Football Basics | Glastonbury Youth Football Association
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Understanding the game of football


Here are some great links to other football sites: This is a great resource tool for parents and coaches.


Below are some frequently used terms. Read on!

Offensive Positions Three Basic Pass Plays What is holding?
Defensive Positions What is the line of scrimmage? What is a chop block?
Special Team Positions What is a lateral? What is the West Coast Offense?
  What constitutes a fumble? What is a Nickelback?

Offensive Positions

  • Quarterback The player who receives the ball from the center at the start of each play before either handing it to the running back, throwing it to a receiver, or running with it himself. The quarterback is usually the player in charge of running the offense on the field. He is also the guy that usually informs the offense of the play while in the huddle.
  • Halfback An offensive player who lines up in the backfield and generally is responsible for carrying the ball on run plays. A running back's primary role is to run with the football, he is also used as a receiver at times.
  • Fullback An offensive player who lines up in the offensive backfield and generally is responsible for run-blocking for the halfback and pass-blocking for the quarterback. Fullbacks are usually bigger than halfbacks, and also serve as short-yardage runners.
  • Wide Receiver An offensive player who lines up on or near the line of scrimmage, but split to the outside. His primary job is to catch passes from the quarterback.
  • Tight End An offensive player who serves as a receiver and also a blocker. The tight end lines up beside the offensive tackle either to the right or to the left of the quarterback.
  • Offensive Tackle A member of the offensive line. There are two tackles on every play, and they line up on the outside of the offensive guards.
  • Offensive Guard A member of the offensive line. There are two guards on every play, and they line up on either side of the offensive center.
  • Center The offensive lineman who hikes (or snaps) the ball to the quarterback at the start of each play. The center lines up in the middle of the offensive line, between the offensive guards. back to top

Defensive Positions

  • Defensive End A defensive player who lines up at the end of the defensive line. The job of the defensive end is to contain the running back on running plays to the outside, and rush the quarterback on passing plays.
  • Defensive Tackle A defensive player who lines up on the interior of the defensive line. The duties of a defensive tackle include stopping the running back on running plays, getting pressure up the middle on passing plays, and occupying blockers so the linebackers can roam free.
  • Nose Tackle The defensive player who lines up directly across from the center. Also known as the nose guard, the primary responsibilities of the nose tackle are to stop the run and occupy the offensive lineman to keep them from blocking the linebackers.
  • Linebacker A defensive player who lines up behind the defensive linemen and in front of the defensive backfield. The linebackers are a team's second line of defense. Each team has two outside linebackers. In a 4-3 defense, teams have one inside linebacker, usually referred to as a middle linebacker. In a 3-4 defense teams have two inside linebackers.
  • Cornerback A defensive back who generally lines up on the outside of the formation and is usually assigned to cover a wide receiver.
  • Safety A defensive back who lines up in the secondary between, but generally deeper than the cornerbacks. His primary duties include helping the cornerbacks in pass coverage. back to top

Special Team Positions

  • Gunner The members of the special teams who specialize in racing downfield to tackle the kick or punt returner. The gunners usually line up on the outside of the offensive line and are often double teamed by blockers.
  • Holder The player who catches the snap from the center and places it down for the placekicker to attempt to kick it through the uprights of the goalpost. On an attempted field goal, the holder must catch the ball and put it into a good kicking position, ideally with the laces facing away from the kicker.
  • Kick Returner A kick returner is the player that catches kickoffs and attempts to return them in the opposite direction. He is usually one of the faster players on the team, often a reserve wide receiver.
  • Long Snapper The center position as it would be played on offense, but this player specializes in making longer snaps for punts and field goal attempts. A long-snapper generally has to snap the ball seven-to-eight yards behind him for field goal attempts and 13 to 15 yards for punts with the accuracy that allows the holder or punter to handle the ball cleanly.
  • Placekicker The player who kicks the ball on kickoffs, extra point attempts, and field goal attempts. A placekicker either kicks the ball while it's being held by a teammate or kicks it off a tee.
  • Punter The player who stands behind the line of scrimmage, catches the long snap from the center, and then kicks the ball after dropping it toward his foot. The punter generally comes in on fourth down to punt the ball to the other team with the idea of driving the other team as far back as possible before they take possession of the ball.
  • Punt Returner The job of a punt returner is to catch the ball after it has been punted and run it back toward the punting team's end zone. back to top

What are the basic pass plays?
Here are three of the most common pass plays in football:

  1. Forward Pass This is is the most basic of pass plays. In a forward pass the quarterback, after receiving the snap, steps back and looks for a receiver to throw the ball to. The receivers and sometimes a running back will run downfield and try to get away from a defender in order to catch the ball.
  2. A Screen Pass is similar to the forward pass, but instead of throwing the ball down the field, the receiver or running back will move to the sides of the field behind the line of scrimmage to receive the pass. Usually another player will run in front of the player who received the ball to block defenders.
  3. You'll hear this term a lot on Sundays: "Play-action Pass." This is when right after the snap the quarterback pretends to give the ball to the running back. This makes the defense start to go after the wrong player and helps allow the receivers to break fee. If the quarterback is able to deceive the defense well, chances are good that a receiver is open. On the other hand, if the defense sees it a play action pass coming, the quarterback has a good chance of getting sacked because it takes a little time for this play to develop. back to top

