Just like the offensive line had one goal….to protect the ball carrier, the defense’s goal is just as important….to STOP the ball carrier and they do this with two lines of defense: the defensive line and the linebackers. Today we are going to talk about the first line of defense.
The defensive linemen are fairly busy guys. They are the first line of defense and they need to be able to come against the huge offensive linemen, stop the guy running with the football and try and get to the quarterback before he throws a pass. They need to be big, strong and quick.
There are 5 defensive linemen that lineup with the offense. Those 5 guys are a Nose Guard or Nose Tackle, Defensive Tackles and Defensive Ends. The battle that the offensive line and defensive line have against each other, play after play, is often referred to as “in the trenches“. It’s like a war out there on the gridiron, watching these huge men go after one another in hopes of disrupting a pass or tackling the ball carrier.
Nose Guard - This guy is usually pretty big. My husband played nose guard in college and at his peak, weighed 275 lbs. The nose guard lines up directly across from the center (the guy who hikes the ball to the quarterback). The nose guard’s job is all grunt work. He does not get much recognition or attention because he is basically occupying the offensive line so they can’t block the defense. He will try and tackle if he gets an opportunity but for the most part, he is primarily working the front line of offense to free up space for the rest of the defense.
Defensive Tackle - These two positions are on each side of the Nose Guard. A right tackle and a left tackle will line up either directly across one of the offensive linemen or in the spaces between the offensive linemen aiming to go through the gap. There are literally hundreds of strategies that the defense will execute to get to the ball carrier.
Every time the D line gets into formation there is what is called a specific “assignment” for each player. Sometimes the assignment calls for a D lineman to target one player on the other team. Sometimes the assignment requires a D lineman to run through the gap to get to the quarterback or ball carrier. Sometimes they perform a “stunt” in which the defensive tackle and defensive end will twist, upon the snap of the ball, and go in opposite directions, through the gaps, in an attempt to confuse the offense. Every single assignment corresponds to how the offense is lined up and what the defense thinks they are going to do.
Defensive End - The right and left defensive ends line up just like the defensive tackle; either in front of a player on the O line or positioned on the outside of the offensive tackles. The job of the defensive end is to chase the quarterback out of the pocket and try to tackle him behind the line of scrimmage (where the play started) so that he loses some yardage. If this happens it is called a “sack“: when the quarterback is tackled behind the line of scrimmage resulting in a loss of yards. Perhaps you remember the cheerleaders chanting in high school “sack that quarterback!” The other job that a defensive end has is to keep the running back from getting to the outside of the pocket where he can run down the side of the field. If they can keep them inside then the other defensive players can get to him and tackle him.
Take a look at the photo above. The players in the white jerseys are the offensive line. The yellow X’s represent the 5 defensive line players. Do you see how they can sometimes run to the outside of a player or through the gap or “hole” in the line? The red circles represent the gaps or holes that the d line will try to get through during a given play.
Each defensive lineman has to read or “key” the offensive line, before the ball is hiked, in order to prepare himself to react to their movements. The defensive line has to think a lot and their job is often thankless as they are constantly paving the way for the second line of defense……the linebackers, which we will discuss tomorrow.