Football “Cheat Sheet #2” Positions and strategy

Let’s dive deeper into football and learn positions and unique ideas at each spot. I want you to be able to talk about the game and learn about your own kid’s unique talents in this game!

Remember-

I have Part #1 – “Understanding the Game” and

Part #3 – “Talk the Game like a Pro” if you need it and are seeking more.

Positions

It might not seem like a fair term but typically players will be broken down into 2 general terms.

Lineman and Skills.

It’s sort of a misnomer, as lineman are very technically skilled, but that’s just the name. I can assure you the linemen are by no means offended by this at all. Linemen are happy to be the tough guys are are affectionately named “Meatheads, Big Guys, and Guys in the Trenches.” Linemen will spend a lot of time in practices grinding and working brutal practices of perfect techniques and tough guy ideas like blocking and pounding and overpowering the opposition.

Skills guys will spend their practice time perfecting routes, footwork drills, improving their ability to catch the ball, speed head positioning, and technical decision-making ideas. They spend about half their day in strategy sessions and perfecting routes and plays.

Offensive positions.

Linemen

I’m going to start with the big guys. The unsung heroes who may spend their entire career never touching the actual football that yet are the critical components of any football team. Football teams will win and lose on the backs of their lineman.

Because they aren’t the ones doing the actual scoring, they tend to remain in the shadows, but this sport was built for them. It’s the Battleground. The offensive lineman set the wall to allow the quarterback a few precious seconds to make a good pass and set the lanes and lines for the running back to find the hole to explode with the runs.

 If the offensive linemen are having a good day, the offense as a whole will have an easy time of it. If the offensive linemen are struggling, so is the team. 

I often hear parents in my clinic tell me their kid doesn’t have a crucial position because they don’t hear their name over the loudspeaker; however, the linemen have their own group Persona. More than any other position, they emphasize team over individuality and often are the heart and soul of the team.

There are three named positions for offensive linemen.

Center:  

Aptly named as he is in the middle.  This player snaps the ball back to the Quarterback each play. In my opinion, this is one of the most significant changes in position in the last 20 years of football and one of the coolest positions out there. Aside from having to have a perfect snap every play. Centers are often uncovered by a defensive player, and their role is to get down the field a few yards and trap one of the linebackers.    It sets up a second-tier wall allowing a running back to gain extra yards each play, often blindsiding the poor linebacker in his wake. You want to watch the center. There’s a lot of action that happens there.

Guard: 

On each side of the center is a guard.    The guard’s primary responsibility is to protect the quarterback during passing plays, allowing the play more time to develop. On running plays, guards will not simply drive forward but “pull” out to a side.   A Pulling guard is dangerous.   A big dude with a head of steam is like a Mack truck coming your way.   A good running back will follow closely behind, allowing the guard to pave the way for success and yards.   

Tackle:  

Outside of the guards are tackles.   These are typically the biggest guy in the game. They are essential for an offensive team because their position requires them to protect the quarterback from the most dangerous player on the defense. They have to be the biggest and typically the strongest with exceptional footwork to take a strong, determined defensive player given the task of getting to the quarterback while often moving laterally and even backward. It is an incredibly technical position, and aside from the quarterback, in the NFL, he is usually the second highest-paid player on the team.  Tackles don’t tackle.  They stop people from attacking.    

Calculating and Effective, the QB is the Captain of the ship.

Skilled positions:  

Quarterback:

The captain of the ship is the quarterback. This player will have the ball every single play. They will either hand it off to a running back, keep it themselves and try to run in a scramble or drop back and set up a pass. They are the strategist. They are The Playmakers. The quarterback must have crazy athleticism and a quick processing brain.  As there is constant decision-making, It is both the most crucial position, and the most pressure felt. They are the coaches on the field and have a tremendous amount to do with wins and losses. Much like a pitcher in baseball, a lot comes down to the quarterback’s performance.