What is the line of scrimmage?
In American and Canadian football a line of scrimmage is an imaginary transverse line crossing the football field across its narrower dimension, beyond which a team cannot cross until the next play has begun. Its location is based on the spot where the ball is placed after the end of the most recent play and following the assessment of any penalty yards. A line of scrimmage is parallel to the goal lines and touches one edge of the ball where it sits on the ground prior to the snap. Under NFL and NCAA rules, there are actually two lines of scrimmage at the outset of each play: one that restricts the offense and one that restricts the defense. The area between the two lines (representing the length of the ball as extended to both sidelines) is called the neutral zone. Only the center, the offensive player who snaps the ball, is allowed to have any part of his body in the neutral zone. In order for there to be a legal beginning of a play, a certain number of the players on the offensive team, including certain eligible receivers, must be at, on or within a few inches of their line of scrimmage. back to top

What is a lateral?
In American football a lateral pass or lateral, officially referred to as a backward pass, and an "onside pass" in Canadian football; is a sideways or rearward throwing of the football. The pass cannot itself advance the ball, though of course the receiver can advance after catching it. This is distinguished from a forward pass, which moves the ball in the direction of the opponent's end line. The rules allow forward passes to be thrown only by the offensive team during a scrimmage down before team possession has changed from in or behind the neutral zone. back to top

What constitutes a fumble?
A fumble occurs when a ball carrier loses possession by dropping the ball or having it knocked away before a play ends; the first player to regain possession of the loose ball is said to make the recovery, and his team's offense takes over from that spot. back to top

What is holding?
Holding is a penalty where a player impedes the movement of an opponent by grasping or hooking any part of his body or uniform; punishable by a penalty — 10 yards if against the offense, 5 yards (10 yards in college) plus a first down if against the defense. back to top

What is a chop block?
Definition: A block below the knees. For example, offensive linemen often try to cut defensive linemen by using chop blocks. CHOP BLOCKS ARE ILLEGAL IN YOUTH FOOTBALL. back to top

What is the West Coast Offense?
A West Coast Offense, or WCO, basically indicates an offense that puts more emphasis on passing than rushing. There isn't a standard West Coast Offense - it's more of a philosophy than it is a set of plays or formations - but the idea of a West Coast Offense as it's known today was popularized by Bill Walsh. Walsh developed the system while he was an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1968-75. He then implemented a modified version of his offense when he became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers won three Super Bowls running this offense. A West Coast Offense is very precise and demands excellent timing and accuracy from its quarterback and receivers because relies on a lot of short to medium passes, many times while a receiver is heavily guarded. The quarterback has to have great footwork and a sense of timing to put the ball in the receivers hands the moment he reaches the designated spot. It wasn't actually called a West Coast Offense until after the 1985 playoffs when then-New York Giants coach Bill Parcells sarcastically remarked, "What do you think of that West Coast Offense now?" after beating the 49ers 17-3. Parcells was of the traditional mindset of offensive theory that argues a team must establish its running game first in order to draw the defense in and open up passing lanes. The West Coast Offense almost does the opposite by instead emphasizing a short, horizontal passing attack to help stretch the defense out and therefore open up running lanes. A number of pro teams run a version of a West Coast Offense; the Packers, Broncos and Seahawks to name a few. On the college side, BYU began running a West Coast Offense in the 70's under legendary coach LaVell Edwards. With its offense, the school won a national championship in 1984 and allowed BYU to break over 100 NCAA records for passing and total offense during Edwards' tenure. back to top

What is a Nickelback?
In American football, a nickelback is a cornerback who serves as the fifth (in addition to the typical four) defensive backs on the defense. A base defense contains four defensive backs, consisting of two cornerbacks, and two safeties. Adding an extra back makes five, hence the term "nickel", which is the name for 5-cent coins in the United States and Canada. Usually the nickelback will take the place of a linebacker, so if the team was in a 4-3 formation, there would now be four linemen, only two linebackers and five defensive backs creating a 4-2-5 formation. However, some teams will replace a lineman rather than a linebacker, creating a three linemen, three linebacker and five defensive back alignment, a 3-3-5 formation. If an offensive team always uses three or more wide receivers, a defense may turn to a nickel defense for their base package on most plays. Usually extra defensive backs, such as a nickelback, are substituted into the defense in situations where the opposing offense is likely to attempt a forward pass, such as 3rd-and-long, or when extra receivers are substituted into the opposing offense. The nickelback is the third cornerback on the depth chart. The nickelback is not considered a starting position because the starting formation for a defense has only two cornerbacks. Defensive formations with three or more cornerbacks are used often enough that a nickelback will usually see moderate playing time (particularly in the modern, pass-oriented NFL) as well as subbing in for the starting corners. back to top