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Youth Football Position Assignments Definition

Youth Football 101 - A Beginners Guide

This article will give you information and help you to a basic understanding of the positions in youth football. First and foremost you should understand that not every kid playing football will get injured. In fact, football at the youth level is similar to other sports with regards to injury risk. Yes, they are going to be running, hitting and tackling but with proper technique football can be enjoyed without injury. 

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get started on the benefits of football for young athletes.

Football is a game of team work, discipline, determination and dedication. It is very difficult for a young athlete to do well in football without putting in the necessary conditioning, practice and studying of the plays. The more a coach can motivate his players to perform at their best the greater chance of success the team will have. I'll take a team of energetic hard working kids over a lazy athletic team any day of the week and usually come out on top.

Football, more than any other game requires all team members to be focused and to understand their responsibilities on every play. If a lineman misses a block, the play can be broken up before it gets started. If the snap between the center and quarterback is not completed smoothly the play is over. If a player misses an open field tackle, the result could be a touchdown.

The beauty of the game is that with hard work, discipline and determination a team can have a very rewarding season. I'm not talking about wins and losses. I'm referring to a season where upon completion the players feel a sense of pride and accomplishment regardless of the team record.

As a parent and a coach it is very important to remember that this is a tough game and some kids will not enjoy it. I remember my first year playing at 10 years old and riding home from one of the first practices with pads, telling my mom that I wanted to quit because it was too difficult. My mom was always very encouraging and suggested I give it a few more days and if I still felt the same way that I could quit. I continued playing for 8 more years and I am confident that the experiences I learned in football developed my determination, drive and work ethic.

As a parent of young player, it is critical that they enjoy the game. Your role is one of being the ultimate cheerleader. You must encourage and support your young ballplayer regardless of their performance and outcome. If you have played the game, you know the difficulties it can present. If you've never played the game, watch a complete practice and understand that carrying around 10 pounds of gear while you run, catch, tackle and block is not easy, especially for a young player.

If you want to help your son become better at the game, throw the ball around with them in the yard, even if you've never played. Let your young player show you what they have learned. Have them teach you what they are being taught by their coach.

It is also very important that you let the coach do his job and try not to influence where your son plays. If you believe your child has an aptitude for a different position, have your child ask his coach if he could get a chance to play that position in practice. Most good coaches will give kids a chance to play just about any position, unless your child exceeds a weight restriction for a particular position. If you feel your sons coach is not cooperative to your son read our guidelines on how to communicate effectively with your coach here.

It's important to understand that the more positions your child plays as a youngster the better they will become as they mature. They will have a better understanding of the game. If your child is a lineman at 10 years old, doesn't mean he will play that position as they mature and grow. Some kids love playing the line, while others want to be the quarterback, running back or wide receiver. Others will desire to play linebacker, defensive line or defensive back.

As a general rule here are the typical requirements for most youth football positions. This is certainly not a steadfast guide, but more of a loose translation of what most positions require for a player and team to be successful.

Offensive Positions:

Quarterback - Must be able to think quickly, have quick feet, a decent arm throwing the ball and a good understanding of the game. This is usually the leader of the offense.

Running Backs - Typically are some of the faster kids on the team, but also has to be tough. At the youth level the running back will take a lot of hits as the linemen learn to block. Some teams have two running backs, where others will have one running back and one fullback. The fullback is usually not as fast as the running back and typically plays a role of lead blocker and short yardage back.

Receivers - Good speed and the ability to catch the ball is typically required, and they must be able to block in the open field. They are also called Split End, Flanker, Wide Receiver or X/Y.

Linemen - Normally the bigger kids will play the line. The Offensive line is a critical component for a team to succeed. If your child does not like the line encourage him to work hard because without a good line the chances for team success are very slim. Make no mistake, the offensive line is not glamorous, but it is very important. The center is probably the most important position on the field. If he can't snap the ball to the quarterback effectively you have no offense.

Tight Ends - This is a position for a very athletic kid who can block and catch the ball. Typically tight ends will block much more than catch the ball. However, having a tight end that can catch can be a dangerous weapon for an offense.

Defensive Positions:

Linebackers - Linebackers are typically the kids who enjoy tackling and contact. They must be a good athlete who can run, read if the offensive play is going to be a run or pass and be able to react quickly. Linbackers must be good at tackling to be effective. They are typically the leaders of the defense unit. They are normally designated with the following names depending how they line up; Sam (strong side), Will (weak side) or Mike (middle).

Defensive Line - Just as critical for a teams success as the Offensive line. If an opponent cannot run or pass the ball because of stellar D-Line play, you have essentially shut their offense down. Nose guards, defensive tackles and defensive ends are all part of the D-Line.

Defensive Backs - They are Cornerbacks and Safeties.

The Cornerback is responsible for the sides of the defensive backfield. They usually help with run support on sweeps, or offensive plays which are ran towards the sidelines of the field. A Cornerback should have decent speed and be able to cover receivers when they are going out for a pass.

The Safety is either Strong or Free. The Strong Safety typically plays a little closer to the line of scrimmage for run support and most likely is one of the best athletes on the defensive unit. It is good to have a player with above average speed and who likes to tackle AND can defend the pass playing Strong Safety.

The Free Safety usually plays what I call "center field" for the defense. He is typically the furthest from the line of scrimmage and the last line of defense if the offense alludes the other defenders. The Free Safety does not need to be a good hitter, but he should be one of the fastest players on the team. The free safety is typically asked to keep the receivers from the other team in front of him to prevent a deep pass and possible touchdown against the defense.

Special Teams

Special teams are when you are not running your standard offense and defense. They are made up of the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return. You may also have a field goal and field goal blocking squad. All four of these squads within a team can make or break a team. With poor coverage on the kickoff the opponent can take the ball in for touchdown and make for a very long day. Good coaches will make time during practice for special teams. Special teams is also an opportunity for kids who don't play a lot on offense or defense to get playing time. If your child is predominantly a special teams player have them own the experience and do their very best. Good plays on special teams will often lead to a chance to play more on offense and defense. 

Kickoff - This is the team that starts the game or after scoring a touchdown by kicking to the opponent. Having a good kicker and coverage by the kicking team is very important. Each player is assigned a lane of coverage to prevent the return team from getting the ball into good feild postion or all the way to a touchdown. Usually better tacklers are on the kickoff team and kids who are fast runners.

Kickoff Return - If your coach wants to start the game on offense or the opposing coach wants to start on defense you will receive the ball to start the game with your return team. If the other team scores a touchdown or kicks a field goal you will have the ball kicked to you. Normally the good ball handlers will be deep on the field to return the kick and good blockers will be up front. The middle is the best mix of blockers and guys who can handle the ball. It is important to make sure you protect the ball and block effectively when on the kickoff return. Running a kickoff back for a touchdown is one of the most exciting plays in football. Players cannot block belwo the waist on kickoff return.

Punt - On fourth down and long yardage many coaches will punt. This isn't always the case at the youth level, but it will be when they get older. A good punt squad will be able to both block and tackle. They will have to block when the ball is snapped to the punter then tackle after the receiving team has the ball. Having a good punter can also make the game difficult on the opposition by punting the ball deep into your opponents side of the field. Covering punts is a difficult task at the youth level because at a young age it is hard to consistentlay kick the ball deep which makes it more difficult to make the tackle and the potential to give up a big return or touchdown.

Punt return - This is usually your defense on fourth down. Often coaches will sub in other players for playing time who may be better blockers than tacklers because before the ball is punted you are on defense, but after it is punted you are now on offense and trying to move the ball up the field. Normally there will be one kid who is likely the team running back or receiver who will field the punts. It is critical that this player be able to handle the ball very well and have speed. It is the other players responsibility to block for the guy with the ball. Players cannot block below the waist on a punt return.

Good coaches will spend ample time on all three elements of football and provide an experience that will teach your child much about teamwork, discipline and hard work. 

If you're new to the game this should help you get started understanding the game, positions, and their responsibilities.

Please This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you have any questions regarding the positions and the game in general.

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Ever since I first got into football coaching, I have wanted a dictionary of football terms. There are some in the backs of some older books, but they are never comprehensive. So I am going to create one here on this Web page. I will try to add a definition a day because it’s a massive project and pays me nothing.

Another problem is that football is a Tower of Babel in many respects. Some words mean different things at different teams. For example, many coaches feel they can pick their own name for some positions, most commonly linebackers. They call them “stud” or “monster” or “rover” and so forth. Often a term is only used at one team. This is dumb and I wish they would stop doing it, but I am not going to hold my breath. So in that sense, this will have to be a multi-language dictionary.

In addition to clarifying the meaning of various football terms and football slang, this will also help coaches spell and punctuate them correctly. Embarrassingly for guys who call themselves “educators,” many coaches do not know how to spell or punctuate their own specialty’s terminology.

