conditions are not good enough.
    2. Long Snapper- these are like regular centers but are bigger and more athletic to snap the ball much further back for the punter as well as run down the field and try to tackle the return man
    3. Kick or Punt Returner- this is a player whose job is running down the field and catching kicked balls and running it back. They are usually the fastest players on the pitch and are generally wide receivers or cornerbacks.
    4. Upback- a blocking back who lines up behind the scrimmage in punting situations. Since the punter is usually further behind, the upback lets the center or long snapper when the punter is ready to receive the ball; they’re the last line of defense for punters and will occasionally receive the ball on fake punts then pass or run with it.
    5. Gunner- refers to a player who specializes in running down the field very quickly to tackle the returner. They usually line up near the sidelines where there are fewer blockers in the way.
    6. Jammer- these are players who try to slow down gunners during punts or kickoffs to allow the receiver to reach the ball in time.