Football 101: Defense Positional Breakdown
Use the following positional breakdown as a point of reference and encourage your child to try out any positions that seem to be a fit. The skillset necessary for some positions on opposite sides of the ball—for example, wide receiver and cornerback—is very similar. Fostering an interest in both sides of the ball will only open more opportunities for your little superstar to get on the field.
Linebacker1 of 6
Think of the linebacker as the quarterback of the defense. A typical defensive formation will have 2 to 3 linebackers lined up 3 to 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. The middle linebacker receives the defensive play call from the sideline and relays the call to the rest of the defense. It is also his responsibility to audible in the event that the offense does something unexpected pre-snap.
A linebacker must be supremely versatile; strong and sturdy enough to support in the run game, while also athletic and agile enough to cover receivers in the pass game. Linebackers are the most common blitzers in the defense—which is to say that they often act as additional pass rushers on a given play.
Safety2 of 6
The title of safety was derived from its original, most simplistic responsibility, which was—and to some degree remains—to serve as the last line of defense in the event that a ball carrier or receiver breaks away. The modern safety has evolved, however, playing an instrumental role in the defense as a whole.
Safeties line up 10 to 15 yards in front of the line of scrimmage and are responsible for setting and/or changing the coverage in the defensive backfield. A safety's primary objective is to provide pass coverage behind the cornerbacks and linebackers. But, in many schemes, safeties are used extensively in run support and even as surprise pass rushers.
Cornerback3 of 6
The cornerback shares the defensive backfield with the safeties. Though, as the name suggests, cornerbacks play on the corners of the formation, typically within a few yards of or directly on the line of scrimmage. Cornerbacks are among the fastest players on the field. The position requires premium speed, agility and quickness.
The primary responsibility of the cornerback is to defend against the pass by covering the offense's wide receivers. In a man coverage scheme, the cornerback must shadow the wide receiver across from him throughout the play. In a zone, the cornerback will be responsible for covering passes thrown within his coverage area.
Defensive End4 of 6
The defensive end continues our trend of position titles that literally illustrate the player's alignment. Defensive ends play—you guessed it—on the ends of the defensive line. The defensive end's responsibility is often effected by the formation and/or down and distance, but will almost always be to either rush the passer or to "set the edge" of the defensive front. Setting the edge requires that the player keep his outside arm free and disallow the ball carrier from getting outside.
The defensive end position requires great size and strength, along with a good initial speed burst. In a 3-4 defense, defensive ends are typically much larger and resemble defensive tackles, while 4-3 ends are more athletic and can even be asked to drop into pass coverage.
Defensive Tackle5 of 6
The defensive tackle is typically very large and very strong. Defensive tackles line up on the interior of the defensive line and anchor the defense when defending the run. Defensive tackles are not typically expected to rush the passer like a defensive end. Instead, on a pass play, their job is to push the pocket and bat passes down with their hands.
The primary, all-encompassing objective for a defensive end is simply to clog the middle. They are expected to disrupt potential running lanes for the offensive ball carrier and to occupy blockers that would otherwise reach the linebackers. Often times, a great performance by a defensive tackle is reflected on paper only by the lack of production by an opposing running back and/or increased production by the middle linebacker.