Football coaches as a group have a public image of being ignorant or even morons. Unfortunately, there is too much truth to that image. Coaches who object to that image need to read through this dictionary to make sure they are not contributing to it. Among the most common and devastating to coaches’ reputation as intelligent people mistakes are the many malapropisms in the profession. According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, a malapropism is,

a ridiculous misuse of words, especially through confusion caused by resemblance in sound

like calling a “shovel” pass a “shuffle” pass or misspelling “sight” adjustment as “site” adjustment or “back pedal” as “back peddle.”

Just reading this list of definitions will go a long way toward turning a beginning coach into one who understands the game.

If you see an error in this dictionary. Please tell me what it is by sending an email to me at johnreed@johntreed.com. If there is a term that is missing that you think should be included, please tell me at the same email address.

I call this “American Football” because this is the World Wide Web and in most of the world the word “football” refers to what Americans call soccer.

American Football Terminology Dictionary

Use of hyphens— Hyphens are widely used in football terminology. Generally, when two words are used as a single adjective, you must hyphenate them. Examples include “one-yard line,” “go-ahead touchdown,” “third-quarter drive,” “seven-year career,” and “end-around play.” Also, hyphens are used for compound verbs like “double-team” or “triple-team.”


0 techniquedefinition When he was a high school coach, Bum Phillips invented a clever way of numbering the alignment of defensive linemen. Bear Bryant is often given credit for this incorrectly. How do I know this? Bear Bryant told me on page 29 of his book Building a Championship Football Team. I must add that many football coaches garble his system by assigning slightly different numbering, probably unknowingly. I will also add that there was a lot more to Bum Phillips’ system than just alignment numbering. He had the linebackers on each side call out numerical alignments for the defenders on their side before every play. Certain combinations were forbidden as unsound. Each change in the defensive line configuration required a complementary change in the alignment of the linebackers behind them. The best explanation of the system is in Bryant’s above-mentioned book. I think it is cumbersome terminology. The word “technique” suggests a way of battling with an offensive lineman. But it’s just where the defender aligns in relation to the offensive linemen before the snap. Some coaches other than Phillips also add a zero to the number to indicate that it refers to the alignment of a linebacker. In most systems, a 0 technique would mean a nose tackle aligned nose-to-nose with a center. A 00 technique would mean a linebacker lined up nose-to-nose with the center, only several yards off the line of scrimmage. Because there are more than ten possible alignments, Phillips screwed up using numbers instead of letters. Had he used letters, every conceivable alignment could have been covered by a universal version of this way of identifying defensive line alignments. Since the letters A through D are already used for gap identification, I would identify the various shades starting with E and I suggest the following improved terminology:

Alpha = A gap
Bravo = B gap
Charlie = C gap
Delta = D gap (just outside shoulder of tight end
Echo = nose of center
Echo strong = strong shoulder of center
Echo weak =weak shoulder of center
Foxtrot = inside shoulder of guard
Golf = nose of guard
Hotel = outside shoulder of guard
India = inside shoulder of tackle
Juliet = nose of tackle
Kilo = outside shoulder of tackle
Lima = inside shoulder of tight end
Mike = nose of tight end
November = outside shoulder of tight end

I am using the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie,…) instead of just the letters (a, b, c,…) for the same reason the military and others do: to prevent confusion between letters that sound similar like B and D.

I prefer the words “strong” and “weak” to “positive” and “negative” to designate strong or weak sides because of fewer syllables and because there is no need to invent additional words for strong and weak.

1 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 1 technique was in the middle of the A gap. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology. For example, at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA where I coached from 2003 to 2005, a 1 technique meant that the nose of the defensive lineman was on the inside shoulder of the offensive guard. Furthermore, the strong-side techniques were referred to as “positive” while the weak-side techniques were referred to as “negative.” For example, a positive 1 technique meant a defensive lineman who was aligned with his nose on the inside shoulder of the strong-side offensive guard.

2 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 2 technique was nose-to-nose with the offensive guard. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology. For example, some coaches refer to the strong-side techniques as “positive” while the weak-side techniques “negative.” See the discussion under 1 technique above.

3 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 3 technique was in the middle of the B gap. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology. For example, at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA where I coached from 2003 to 2005, a 3 technique meant that the nose of the defensive lineman was on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard.definition

4 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 4 technique was nose-to-nose with the offensive tackle. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology. For example, at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA where I coached from 2003 to 2005, a 4 technique meant that the nose of the defensive lineman was on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle.definition

4i techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, there was no 4i, however many coaches wanted to align there so they invented the 4i terminology. A 4i technique usually means that the nose of the defensive lineman is aligned on the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle.definition

5 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 5 technique meant that the defensive lineman had his nose on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology. For example, at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA where I coached from 2003 to 2005, a 5 technique meant that the defensive lineman was nose-to-nose with the offensive tackle.definition

6 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 6 technique was nose-to-nose with the offensive tight end. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology. For example, at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA where I coached from 2003 to 2005, a 6 technique meant that the nose of the defensive lineman was on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle.definition

7 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 7 technique meant the defensive lineman had his nose on the inside shoulder of the offensive tight end. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology. For example, at Monte Vista High School in Danville, CA where I coached from 2003 to 2005, a 7 technique meant that the nose of the defensive lineman was on the outside shoulder of the offensive tight end.definition

8 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 8 technique meant that the defensive lineman was aligned on air outside the outside shoulder of the offensive tight end. Some coaches make slight, but important-to-understand, changes while seemingly using the same terminology.

9 routedefinitionIt varies from team to team. Generally, a 9 route would be a deep route because most teams number their routes from short to deep. But I cannot tell you whether the route would break inward or outward because some teams use odd numbers for inward-breaking and others use odd numbers for outward-breaking routes. The three most common deep routes would be a skinny post, a post-corner, and a go or streak. So it’s probably one of those. You cannot use such terms except within the context of one team where they have a prescribed route tree that specifies what their 9 route is.definition

9 techniquedefinitionposition where defensive lineman is located before the snap. In the original Bum Phillips’ version (See definition of 0 technique above) of this terminology, a 9 technique meant that the defensive lineman has his nose on the outside shoulder of the offensive tight end.definition

10 techniquedefinitionsame as 1 technique only at linebacker depthdefinition

20 techniquedefinitionsame as 2 technique only at linebacker depthdefinition

30 techniquedefinitionsame as 3 technique only at linebacker depthdefinition

40 techniquedefinitionsame as 4 technique only at linebacker depth

46 defensedefinitiondefense designed by Buddy Ryan at the Chicago Bears and named after the jersey number of Doug Plank, generally it has more than the normal number of pass rushers and the pass defenders are in man pass coverage, there are a number of books available on how to run it, often mistakenly called a 4-6 defense

50 techniquedefinitionsame as 5 technique only at linebacker depth

60 techniquedefinitionsame as 6 technique only at linebacker depth

70 techniquedefinitionsame as 7 technique only at linebacker depth

80 techniquedefinitionsame as 8 technique only at linebacker depth

90 techniquedefinitionsame as 9 technique only at linebacker depth

two-digit offensive personnel package terminology (I learned this from Pat Kirwan’s excellent 2010 book Take Your Eye Off The Ball. the bold numbers in the left column are the only ones in Kirwan’s book and he apparently limits it to those because they are common in the NFL but other combinations are used at the lower levels and still other combinations are unused but could be)

only first two column numbers are spoken in the name of the package; the number of receivers outside the box is 11 minus the sum of the first tworunning backs (align behind TE or interior lineman; QB does not count)tight ends, wingswide receivers align outside tight end or weak tackle (slots, SEs, and flankers, maybe with one non-SE in motion at the snap)
Total must be 5 so subtract from 11…this number plus this numberto get this difference between 11 and the number of backs and tight ends
possible combinations0, 1, 2, 30 e.g., double slot, 1 e.g., pro set, 2 e.g., ace, 3, 4, 50, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
00 no-back 005
01 ditto014
02 e.g. double tight 023
03 032
0404 double-tight double wing1
05 no back with 5 TE-type personnel at TE and wings050
10 one-back104
11 ditto113
13 double-tight with a wing131
14 double-tight, double-wing140
20 two-back e.g., veer split backs203
21 e.g. pro set212
30 full-house backfield e.g., T, full-house I, power I, wishbone302
32 full-house double-tight320


100%definitioneffort level demanded by coaches who majored in math or science

110%definitioneffort level demanded by coaches who majored in physical education

11-man offensedefinitionoffense in which there is no quarterback, like the single wing or the quarerback frequently runs the ball, like the triple option or one in which the quarerback frequently blocks like the indirect snap double wing; the NFL Wildcat offense in an 11-man offense; my book The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense has a chapter just on 11-man offenses

1-5-5 defensedefinitionone down lineman, five linebackers, and five defensive backs all align close to the line of scrimmage before the snap; after the snap three or more rush and the oters drop into zone pass coverage; prevents offenses from selecting an efficient protection scheme based on the pre-snap alignment of the defense, a.k.a. radar or psycho defense

3-5-3 defensedefinitionhigh school and college defense videos and books on which have been heavily promoted in the 2000s; associated with New Mexico Military Academy

4-3 defensedefinitiontypically used in college or pro play, the name is roughly descriptive, for details get one of a number of books on the defense; at the pro level, whether to use the 4-3 or the other common pro defense, the 3-4, appears to be a function of whether the team has more defensive linemen-type players or more linebacker-type players

4-6 defensedefinitionmis-punctuation of the 46 defense also known as the Bear 46 defense; the defense was named after Chicago Bear Doug Plank’s jersey number, not the number of linemen and linebackers it has; This mistake is so widespread that Coaches Choice publishes a book by Leo Hand called 101 Bear 4-6 Stunts. There is no such thing as the Bear 4-6.

