The NCAA Football Bowl Games and Playoffs are behind us, the NFL Conference Championship Games and Super Bowl are close upon us, and the height of football games - and game-watching parties - are upon us. What I have noticed recently, however, is that there are a large number of people, including college students, who don't know much of the game of football beyond the names of a few players on their favorite team, what the positions are, and that Peyton Manning is on Papa Johns and Nationwide commercials.
And so we're going to begin today a brief miniseries covering the ins and outs of football strategy in relatively broad strokes. I would like to note now that if you have absolutely zero knowledge of football to the point where words like "linebacker," "line of scrimmage," and "touchdown" have little to no meaning for you, I would like you first to tell me who your high school gym teacher was so they can yelled at, and then head on over to Wikipedia; once you've done that, you should be able to come back here and read; but for the purposes of this article you need at least a working knowledge of the game.
To begin, let's take a look at the most basic unit of football - the men on the field. We'll start with the offense.
The Quarterback (QB): There is probably nobody more important on the team than the QB; originally nothing but a passer, the position has evolved in the last 20-25 years to become the mastermind of the offense, required to read defenses, call audibles, and put the offense in the best position to march down the field and score. Developments at the high school and college levels in recent years have seeped into the pros, leading to an increased number of QBs who are threats in the running game as well, such as Russell Wilson.
Halfbacks (HB) and Fullbacks (FB): Together known as the Running Backs (RB), these are the guys primarily responsible for running the football, as their name might suggest. Generally speaking, the Halfbacks tend to be the primary ballcarriers while the Fullbacks serve as the lead blockers, although in short yardage situations the FB often gets some carries; on passing plays, both may either go out for a pass or serve as a blocker, depending on the particular play and whether or not the defense calls a blitz. Generally speaking, FB are larger and more physical than HB, and thus better blockers; Halfbacks on the other hand come in a variety of sizes and shapes, from large and imposing power backs to small and nimble speed backs.
Wide Receivers (WR): When playing pickup games with friends, just about everybody played WR, because that's just what people did, so I'm not going to go into too much detail here. Like HB, receivers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they can generally be categorized into three types - Outside Receives, Slot Receivers, and Red-Zone Receivers, and come in two varieties - big-play and possession receivers. Generally speaking, Outside Receivers tend to be taller and faster than Slot Receivers, while the shorter Slot Receivers play on mismatches across the middle; Red-Zone Receivers require height and large hands to catch jump balls on Fade routes in the end zone. Big-play receivers are guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant, guys who need to be double-covered all the time because of their skill, while possession receivers are the guys who are not normally the QB's first read on a play but whose talent are needed to move the chains, advance down the field, and score points.
The Offensive Line (OL): Arguably the least famous every-down guys on the football team but also among the most important, the OL consists of five guys, who are (from left to right) the Left Tackle (LT), Left Guard (LG), Center (C), Right Guard (RG), and Right Tackle (RT). Symmetrical - pretty convenient to remember. And for the most part, just remember to give the unit some credit when the RB has wide open lanes to run through and the QB has all the time in the world to throw; beyond that, nobody expects you to know the ins and outs of their job, and indeed not even many hardcore fans know the names of the linemen on their team, or even what it means when a guard pulls, or things like that. It's not a glamorous job, but someone's got to do it, and these guys do it well.
Tight End (TE): These big fellas are a cross between a Possession Receiver and an Offensive Lineman. Blockers on run plays and some pass plays, these guys are more and more becoming key playmakers in the passing game as major threats across the middle. Big enough to block linemen and hard for defensive backs to take down, Tight Ends are quickly becoming the favorite targets of many QBs across the league, and are especially prominent in West Coast-style offenses (to be covered in a later article).
And with that, we have finished with the offense and now move onto defense. Due to the various defensive schemes and the wildly different personnel used in each, we are going to discuss the defensive players (especially linemen and linebackers) in very broad strokes, as we will expand upon them when we discuss defensive fronts.
Defensive Linemen (DL): Standing opposite the OL, these guys are big and are responsible, along with the linebackers, to stop the run and rush the passer. It looks extremely straightforward to us, but anyone who has played football knows the speed and agility required by these huge men. Line the OL, they come in multiple varieties - Defensive Ends (DE) and Defensive Tackles (DT), the latter of which has a subgroup, the Nose Tackle (NT), used in 3-4 sets.
Linebackers (LB): Just like RB and TE, Linebackers are the jack-of-all-trades on defense. They stop the run; they rush the passer; they drop back in coverage. There's a reason the Middle Linebacker (MLB) is often the "Quarterback" of the Defense, responsible for adjusting the play at the line based on what the offense sends out there. They are typically smaller than DL but larger than cornerbacks and safeties, and are the backbone of the 3-4 defense. Again, these guys who be covered in more detail when we discuss defensive fronts.
Cornerbacks (CB) and Safeties (S): These defensive backs are often some of the smallest guys on the team and whose primary job is to defend the receivers by dropping back in coverage. Oftentimes, these guys will be small but fast, able to keep up with receivers; safeties, as the last line of defense, are also among the best tacklers on the teams. Not much to say about these guys to be honest...
And there we have it, that's the general layout of the football team. Next time, we're going to move on to Offensive Philosophies and Defensive Fronts; as of now I'm not sure if that will be one article or two, but in any case, you'll find it right here on River Ave U.