 Running back:

 This player is usually set up very near the quarterback. As the name would imply, the ball is often handed off or thrown to them with a short pass. They are highly skilled and typically some of the strongest and fastest players on the team. They have to have the ability to hold onto the ball well and not be knocked down easily. They also have a vital role in blocking on a pass play to pick up anyone that might get through.

The running back is also the position you want to know because offenses will show multiple setups. For example, you will most likely be able to tell if the next play is a running play or passing play based on how the running back is set up or by noticing when there are multiple running backs in the same formation. Because of this, coaches often shift running back around as part of the strategy and trickery.

That’s Nelly right there jacking some poor fool. His man gets yards he needs and his team stays on the field!

My brother-in-law Nelly would never let me get away with leaving it like that. There are typically two types of running backs. The classic Half back or H-back and the Full Back. The full back, much like the classic style tight end is starting to be a bit more of a rare position. These are typically big athletic guys that have the job of getting a head of steam and creating devastating blocks.

They create giant holes and gaps and are utilized when a team needs to get that extra yard -either for a first down or a touchdown. Many teams will also sneak a full back out for a pass in a pinch, surprising the defense, which may have left him unaccounted for and uncovered.

 Receivers:

 These are the players that are typically split out away from the lineman. They are either on the line of scrimmage or just one step off of it. Typically, they are the players with great hands, catching the ball while moving, and tremendous speed. An excellent wide receiver can change a game. Another unique aspect of a receiver is that Frequently the coaches will set up a play to get the receivers in a one-on-one battle if a wide receiver has a speed, athleticism, height, or another advantage over the player covering him.  That is an opportunity that a promising quarterback or Coach can exploit for a big play.    Wide receivers may not get a lot of action in one game, but when they do, it is typically a crucial play with huge implications.

A wide receiver that can block down the field is an underlooked skill at this position. For example, during a running play, if the running back gets into the next level- one good block from a wide receiver can turn a 5-yard gain into a 70-yard touchdown!  Coaches see this and often choose wide receivers that put the team before themselves and will block.   Your kid may be a receiver but may play a perfect game, having not received the ball. This is a huge change in the game from a generation ago– blocking receivers are a commodity.

You may hear your kid talk about the positions: A, B, C, F, X, and Y.    These are specific wide receiver positions with particular roles; the letters designate where on the field they line up. 

Tight End:

 Much like the center position and blocking receivers have changed the face of football over the last 15 years, the tight end position has also changed tremendously. Like its namesake, the tight end used to be on the very end of lineman. Almost an extra tackle, typically used to block during run plays. And indeed, still today tight ends are often hybrid players, sometimes playing a wide receiver and sometimes playing as an extra lineman. The tight end is a huge part of how the formation is set up in the football strategy.   

But more often in the modern game, You often you cannot distinguish a tight end from a wide receiver as the modern game has much more passing than our grandad’s era.   In many coaches play books the tight end is listed with receivers.

Kicker:

The kicker is used primarily as a scorer for field goals and extra points and has a considerable influence on the final score of the game but also is often not given enough credit for trading field position. At the beginning of the game and after any score, the kicker is in charge of where the opposing team starts. Great field position equals great field success.

Punter:

 As I mentioned, if the O does not go for it on 4th down but instead wants to punt, this highly specialized player, typically only used for particular situations, comes on the field. For a punter, it is all about field position. Give the defense the best chance to stop the opposing team by pushing the ball back deep into their territory.   They are superstars if a punter can repeatedly get the ball into the opposing team’s 20-yard line. If they can do this inside the 10-yard line consistently, they can make a career of it.    Good punters can get up to 50 yards and sometimes more field position. Much like a lineman, they are unsung heroes who don’t get nearly the credit they deserve.

 As I mentioned many times, football has incredibly skilled and specialized positions. Each position will practice only those skills that are needed for their success. In most practices, these different positions aren’t even practiced together. They break out into individual groups.