7-on-7definitioncompetitive passing drill involving no interior linemen other than the center; features offensive team consisting of C, QB, and receivers versus defensive team of defensive backs and linebackers


Adefinition1. the gap between the center and offensive guard 2. the running back in a one-back offense.

Acedefinitionone-back, balanced, offensive formation with two tight ends, two flankers, and one running back who is aligned behind the quarterback and center

Adjustment change in the approach of a team or player during a game as a result of less than satisfactory success with the original approach; also changing defensive alignment in response to offensive shifts or motions; the ability to make during-game adjustments is a must for all football coaches; many who do well in the first half but not the second are manifesting an inability to make appropriate adjustments definition

Against the graindefinitionsuperfluous description of the direction a ball carrier goes when he cuts back to the opposite side from the side he was originally running toward as in, “he cut back against the grain”

Agilitiesdefinitionshort for agility drills; drills commonly used by position coaches during the 10- to 20-minute position-coach period at the beginning of most football practices; the theory behind them is that agility is a desirable football skill and agility drills make players more agile; I do not believe the drills make players better at football to any significant degree; rather, they make the players better at doing the agility drill in question; I would appreciate hearing about any scientific study that proves any football agility drill pays a game-day dividend worth the practice time it takes; I suspect the real reasons for the widespread use of agility drills are they fill practice time and look footballish, that’s the way it’s always been done, the logic that agility drills increase agility seems correct, a number of companies make and/or sell products for agility drills and therefore have financial incentive to encourage belief in their efficacy, many coaches are afraid to deviate from football group norms because it increases the probability they will be blamed for losses; doing the same as every other coach enables coaches to subtly blame the players for losses, e.g. “someone needed to make a play but no one did;” I believe that agilities should never be used and that the practice time saved is far better spent on learning assignments, blocking techniques, practicing reading defenders and throwing passes, option reads, and so forth; carioca is an agility drill, as are running through tires (now ropes or a ladder), running around large hoops on the ground, etc.; may be the best you can do at the college level in the off-season when more productive activities are prohibited by rule

Airdefinitiona vacant area of the football field. For example, if a cornerback remains aligned out wide from an offensive formation even though there is no offensive player there, he is said to be aligned “on air.” Except for a wide-side defensive contain man aligning on air to improve his chances of stopping the sweep play, aligning on air is generally incorrect and unsound; it is sometimes appropriate to practice only against air; e.g., Oregon found they could not practice their vaunted screen plays against their own scout defense because they got too good at reading the play early; my 1996 Granada High School team had the same experience with our inside-trap plays

Alleydefinitionarea between the cornerback and the box and safety definition

Alley oopdefinitionhigh trajectory pass to a receiver who can out-jump defenders; originated by Niners quarterback Y.A.Title throwing to receiver R.C. Owens

Alligator armsdefinition same as T-rex arms

Arc blockdefinitionrunning-back inward block on a defensive contain man or linebacker; the word “arc” refers to the blocker taking a somewhat circuitous route to the blocking target, that is, he initially moves outward then comes back in to make the block; the running back’s path to the block is roughly a half circle; such a path often causes the defender being blocked to conclude prematurely that the running back does not plan to block him

Area blockingdefinitionoffensive blocking scheme in which blockers are assigned to block whomever comes into a particular area of the field; not synonymous with zone blocking which is a particular scheme defined below, although many coaches confusingly still use “area” and “zone” interchangeably; a blocking scheme in which blockers are assigned to protect an area of the field instead of being assigned to block a particular defender (man blocking); area blocking is common in wall kick returns and pass protection; I recommend an area-blocking scheme I call wall blocking for most youth football plays because most youth linemen are unathletic kids who will quit all sports by age 13 and area blocking with small splits is about all they can be expected to succeed at

Arrowdefinitionoutward pass route along a path about 30 degrees from the line of scrimmage

AstroPlaydefinitionnew artificial turf laid over a drainage area; has long blades of “grass” that are surrounded by sand or rubber particles that simulate dirt only without the mud or lack of drainage; eliminates the complaints about earlier Astroturf; only problems I have seen are that players sometimes slip when cutting off their inside foot and surface is hot on warm, sunny days; may be cost effective replacement for natural grass because of lack of watering, painting lines, mowing, reseeding, 24/7 availability, vast superiority to natural grass when wet; has some maintenance like need to repaint hash marks (yard lines and numbers are embroidered using “grass” blades made of white plastic), repair tears, refill with sand or rubber particles periodically; this type of synthetic surface is the rule in new installations in the Twenty-First Century; in 2005, for the first time, every game, home and away, our high school team played was on this type of field

AstroTurfdefinitionan artificial grass invented in 1966 for the Astro Dome which could not grow natural grass because it was indoors; a plastic carpet laid over a mat and asphalt base; very hard and therefore fast but caused burns on the skin of players when they slid on it; originally product of Monsanto Corp.; now owned by AstroTurf Industries, Inc., widely used from the late sixties through the nineties; still covers many football fields around the U.S.; generally replaced by Astro Play and FieldTurf in new installations in the Twenty-First Century

Athleticismdefinitionathletic ability, but it’s a dumb word; the suffix “ism” generally refers to a belief system like atheism or Communism, a condition like alcoholism, or a behavior pattern like heroism or colonialism; all three of these categories of “isms” involve behavioral choices made by a person or group of people; none refer to natural ability or any other inherent characteristics; there is no word where the suffix “ism” means “ability” or an extraordinary presence of its root prefix, in this case, the word “athlete;” what the guy who coined the word athleticism was searching for was “athleticity;” “icity“ or “ity” are suffixes designed to convert an adjective into a noun like “ethnic” to “ethnicity” or “elastic” to “elasticity;” not that I’m pushing for the word “athleticity;” like “athleticism,” it has five syllables; I recommend we stick with “athletic ability” in spite of its seven-syllable length, although I would welcome an intelligent, shorter word for it; for those who claim football people are illiterate morons, the use of the word “athleticism” is further evidence they might be right

Audibledefinitionverbal play called by a quarterback at the line of scrimmage before the snap; the call is made in order to take advantage of a weakness sighted in the defense or to get out of a previously-called play that is contraindicated by the pre-snap defensive alignment; most teams that use audibles also have their quarterback call dummy audibles that mean nothing in order to prevent the defense from being able to tell when an audible is being called; can take as long as seven seconds which has clock-management implications (see my book Football Clock Management for far more detail)

Awsonimitydefinitionword invented by Leo Hand, author of Attacking Football Defenses With Radar Blocking to describe the period between the end of one play and the snap for the next; actually he defines is as the time between breaking the huddle and the snap but since there is not always a huddle but there is always awsonimity, I am modifying his definition; Hand feels this is an extremely important and difficult time for the defense if the offense takes advantage of it and gives the defense as little time as possible to see what formation they will be in; he also feels, and I agree, that offenses fail egregiously to take advantage of their control over this time period


Bdefinition1. the gap between the offensive guard and tackle 2. letter used to designate linebacker in a diagram of a defense

Back numbersdefinitionnumbers one to five to designate running backs; most commonly, 1 is the quarterback, 2 is the tailback, and 3 is the fullback; on some teams, 4 and 5 are used to designate different alignment locations for the fullback or a fourth back; e.g., 3 might mean back directly behind the quarterback; 4, offset behind the left tackle; and 5, offset behind the right tackle; in some systems, 5 is the QB; in some, the offset numbers refer to strong or weak sides rather than left or right; a common play-naming system would number the running backs from 1 to 5 and attach the hole number to complete the play, e.g., 26 would be the 2 back (tailback) going through the 6 hole (right side off tackle)

