I hope you had a chance to enjoy some of the great football that was on this past weekend. I know I did!
Full Moon Over Cleveland Brown Stadium
Today’s post provides a broad overview of the make-up of a football team. Basically, every team has three parts: an offense, a defense, and special teams. The offense is responsible for scoring, the defense is responsible for preventing the other team from scoring and special teams are involved in the various facets of the kicking game.
11 men on the field per side
A team is only allowed 11 men on the field, regardless of which part of the team is on the field at a given time. Originally, a team of 11 men “played both sides of the ball,” ie., the same men played both offense and defense. Over time, that practice changed so that, instead, different people, for the most part, play on the offense and defense. By contrast, offensive and defensive players often play on special teams; the only position reserved exclusively for special team formations is that of the kicker.
There are three basic parts to an offense (and this is greatly over-simplifying things, but everyone has to start somewhere!)
The Offensive Line
First there is the “offensive line.” The offensive line are the five men that you always see on TV lined up in front of the quarterback. Their job is to protect the quarterback and the ball, and to move people on the other side around where necessary (by tackling them or blocking their way) in order to allow the offense to move the ball forward. Where there is a championship team, you will find a (usually unheralded) championship caliber offensive line.
Second, there is the receiver’s corp. The receiver’s corp is simply the people who are wide receivers. The wide receivers’ main job is to catch the ball when it is thrown to them, but they also need to be able to block people, run the routes the quarterback expects them to run, and exhibit a certain amount of showmanship to convince the defense that the ball will be thrown to that receiver on each play.
Backfield - quarterback and running back
Third, there is the backfield. The backfield is where the quarterback always is. Most of the time, there are at least one or two running backs in the backfield too. (Hence the term “backfield.”) The quarterback is the leader of the offense, while the running backs perform at least two functions: running the ball forward when called upon to, and blocking for other people when needed.
The defense also consists of three parts.
The first and second lines of defense are the defensive line. The defensive line is basically a two tiered formation. Depending on the preferences of the head coach, there either will be 4 defensive players (called linemen) directly on the line and 3 defensive players (called linebackers) filling in the gap behind them, or 3 defensive players (still called linemen) directly on the line and 4 defensive players (still called linebackers) filling in the gap behind. Those seven players make up the defensive line. Their job is to make sure that the ball does not go past them. Whether they accomplish that by blocking, by rushing (ie., running very fast at and hopefully tackling) the quarterback or the running back or the wide receiver depends upon the particular play they are facing at any given time.
Defensive Lineman and Linebackers
Besides the seven players that make up the defensive line, there are four more players that comprise the “secondary.” The secondary basically is the last line of defense against scoring if the line is not able to stop things. Members of the secondary include the cornerbacks and the safeties. Cornerbacks generally are matched to wide receivers; their job is to disrupt the play if the quarterback attempts to pass the ball to the wide receiver they are covering. The safeties provide extra help where needed. The free safety is usually the true last-ditch defense against the “Hail Mary” type long touchdown pass while the strong safety provides extra support close to the line.
The term “special teams” refers to all of the different formations used in kicking situations. To try to keep our “three” theme, we will think of special teams as being used in three situations: kicking for scoring, kick-offs after scoring, and punts.
The field goal unit is the special teams unit that is used when a team is trying to score a field goal or an extra point. The person responsible for kicking the field goal is called, logically enough, the field goal kicker. He kicks the ball after it is hiked to the quarterback, and held upright on the ground by the quarterback. The offensive line in this situation is built to keep the defensive players away from the kicker.
Place Kicker Kicking Off
The placekicker is the person who kicks the ball off to the other team after either a touch down or a field goal. He is called a placekicker because he kicks the ball from a tee where it is placed. There is no need for a holder. This time, the line surrounding the placekicker is spread out across the field horizontally and a little behind the kicker. Their job is to prevent the other side from running the ball back towards the goal line after the kick is recovered.
The punter is the person who kicks when a team reaches its fourth down and knows it is extremely unlikely that it will 1) make its ten yards, 2) make a touchdown or 3) kick a field goal. In this situation, the ball is hiked directly to the punter, who catches the ball then drops it and kicks it almost simultaneously. The punter’s job is to kick the ball as far in the other direction as he can. The line’s job in a punting situation is two-fold. First, the line must keep the other team away from the punter so that the punt is not blocked, and second, if the punt is successful (as they usually are), the line also must keep the other side from running the ball back any significant distance. (After a team scores a safety, the other team must do a “free-kick” back to the safety team – a free-kick is basically a punt, only done after a safety from a specified yardage.)
Time to Wrap It Up!
So, to wrap up, a team is made up of an offense, a defense and special teams. The offense consists of the offensive line, the wide receivers and the backfield, while the defense has defensive linemen, defensive linebackers and the secondary. Finally, special teams are used in kicking situations, which arise out of attempts to score, kick-offs after scoring, and punts.
Until next-time, enjoy your games!