So it is infrequent for any player to play multiple positions. Someone that is a skilled tackle would not be a prime running back or wide receiver. Not only did they not have the same skills needed for that position, but they often didn’t have the ability or time to practice that position. At times, you will see position changes among linemen, and constantly running backs and wide receivers may have interchangeable roles as part of their strategy. Sometimes, some athletes are so good at the high school level that they may be the kicker and wide receiver. But you don’t see this at the high levels.

Defense:

Linemen:

 Like the offense, the guys in the trenches on the defense are called linemen. Your kid will typically tell you they are an offensive lineman or a defensive lineman. The defensive lineman’s job is to create havoc.

In a passing situation, they are trying to get to the quarterback before he can pass the ball, and if they tackle the quarterback while he has the ball, that is called a “sack.”  A Sack for a defensive player is like a touchdown for an offensive player.  It is a huge play with tremendous implications and is typically celebrated fantastically!

A defensive lineman also will have some particular roles to play with positioning, often taking on two or even three players at one time to free up the players behind him to make the play.

They are typically listed as a defensive Tackle (inside) or End (outside) – Some teams run a defensive Nose Guard as well, who plays directly across from a center.

 Linebackers:

Linebackers are known for being exceptionally good-looking while at the same time, wreaking havoc on offenses.

As the name implies, these are the players behind the lineman. Just like the offense, there are many different positions that defensive coaches will throw out to confuse or trick offensive teams. Sometimes there are two, three, or even four linebackers. These are typically bigger, athletic guys who are fast and run all over the field expected to make most of the tackles. It is an important position because they are the run-stoppers on running plays and will drop back into pass coverage during passing plays.

In conjunction with their lineman in front of them and their defensive backs behind them, they will have set positions they are expected to be in during particular plays. One mistake in these positions can allow for a massive gain for the opposing team.

 Defensive backs:

 Much like there are multiple wide receivers on the offense, the defensive backs also have numerous unique skill sets yet are collectively called “d backs.”

Defensive backs are typically divided into Cornerbacks and Safeties. 

Cornerbacks are the widest playing defensive players on the team. (on the corner) These players often cover incredibly fast, capable wide receivers in a “one-on-one” fashion.  Usually, these are the fastest players on the team because the dependence on them is so strong. Aside from being able to cover fast players on a pass play the importance of an excellent cornerback to set a wall and turn running backs inside or make a tackle in open space is a major determining factor for more playing time.

Safety:   Matching up with the running backs on offense, typically there may be two or sometimes three safeties playing defense. Although their primary role is to stop passes and offer support for the cornerbacks, they have a huge role to play in stepping forward and stopping runs. Because they have no linemen in front of them, they often have some open space to get a head of steam and will offer devastating hits and tackles. It is a fantastic position because they have space, giving them an extra second –  the extra time allows for sound decision-making.  The safety is responsible for a lot of the interceptions and game-changing plays that happen in football.

A speedy and smart “Return Man” is a dangerous special teams weapon for any team.

Special Teams:

Aside from the kicker and punter, there are special team players for the specific special plays. There is a special Center called a Long Snapper, tailored lineman,  gunners,  holders, and Corner “attack” positions designed to block field goals, return men, and all kinds of different position setups, especially for the special teams. As I mentioned earlier, the Special Teams is often the first intro into the game for Field Time. The kids playing special teams are often the hungriest and we’ll scrap for every inch.  Special teams is unique, especially in the high school game because it’s often not the part of the game the coaches spend the most time on. These positions are incredibly critical however and as you work up to the ranks of college, better colleges and into the pros, these specialized positions become much more important and sought after. A good long snapper is an NFL career. A special punt returner may make millions.

There you go… positions!

Lets get just a few key tips in that will have you talking the game like a champ.

2 thoughts on “Football “Cheat Sheet #2” Positions and strategy

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