Backpedaldefinitionrunning backward; correct technique requires keeping shoulders over the toes and pumping arms as when running forward; used by defensive backs and linebackers in initial steps of pass coverage at many teams; correct technique facilitates changing direction quickly; leaning backwards is faster but unsound because it only allows very slow changes of direction; stopwatch timing of backpedaling requires that coaches make sure that the backpedalers are not leaning backward in order to gain speed at the expense of acquiring the unacceptable bad habit of leaning backward

Backpeddledefinitionmisspelling of backpedal

Back shoulderdefinitionthe shoulder of a closely-covered receiver that is farthest from the defender covering him

Back sidedefinitionthe side of the center away from which the ball carrier is going; also called “off” side

Baildefinitionmovement in which a pass defender aligns as if to bump a receiver then quickly drops back when the snap occurs

Balancedefinitionball carrier ability to resist getting knocked down when hit by a would-be tackler

Balanced linedefinitionan offensive line with a guard and tackle on each side of the center

Ball controldefinitionplay calling designed to get a first down rather than a bigger gain

Banjodefinitionpass-defense technique; definition fuzzy; seems to relate to two defenders covering two defenders according to a pre-arranged rule like, “I have whichever one who goes out, you get the one who goes in;” Tom Bass says it is when two defenders cover one receiver and divide the coverage between in and out or short and deep; may be used to deal with two receivers who come off the line close together then one breaks in and the other out crossing paths to hinder straight man coverage; having both such receivers break in or out tends to screw up the banjo plan

Base blockdefinitionoffensive line block in which the blocker pushes the nearest defender away from the point of attack; normally used in bubble dive, bubble lead, and power plays where the C gap is not occupied by a defender

Base defensedefinitiondefensive alignment used most often by a team; may also have a personnel dimension to it; often used when the offense has 1st & 10; their “default” defense when they are not sure what to do; other defenses are typically defined by the coach in question as modifications of the base defense; an offense that operates at a hurry-up tempo typically hears the opposing coaches and linebackers yelling “Base! Base!” because they do not have time to call a different defense between plays

Bear defensedefinitionsee 46 defense

Bellydefinitionnoun: another football term that has come to mean different things namely an option play or an inside zone play; in Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packer offense, it was a fake fullback dive right, halfback dive left with the halfback taking a jab step to the right before running to the left A or B gap bubble depending upon the movement of the defensive tackle; the left guard was to use Lombardi’s whichever-way-he-wants-to-go blocking technique on the defensive tackle and the halfback ball carrier was to read that block and “run to daylight;” verb: to run a path that goes slightly backward and away from the line of scrimmage before coming back toward the line of scrimmage as in a swing pass route

Bench routedefinitionsee flat

Bend-don’t-break defensedefinitiona defensive alignment and personnel group that is optimized to stop long plays and weaker against short runs and passes; the theory behind this is that while it is theoretically possible for an offense to four-yard a defense to death, few offenses can remain mistake-free during such a short-play drive and will be forced to punt as a result of their own penalties or occasional loss or inadequate-gain plays; in fact, offensive coaches can minimize penalties and loss or inadequate-gain plays by the way they design their plays (avoid deep plays like reverses), play calling (avoid passes), and simplification like always snapping on one, a tactic used by Auburn coach Terry Bowden in his undefeated season there; against such an offense, the bend-don’t-break defensive strategy is slow suicide

Big-on-bigdefinitionmatchup principle applied to offensive blocking schemes and defensive assignments; basic idea is that only bigger players should have to grapple with the opponent’s bigger players; e.g., offensive linemen block defensive linemen or linebackers cover tight ends; also abbreviated as BOB; usually used in conjunction with fast-on-fast or FOF

Billdefinitionname used by some coaches for weakside linebacker

Bird doggingdefinitionquarterback fixing his eyes on the receiver he intends to throw to the entire time between the snap and the pass to that receiver; makes it too easy for the pass defenders to tell where he is going to throw

Blind sidedefinitiona) quarterback’s non-throwing-arm side; when set to pass, he faces the sideline on his passing-arm side and has his back to the other side preventing him from seeing a rusher coming from that direction; in the NFL, the offensive tackle who plays on a quarterback’s blind side is considered extra important during pass plays; b) any hit that comes from an area not being looked at by the player being hit

Blitzdefinitionnow means rushing across the line of scrimmage immediately after the snap by a defender other than the defensive line; originally “blitz” and “red dog” or “dog” had similar but different meanings; blitz referred to a rush by a defensive back and dog to a rush by a linebacker; author-coach Gaylord Bellamy said a blitz was a seven-man rush while a dog was a six-man rush (a seven-man rush is unsound because there are not enough defenders left to cover all the zones or all the eligible receivers—unless the man to be covered by the defender in question remains in the offensive backfield blocking in which case the defender might as well join him, but he’d better not forget he still has to cover that receiver if he goes out for a pass) George Allen used the two terms interchangeably; Tom Flores defines dog or red dog as a rush by a linebacker, but he defines a blitz as a rush by either a defensive back or a linebacker; too many coaches see their propensity to blitz as proof of manhood; in fact, it is a tactic that is necessary when your base defense linemen cannot get adequate pressure on the quarterback; if your defensive line can get adequate pressure in the quarterback, blitzing is an unnecessary, limiting, and unwise complication for your defenders

Block tackledefinitionpoor tackling technique, i.e., not wrapping the arms around the ball carrier, rather, trying to knock the ball carrier down with nothing but a shoulder block

Bombdefinitiondeep pass

Bootdefinitionshort for bootleg; also short for counter boot, a play in which the offense fakes a counter play followed by the quarterback rolling out away from the play fake and throwing a pass; typically, the pass pattern includes a tight end or fullback who blocks the boot side contain defender for one or two counts before running a flat pass route (delayed release)

Bootlegdefinitionroll out by a quarterback who is pretending he does not have the football; so called because some coaches taught their quarterbacks to hold the ball with one hand on the back of their hip or thigh to conceal it from the defense

Bouncedefinitiona) movement by a ball carrier who finds his original planned point of attack clogged and changes direction to attack a new point of attack b) now disfavored warm-up movement, although you would never know it when you see virtually every football team on earth do jumping jacks as part of their warm-up

Boundarydefinitionthe side of the offensive formation where the distance from the ball (before the snap) to the sideline is shortest, as in “the X will always align to the boundary when we are in this formation;” also known as the short side

Boxdefinitionnoun: an area on the defensive side of the ball that is generally bounded horizontally by the interior offensive line and vertically to a depth of about five yards from the line of scrimmage; archaic use meant the back four players in the old seven-box defense. In that defense, there were seven defensive linemen and four guys behind them arrayed in the shape of a box, that is, two guys shallow and two deep; verb: a technique in which a defensive contain man proceeds straight to the depth of the ball carrier in the offensive backfield then turns inward to face that ball carrier and/or his lead blockers; if the defender in question does not make the mistake of giving ground or being blocked out of the box position, it is all but impossible to run a sweep successfully against this technique. Use of the box technique prevents the contain man from helping with the off-tackle play so another player must defend that play. Generally, a coach would only use the box technique on the wide or field side of the offensive formation. In youth football, the wide-side sweep is generally the main play of the best teams. For details on using the boxing technique at that level, see my Gap-Air-Mirror Defense for Youth Football

Break the planedefinitionThe plane is the playing-field-side edge of the the goal line. If the “plane” were made of glass, a TD is scored when the glass is broken by the forward tip of the ball before the ball carrier's knee or butt or shoulder or something other than his hand or foot hits the ground. The plane is where the pane of glass would be.

Broken Idefinitionsame as offset I formation

Brush blockdefinitionblock in which the blocker just brushes against the defender as he passes by him; sufficient when the ball carrier is moving at a high rate of speed just behind and off to the other side of the blocker; I had the fullback use a brush block against the linebacker in 26 power because I found that was all we needed, plus a harder block by the fullback tended to make the fullback shoot his foot backwards to brace himself and that he often tripped the tailback in the process

Bubbledefinitionportion of the defensive line where there is no defensive lineman; typically the gap in question is the responsibility of a linebacker who is two or more yards behind that location; best point of attack for dive, lead, or power plays

Bubble screendefinitionscreen-pass play in which an offensive player initially aligned in the offensive backfield, including a wing or a tight end, immediately runs outward while a screen of blockers is formed by wider receivers

Buckdefinitionold-time word for a running back running straight into the line; now called a dive play

Bucket stepdefinitionfirst step of an offensive lineman or back in which he steps at about 4 o’clock or 8 o’clock; purpose is to begin moving toward the sideline; backward angle is to clear away from an adjacent player in the case of a lineman or for timing purposes in the case of a back, same as kick step

Buck lateraldefinitiona series of plays within the single wing offense; buck lateral plays involve the upback or blocking back executing an about face when the ball is snapped then receiving a handoff from the original ball carrier as that player fakes diving into the line; the blocking back who now has the ball can lateral to another back, pass, or run the ball to a point of attack other than the hole to which the original ball carrier went; very deceptive; when my readers and I have run buck lateral plays the ball carrier was often well downfield before the defense, officials, or cameraman had any idea who had the ball; Princeton coach Charlie Caldwell was the one most identified with the buck-lateral series, but almost all single wing coaches run it; there are a couple of buck lateral plays in my Single-Wing Offense for Youth Football

Bulldefinitionto put the bottom of the back of the helmet against or near the back of the neck opening of the shoulder pads as in “bull the neck;” extremely important positioning to prevent serious neck injury during a collision

Bumpdefinitionpass coverage technique in which the defender aligns on the inside shoulder of the receiver and immediately strikes him when he first moves; designed to prevent or delay the release of the receiver on a pass route; all called press, tight coverage, or bump and run

Bump and rundefinitionsame as bump

Bunchdefinitiontightly-aligned group of two or three offensive quick receivers, typically used to run a screen to the backmost of the group of receivers or to run a rub pattern or illegal pick play; receivers coming out of the bunch generally cross paths to make it harder for the defenders to maintain man coverage


Cdefinition1. the gap between the offensive tackle and tight end 2. letter used to designate a cornerback in a diagram of a defense 3. letter used to designate a coach in a diagram of a practice segment 4. abbreviation for center

Cadencedefinitionthe words and numbers spoken by the quarterback after the offense is set and the rhythm in which those words and numbers are said

Call outspre-game activity in which the coach calls out the offense, defense, and each special team to make sure each player assigned to that team knows he is on it. If the coach has other personnel groups like third-and-short offense or nickel defense, he also calls out those teams.definition

Capital I formationdefinitionI formation with all four backs aligned one behind the other behind the center; made famous by the University of Maryland; very powerful inside running formation; also called the “full-house I”

Cariocadefinitiona variety of South American dance that originated in Rio De Janeiro; in football, refers to a sideways movement in which the player holds his arms out sideways away from his body like a referee’s unsportsmanlike-conduct signal; in the movement, the player steps first with, say, his right leg in front of his left, then the next time he steps with his right foot he steps behind his left foot; this is one of the favorite, most widely used agility drills in all of football, which is quite odd when you consider that any football player who ever crosses his legs in this fashion in a practice or game would immediately be severely reprimanded by his coach; if there were a Hall of Fame of Dumb Football Drills, the statute out front would be of a player doing carioca; often mispronounced as karaoke since that fad became popular

The Catchdefinition“sprint right option pass” from Niners quarterback Joe Montana to Dwight Clark for the game-winning touchdown against Dallas in the NFC championship game on 1/10/82; generally considered the moment the world, including the 49ers themselves, realized that the previously hapless Niners were suddenly a force to contend with; the Niners went on to win their first Super Bowl that season and won four more becoming the NFL “Team of the 1980s;” a diagram of the play drawn and signed by then Niners coach Bill Walsh at a clinic I attended hangs on my office wall; I watched that game on TV at a college classmate’s house in San Francisco; our wives were uninterested as usual; but as the final drive unfolded, we suggested that even though they were not fans that they might want to watch this; when The Catch occurred, all four of us leaped into the air cheering; scaring the heck out of our six-month-old son Dan who started crying; he later was Ken Dorsey’s classmate and running back at Miramonte High School; Dorsey was a quarterback of the Niners after he graduated from Miami

Chainsdefinition10-yard long chain connected to a pole at each end signifying the starting point of a series and the line to gain for a first down, held by a “chain gang” which also includes a person who holds a pole with the numbers one through four to inform everyone what down it is; the phrase “moving the chains” means gaining first downs

Champ coveragedefinitionI do not know what this means. A reader asked about it. Can anyone help?

Cheatdefinitionabnormal alignment closer to where the player plans or expects to go; this is often a tipoff of a particular play when the offense does it or a particular stunt or pass coverage when a defender does it; may be authorized by the coach or unathorized cowboy behavior by the player

Check releasedefinitionsame as check route

Check routedefinitiona running-back pass route that is run only after checking to make sure the back’s pass-blocking responsibility is not blitzing

Check with medefinitionoffensive play call made by a quarterback in a huddle; either means the play will be called at the line of scrimmage or the quarterback gives two plays in the huddle then announces which one he wants to run at the line of scrimmage once he sees the defensive alignment and personnel; e.g., “26 power and 25 power” is said in the huddle, then the quarterback says “odd” or “even” at the line of scrimmage once he sees which one is likely to work best; odd signifies 25 power in this case; even, 26 power

Chipdefinitionsimilar to brush block only with more force and slightly more duration

Choice routedefinitionpass route in which the receiver decides whether to break north, south, east, or west depending upon the initial movement of the defender closest to him; as a result of much practice, the quarterback sees the same defender movement and anticipates correctly which way the receiver will break and throws to him; also called sight adjustment

Chop blockdefinitionillegal double-team block in which one offensive player blocks the defender high and the other, low; see rule books for details

Chuckdefinitionmomentary hit designed to temporarily delay a player from going where he wants to go

Classdefinitiona compliment automatically awarded to a coach who has his team take a knee at the end of a game when they are deep in opponent territory and they are ahead by two touchdowns or more; compliance with coach etiquette which generally only has one tenet: “Thou shalt not run up the score.” not universally agreed to; many coaches believe that putting in reserves when a game is no longer in doubt is sufficient; they allow the reserves to compete fully

Cleardefinitionto run a pass route through an area in order to empty that area of defenders

Clearing routedefinitiona pass route that is designed to clear an area of the defense

Clip zonedefinitionpoorly-chosen phrase for free blocking zone

Clouddefinitionzone pass coverage in which cornerbacks cover passes to the flat; both cornerback and cloud start with the letter C; opposite of “sky” coverage, also called “invert”

Combo blockdefinitionSame as tandem block

Coffin-corner kickdefinitiona punt aimed at the sideline inside the opponent’s ten-yard line; formerly standard practice; lately largely replaced by the pooch kick

Collision sportdefinitiona sport in which opposing players deliberately collide with each other routinely and do not break the rules by doing so; e.g., football, ice hockey

Comebackdefinitionpass route in which the receiver breaks back toward the line of scrimmage, usually to the outside

Competitive drilldefinitiondrill in which opposing players try to defeat each other; fun for the players; can be done almost forever without boring the players as opposed to non-competitive drills which generally must be limited to five to fifteen minutes or players will get bored and start to misbehave; good for testing who is best; good for teaching aggressiveness to unaggressive beginners; unsatisfactory for teaching good form or mechanics; unsatisfactory for not-yet-mastered skills; good for firing up the players; typically accompanied by cheering by the players waiting their turn in the drill; hazardous injurywise

Contact sportdefinitiona sport in which opposing players incidentally come in contact with each other; generally, deliberate contact with opposing players is discouraged or prohibited by the rules of contact sports; e.g., basketball, baseball, soccer are contact sports; football is not a contact sport; it is a collision sport

Containdefinitioneach side of all defenses has a player assigned contain responsibilities; that means he is not to allow a blocker or ball carrier from the inside to get outside of him; generally done by a lineman in a two-point stance at the youth or high school level; by a linebacker or defensive back at higher levels

Contain rushdefinitionoutside-in pass rush by a contain man to prevent the quarterback from scrambling or dashing out to his side; that is, contain pass rusher must take a slightly circuitous route to the passer so he comes in from the side, not from the passer’s front ; all sound defenses have a player on each side who is assigned this responsibility

Contrariandefinitionunfashionable, preferrably unique, different for the sake of being different Contriarianism is a best practice in football offense. I wrote a whole book about it called The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense. It includes using the opponent’s strongths against the or ju jitsu and spans all aspects of football offense from schemes to tactics, to techniques to recruiting or drafting to tempo to stuff you say to the media

Cornerdefinitionpass route in which the receiver runs an eight- to twelve-yard stem, then cuts outward at a 45-degree angle toward the back corner of the end zone; previously called a “flag” route

Cornerbackdefinitiondefensive back who covers pass zones on the outer edges of the field or who covers quick receivers who align at the outer edge of the offensive formation, in some defenses, a corner from one side will go over to the other side and cover a slot back

Corner overdefinitiona defensive-alignment rule which has a cornerback go to the other side of the field to cover a slot receiver when there is no wide receiver on his side of the field.

Cover 0definitionpass defense in which all pass defenders are in man coverage; required when six defenders are rushing

Cover 1definitionpass defense in which all pass defenders but one are in man coverage; the one not in man coverage is usually a free safety who plays a zone defense in which his zone is the entire field; required when five defenders are rushing; also called “man free” or “man under”

Cover 2definitionzone pass defense with two deep safeties who are responsible for the two deep halves of the field

Cover 3definitionzone pass defense where the field is divided into three deep zones which are covered by the free safety (middle) and two corners (sides)

Cover 4definitionzone pass defense where the field is divided into four deep zones which are covered by the two safeties (middle) and two corners (sides); more often called “quarters” or occasionally, by idiots, “quarter, quarter, quarter, quarter.”

Cover 5definitionsame as nickel defense

Coveragedefinitioneither the defensive backs and linebackers or the scheme in which they are utilized

Coverage recognitiondefinitionoffensive drill in which the receivers and quarterbacks practice recognizing the pass coverages (i.e., man, zone, or combination) of the defense and adjusting appropriately to them

Coverage sackdefinitionsack of the quarterback that takes place after about 3 seconds after the snap; caused by inability of the quarterback to find an open receiver because of excellent pass coverage on the receivers

Counterdefinitionoffensive misdirection play involving several steps by the ball carrier and possibly other backs away from the actual point of attack, before he changes direction to go toward the actual point of attack, often involves a pulling lineman who executes a trap block; usually attacks the C gap; the counter trey is one of the most famous plays of this type; it is most closely associated with Redskins coach Joe Gibbs

Cowboydefinitionselfish player who ignores assigned responsibilities and goes where he thinks is more personally desirable during a play; on defense, such players always blitz to where they think they are most likely to get a sack or run to where they believe they may get an interception or tackle regardless of instruction to the contrary; can be detected in film by seeing if those who get sacks or tackles or assists far from their starting position first discharged their assigned defensive responsibilities before making a bee line toward the ball carrier or pass; on offense, this behavior generally manifests itself in the form of quarterbacks and receivers who run bombs instead of the called play or in the form of backs who go out for a pass without first making sure their assigned man is not blitzing and tight ends who refuse to block for the required period of time before running a delayed-release pass route; although I complained above about coaches who invent their own words and phrases for standard football terms, this is my own invention; I offer it here because there is no existing term in football coaching for the condition and one is sorely needed because inability to articulate the condition leads to its being chronically undiagnosed which is bad for all concerned including the afflicted player who should be spending his weekday afternoons and game nights on activities to which he is better suited; “track stars” and “cowboys” are the inspiration for the oft-heard coaching saying, “Your potential is gonna get me fired.”

Crabdefinitionblocking technique in which the blocker gets down on all fours and shoves the defender sideways with his ribs by shuffling all four limbs in that direction; only legal in the free-blocking zone

Crackback blockdefinitioninward block by an offensive player who initially aligned out wide on a defender who initially lined up in the box, illegal if below the waist; the blocker must take care to avoid blocking the defender in the back; sometimes, the blocker can get the defender to face him by yelling “Hey!” just before he arrives

Crashdefinitionincorrect path by a defensive contain man who charges into the offensive backfield at a 45-degree angle; generally means the defender assumes the play is a pass and wants to get a sack; unsound because the contain man is generally required to contain rush on a pass play to prevent a successful scramble or dash pass and he is required to maintain an outside position in the case of a sweep or a tight-to-the-C-Gap-at-the-LOS position in the case of an off-tackle play; when the defender knows better, this is selfish, undisciplined play; offenses should look for this mistake and exploit it

Crossdefinitionpass route at about eight yards depth and parallel to the line of scrimmage

Cross blockdefinitiontwo-person block in which the outer offensive lineman blocks inward on the first defensive lineman to his inside while the inner offensive lineman next to him allows the outer offensive lineman to pass, then blocks outward on the first defensive lineman to his outside; the outer offensive lineman always goes first because he is blocking the innermost and therefore most-dangerous-to-the-early-phase-of-the-play defensive lineman; typically used to block at the point of attack in a strong-side power play or a weak-side B gap lead play

Crossover stepdefinitiona lateral step in which the player steps with the foot away from the direction he is going; sometimes used by offensive backs for maximum distance and speed on their first step or to begin a sequence of steps which requires them to cut a particular direction on a particular step, e.g., in the single-wing off-tackle play, the ball carrier might open step, crossover step, then open step again so that he can cut upfield on the third step to the off-tackle hole; opposite of open step; not recommended for players who are near opposing players or for linebackers reacting to flow

Crowd the balldefinitionalignment by a lineman as close as possible to the near tip of the football before the snap

Crowndefinitionelevated center of football fields other than those using modern FieldTurf or Astro Play; If you squat down low, the crown obscures the feet of the players and coaches on the far sideline; needed to promote drainage away from the area between the hash marks, unnecessary in FieldTurf or AstroPlay because those fields have excellent drainage and are totally flat

Curldefinitiondeeper version of a hook

Cushiondefinitionvertical distance between the receiver and the defender who is covering him; a tight cushion indicates that a fade route or other deep route has an increased probability of success; a large cushion suggests a hitch, comeback, or slant would work

Cutbackdefinitionchange of direction by ball carrier when he goes to one side of the center then changes direction heading toward the other side of the center; in some plays that get linebackers moving fast toward initial flow of the offensive backfield like the double wing super power off-tackle play and the inside zone play, a cutback is probable; wide-pursuit assignments must include at least one defender who is responsible for stopping a cutback; the word is often accompanied by the superfluous phrase “against the grain”

Cut blockdefinitionshoulder or cross body block aimed at the knees or lower part of the defender’s body; allowed only by interior linemen against defensive linemen under high-school rules; such a block in the free blocking zone must occur only at the outset of a play; in college and pro rules, backs may also throw head-on cut blocks against defenders coming into the offensive backfield; see the rule books of each level for details; often used by blockers who are significantly smaller than the guy they are trying to block; also used by blockers have no other hope of making the block because of their position at some distance from the defender to be blocked; many in football self-righteously denounce the cut block as unethical; they need to send a letter to the various committees that set the rules and to the various coaches associations to get the rule that allows cut blocks changed and to add prohibition against cut blocks into the various association codes of ethics; until they do, it is a legal, ethical block that is the best block for the situations listed above

Cut offdefinitioninward block on a defender farther away from the blocker than a normal blocking target; blocker seeks only to prevent penetration of the line of scrimmage by the defender

Cycledefinitiondirect-snap-offense term; a cycle is a back in the backfield to whom the long snapper could snap the ball; typically there would be two or three backs within the long snapper’s vision and range; in the typical tight-punt formation, there are four cycles because the long snapper could snap to either of the two upbacks, to the personal protector, and to the punter; the more cycles, the harder it is for the defense to figure out who received the snap; in the common quarterback-under-center, indirect-snap offense, there is only one cycle; that is, the quarterback initially gets the snap; about the only multiple-cycle offenses seen today are the occasional shotgun where the center snaps to a running back who is standing next to the quarterback or a fake-punt play in which the ball is snapped to the personal protector instead of the punter; a multiple-cycle formation and willingness to use it as such is a powerful and, nowadays, rarely-used deception tool for offensive coordinators


Ddefinitionthe gap outside the tight end; also short for “defense” as in “D line” or “D coordinator”

Dancingdefinitionimproper ball-carrier technique in which the ball carrier rapidly moves his feet in place when he encounters defensive players

Dashdefinitionpass play in which the quarterback drops straight back as if to pass, then suddenly sprints out to one side; looks like an impromptu scramble but it is premeditated

Daylightdefinitionan opening in the defense through which a ball carrier can run

Decoydefinitionplayer who carries out a fake running play or who runs a pass route knowing that no pass will be thrown to him on the play

Defense recognitiondefinitionset of blocking rules that say, for example, “you block the off-tackle play this way against a 4-4 defense and this was against a 5-3 defense;” useless if the defense aligns in an unanticipated defense

Defensive backdefinitiondefender whose primary responsibility is defending against passes to deep or wide zones or passes to quick receivers, typically safeties and cornerbacks

Delayed releasedefinitiondeparture of a pass receiver on a pass route after blocking, typically for a one-or two-count; purpose is to get the defender responsible for covering the receiver or zone in question to conclude the receiver is not going to run a pass route on this play and abandon covering him or the zone in which the route will take place; counterintuitive; receivers generally need to be admonished and/or punished repeatedly to get them to wait the required amount of time before releasing; generally important part of a counter boot play

Diamonddefinitionold defensive formation the full name of which was seven-diamond. It had seven defensive linemen and four guys behind them arrayed in the shape of a diamond, that is, one guy shallow, two guys at medium depth and one guy deep; unsound

Digdefinitionshallow or intermediate depth cross route

Direct snapdefinitionsnap of the football in which the ball goes to a running back instead of first going to a quarterback, typical of the single wing (See my book Single-Wing Offense for Youth Football), short punt, punt, field goal, and direct-snap version of the double-wing formation

Dime backdefinitiondefensive back substituted into a game in a passing situation to replace a linebacker thereby resulting in a defense with six rather than the five defensive backs of a nickel package; mostly a college or pro term

Dime packagedefinitionthe whole defense when a dime back has been substituted for a linebacker thereby bringing the total number of defensive backs on the field to six

Direct snapdefinitionoffensive formation in which the center or long snapper snaps the ball directly to a running back rather than to a quarterback who subsequently gives it to a running back; common direct-snap formations include punt, field goal, single wing, short punt; the shotgun can be a direct snap formation if the center snaps the ball to a non-quarterback

Disguisedefinitioneffort by defense to prevent the offense from recognizing which type of pass coverage they are using

Divedefinitionquick-hitting offensive play in which a running back ball carrier goes straight through an A or B gap with no lead blocker; a great many teams use dive right as their first play of the game apparently on the theory that it is the simplest play and will allow the team to settle down before running more complex plays; should be aimed at a bubble in the defense

Double coveragedefinitionpass coverage in which two pass defenders cover one receiver

Double slotdefinitionone-back, balanced, offensive formation with no tight ends, two split ends, two slot backs, and a single running back aligned behind the quarterback and center; can screw up modern defenses that are used to and designed for a pro set

Double teamdefinitionblock or pass coverage of one guy by two guys; the double-team block requires a particular technique, not just the addition of a second guy

Double wingdefinitionbalanced offensive formation with two wingbacks and one running back behind the quarterback and center; there are both direct- and indirect-snap versions of this offense; plays are usually preceded by one of the wing backs going in motion backward and inward; line splits are usually zero; the fullback is generally as close as possible to the quarterback; made famous by coach Don Markham in California and Oregon, coach-writer Hugh Wyatt, and coach-writer Jerry Vallotton; tends to screw up modern defenses that are used to and designed for a pro set

Double zonedefinitiona reader asked me to add this; neither I nor my son has ever heard of it; if anyone knows, a little help, please

Down blockdefinitioninward block by an offensive lineman or wing

Down by contactdefinitionNFL Rule 7-4-1 e that says a ball carrier who touched the ground with other than his feet or hands is tackled if he was touched by an opposing player and that touch caused him to go down; in the NFL only, if the ball carrier fell down of his own accord, he can get up and resume running; in high school or college, the play is over when a ball carrier touches the ground with anything other than his hands or feet regardless of whether a defender was involved; this is also true in the NFL when a quarterback deliberately kneels to avoid contact (NFL Rule 7-4-1 b) or when any ball carrier slides feet first (NFL Rule 7-4-1 c)

Downfielddefinitionaway from the line of scrimmage on the defense side; means the same as “upfield;” there is no comparable word for different depths on the offense’s side of the line of scrimmage; one reader said it is the offensive coach word for going across the line of scrimmage deeper into the defense

Downfield blockingdefinitionblocking more than about four yards beyond the line of scrimmage; can be done by any position, but is most often associated with receivers; long runs are typically the result of effective downfield blocking; since many players are selfish, the amount of downfield blocking a team does reflects its head coach’s ability to spot the lack of it and his ability to motivate and discipline his players to do it consistently; one observer of Knute Rockne’s legendary Notre Dame teams said that excellent downfield blocking was what distinguished them; Princeton alum and later coach Charlie Caldwell said he and his teammates felt like they had had Saturday off after playing Notre Dame when their backfield was the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because Notre Dame players were excellent at getting in your way such that you could not make the tackle, but that there was little or no contact in such “blocks;” generally, only downfield blocks are susceptible to such precise timing, the no-longer-used phrase “running interference” refers to such non-contact, but highly effective, tackle prevention positioning and timing

Downhilldefinitionanother of those maddeningly vague and devoid-of-logic football coach terms that seems to have some sort of meaning along the lines of “good,” like “leverage;” may mean the same as “north-south,” that is, perpendicular to the yard lines, when used by some coaches

Dragdefinitionshallow pass route in front of and across the middle of the offensive formation; often combined with a delayed release by the receiver

Drawdefinitionrunning play in which a quarterback drops back as if to pass then suddenly gives the ball to a running back standing next to him or runs with it himself; path of the run is up the middle; if a fake run followed by a pass is a “play-action pass” then the draw could be called a “pass-action play”

Drivedefinitionoffensive possession

Drive blockdefinitionone offensive player trying to push one defensive player away from the offensive point of attack; done with the shoulder in the old days and with the hands since the rules were changed to allow that

Dropdefinitionquarterback’s initial steps on a drop-back pass play; always an odd number; common drops are 1-step and 3-step at all levels and 5- at the high school and higher levels and 7- and 9 at the college and pro levels

Dummy audibledefinitionFake audible play call that has no meaning because the offensive players have been told to disregard certain audibles because the lack of a “hot” color word or other indication that the audible is to be ignored


Edefinitionletter used to designate a defensive end in a diagram of a defense

Eagle defensedefinitionOnly one thing is clear about the Eagle defense: it was invented by Philadelphia Eagles head coach Earle “Greasy” Neale in the 1940s. But the meaning of the word pretty much ends there.

The Pro Football Fan’s Companion says of the Eagle defense, “one or both defensive ends drop back into pass coverage, effectively turning it into a 4-3 or 3-4.”

But Tom Flores’ Violent chess match says it’s a “defensive alignment with the tackles outside of the offensive guards and the linebackers on the ends.”

Joe Thiesmann’s Complete Idiot’s Guide to Football says, “The eagle defense uses a linebacker on the inside of the tackle box and puts a lineman on the outside.” That’s three books with three different definitions. The Flores and Thiesmann versions sound similar, but are both a bit vague.

George Kraft’s Fundamentals of Coaching Football just has a diagram. It shows the defensive end outside a weakside (no tight end side) tackle and a linebacker lined up over the weak-side tackle. In Complete Linebacking, Lou Tepper defines it the same way.

Bill Arnsparger’s Coaching Defensive Football shows a diagram of an “eagle adjustment” with the defensive end outside the tight end and a linebacker lined up right in the tight end’s face.

A high-school coach once used the word “eagle” as a verb when he was talking to me. I said I was not sure what the term meant. He admitted he was unable to define it. In other words, he had been BSing me when he used it.

An article titled “Quarters” in the 12/05 American Football Monthly magazine described its defense as an Eagle. I thought the diagrams shown in the article were of a Monte Kiffin-Pete Carroll-Lyle Setenich reduced-front 50, cover-2 with the strong-side defensive tackle in what Bum Phillips would call a “5 technique.” That does not match anyone else’s definition of an Eagle defense. It is more like a modern version of Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma 5-4-2.

After looking it up in several books, I have a sense that the Eagle defense generally has something to do with shifting the defensive tackle or end outside the weak tackle or tight end and putting a linebacker over or on the weak tackle or tight end. Until the football coaching world gets more precise and consistent, the word “eagle” should be dropped.

East-westdefinitionparallel to the yard lines; toward the sidelines; ball carriers should generally avoid running east-west unless they are much faster than anyone on the defense which is rarely the case above the high school level; east-west running by ball carriers is generally considered to be cowardly and/or poor judgment in that such a direction rarely results in gaining yards and often results in a loss of yards from the point at which the ball carrier began to run toward the sideline

Edgedefinitionjust outside the EMLOS, also called the “perimeter”

Eight-man frontdefinitiona defensive formation that has eight defenders in the box; typically a 4-4 or 5-3; the word “front” does not mean the line; it means both the line and the linebackers

Eligible receiverdefinitionoffensive player who is either the end man on the line of scrimmage or a back, that is, not on the line of scrimmage; eligible receiver position names include split end, tight end, tailback, quarterback, fullback, flanker, halfback, slot back; must wear a jersey number below 50 or above 79 by rule

EMLOSdefinitionabbreviation for “end man on the line of scrimmage;” can refer to either offense or defense

Emptydefinitionan offensive backfield with no running backs other than the quarterback behind the offensive interior line, also called “no back”

Encroachmentdefinitionillegal advance by a defender into the neutral zone after the ready-to-play signal but before the snap; under high school rules, retreating out of the neutral zone before the snap does not negate the infraction; in college and pro rules, it does; see rules at each level for details; parents and fans at high school games often protest, “He got back” at officials who throw encroachment flags; it doesn’t matter at that level

End arounddefinitiona somewhat old but still viable offensive play in which a wide receiver runs through the offensive backfield and gets a handoff; a famous but now rarely-seen version of this was the Statue of Liberty play in which the quarterback would drop and set up to pass, but the wide receiver would take the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as he went by; can be done out of a drop-back pass fake or a fake running play; the Statute of Liberty play is now disfavored because the wide receiver taking the ball from the quarterback’s poised-to-pass stance is more easily seen by the defense than a lower handoff

End linedefinitionthe line that is the border of the back of the end zone

Evendefinitiona) defense in which there is no nose which, in turn, means the number of defensive linemen will be an even number b) defensive front in which the number of defenders who would not cover a receiver in a man pass defense and who are in the box is the same on both sides of the center

Exchangedefinitionball moving from the quarterback to a running back or from one running back to another ball carrier; handoff or pitch


Fdefinition1. fullback on an offense diagram 2. free safety in a defense diagram

Fadedefinitionpass route in which the receiver runs straight up field then fades or drifts out near the sideline while continuing to run full speed upfield; often used as an automatic play change when a defender aligns in tight bump-and-run or press man-to-man pass coverage position against a wide receiver

Fake field goaldefinitiona running or passing play that is run out of a field-goal formation in a field-goal situation

Fake puntdefinitiona running or passing play that is run out of a punt formation in a punt situation

False stepdefinitionstep that gains no ground or which goes in the opposite direction from where the player is going; unbelievably common mistake; I once had a star tailback who hopped straight up in the air off both feet every time the ball was snapped; this was so time consuming that he was unable to lead block for a fullback ball carrier who was coming from his inside on a B gap lead play; I was totally unable to get him to stop; offensive linemen, wide receivers, and running backs often false step backwards or in place as their initial movement on the snap

Fandefinitionpass protection scheme in which offensive linemen block defensive linemen and offensive backs block linebackers

Fardefinitiontypically an offensive player who is aligned on the other side of the center from the play side or from a particular defensive player; e.g., a linebacker typically keys on the near offensive back but directs his vision to the far back to check for a counter play if the near back flows to the other side of the center at the beginning of the play; can also be the name of a formation in which an offensive back is offset to the side away from the tight end

Fast-on-fastdefinitionmatchup principle applied to offensive blocking schemes and defensive assignments; basic idea is that only faster players should have to deal with the opponent’s faster players; e.g., wide receivers or backs block linebackers or corners and corners cover wide receivers; also abbreviated as FOF; usually used in conjunction with big-on-big or BOB

Fielddefinitionthe side of the offensive formation where the distance from the ball (before the snap) to the sideline is greatest, as in “the X will always align to the field when we are in this formation” also known as the wide side

Field positiondefinitionlocation of the ball in terms of distance to the goal line the team is trying to cross

FieldTurfdefinitionnew artificial turf laid over a drainage area; has long blades of “grass” that are surrounded by sand or rubber particles that simulate dirt only without the mud or lack of drainage; eliminates the complaints about earlier Astroturf; only problems I have seen are that players sometimes slip when cutting off their inside foot and surface is hot on warm, sunny days; may be cost effective replacement for natural grass because of lack of watering, painting lines, mowing, reseeding, 24/7 availability, vast superiority to natural glass when wet; has some maintenance like need to repaint hash marks (yard lines and numbers are embroidered using “grass” blades made of white plastic), repairs tears, refill with sand or rubber particles periodically; this type of synthetic surface is the rule in new installations in the Twenty-First Century; in 2005, for the first time, every game our high school team played was on this type of field

Filldefinitiona) replacement of a pulling offensive lineman by a back so there is no hole in the offensive line b) movement by a linebacker or safety to fill a gap that opens in the defensive line during a play in the vicinity of the C or D gaps

Filmdefinitionstill-in-use archaic word for visual recordings of practice or games; formerly accurate description of the medium used; now inaccurate because of universal use of videotape or digital video disks

Finish the rundefinitioncorrect ball-carrier technique in which a ball carrier who no longer has any daylight to which to run lowers his shoulder and explodes into defenders to gain a few more yards before he is tackled

Firedefinitionnoun: code word that tells scrimmage-kick (punt or field goal) team players that there has been a bad snap or muffed snap; designated players then run pass routes so the ball carrier can pass to them; verb: defensive play call word for blitz as in “Mike fire” means to blitz the Mike linebacker

First sounddefinitiona snap count in which the offense is told to begin the play on the first sound made by the quarterback, whatever that sound is; often used in short-yardage situations; often tipped off by the quarterback delaying the start of his cadence until he has his hands under the center and everyone is set where the quarterback in question has not been doing that previously in the game

Fire zonedefinitionPat Kiwan uses this phrase in his book Take Your Eye Off the Ball but it just sounds to me like another name for zone blitz

Five-yard ruledefinitionNFL-only Rule 12-1-4 that prohibits pass defenders from hitting a receiver once he has gone five yards downfield

Flag routedefinitionpass route now called a corner route, the original name stems from the fact that the corners of the end zone were marked by springs that had a flag on them; these have been replaced by day-glo pylons for safety reasons; the name of the route could have been changed to “pylon route”

Flankeddefinitioninside of, as in, “you got flanked by the slot back;” a mistake for certain defenders who are not allowed to let offensive blockers get to their outside

Flankerdefinitiona wide receiver who aligns one yard off the line of scrimmage on the strong side of the offensive formation, because he is off the line; he is permitted to go in pre-snap motion; can be facing any direction at the snap

Flatdefinitionpassing zone outside the weak tackle or tight end stretching to the sideline and about eight yards deep from the line of scrimmage into the defense’s territory; a flat pass route is also called a bench route

Flea flickerdefinitionambiguous phrase for a trick play in which there is a pre-planned lateral; sometimes used to describe a lateral from a running back faking an inside run back to the quarterback and sometimes used to describe the hook-and-lateral play; the 2/6/06 San Francisco Chronicle incorrectly used the phrase “flea flicker” to describe Pittsburgh’s reverse pass for a touchdown in the previous day’s Super Bowl

Flipperdefinitionusing the bicep like a pinball flipper to hit a defender; forearm, which is bent less than 90 degrees, and shoulder may also be involved

Flooddefinitionpass pattern; anti-zone-pass-defense tactic; puts more pass receivers into a defense zone than there are defenders in that zone

Flowdefinitioninitial direction of offensive backs; play-side defenders must react immediately to flow but back-side defenders must “stay home” and check for misdirection plays before they fly to the apparent direction of the ball

Flydefinitionverb: run full speed usually to the ball after a play has been diagnosed by the defense; noun: a) pass route that goes straight up the field; also called a streak or go route b) offense that has a flanker in pre-snap motion toward the quarterback who calls for the snap simultaneously with the arrival of the flanker then gives or fakes the ball to the flanker

Flying wedgedefinitionold-time play in which blockers linked arms as they ran forward; now illegal because it literally killed defenders; see “wedge”

Fly to the balldefinitionrun full speed to the ball whether it is being carried by a ball carrier or flying through the air

Fold blockdefinitiontwo-person blocking scheme in which one offensive lineman blocks a defensive lineman near his neighboring teammate while that teammate loops around the offensive lineman blocking the defensive lineman and blocks a linebacker; used when it gives both blockers better angles than if the folding offensive lineman just blocked the defensive lineman nearest him; a fold block can be outside as shown in the attached diagram or inside which would be a mirror image of the outside fold block.

Football positiondefinitionstance in which the player is slightly crouched with his ankels, knees, and waist bent and arms bent at the elbow and held in front of his trunk; also called athletic position or Z in the knee; this is a ready position that is adopted usually once the ball has been snapped; linebackers and bump pass defenders are also in this position or a similar one just before the snap

ForcedefinitionI do not like this word. I think it’s too vague. Seems to refer to a cornerback or safety abandoning his pass-coverage responsibilities to tackle a ball carrier who is taking a wide path. One coach-author said it was that plus the guy who is responsible for the pitchback when defending an option play. I notice that the word appears in many book indexes but never in anyone’s glossary in the books that have glossaries. Please do not contact me to put me down about not knowing what the word “force” means. I have read hundreds of football books, written 8 of them, attended over 200 clinics, been a clinic speaker more than a dozen times, and coached for 14 years. I have read and heard the word used many times. If I don’t know what it means after all that, it’s too vague. If you know what it means, send me the definition. I will publish it here with your name on it.

I saw this definition of force in a Jets playbook from '97 (Belichick).

The description of the responsibility for outside leverage [another vague word—appears to mean not letting the ball carrier get outside here] on an outside run. Responsibility for force is designated by:
"Slam" - Safety force
"Cloud" - Corner force
"Backer" - Linebacker force

Michael Höglund

Formationdefinitionway in which the eleven players on a team are aligned at the beginning of a play

Forward passdefinitiona pass thrown from behind the line of scrimmage toward or beyond the line of scrimmage; if it goes beyond, rules regarding ineligible receivers downfield, pass interference, and illegal downfield blocking while the ball is in the air are triggered; if the forward pass does not go beyond the line of scrimmage, those rules are not applicable

Four-down situationdefinitiongame situation in which the offense would not punt; generally that would be when a successful punt would not improve the situation much or when there was not enough time to get the ball back after a successful punt to score the game-tying or game-winning touchdown and a field goal would not be enough to tie or win

Four-down territorydefinitionmisnomer for four-down situation

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