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Femme Football Part 2: Defensive Numbering & Defensive Line

GABACast's Rantin' Rhonda continues her crash course in college football. Today's topic: Defensive Numbering & Defensive Line.

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Hey Y'all! Here is part two of Femme Football- to see part one click here! This is going to be a very basic rundown of the defensive numbering system and the defensive line. I know there are going to be some unanswered questions, but I promise to answer those questions as we delve deeper into defenses in later articles! Buckle up folks...This one is gonna have a lot of pictures!

Defensive Numbering System:

The defensive numbering system, like most things in football, is designed so that players can easily understand and remember their assignments. The system used today was actually created by legendary Alabama coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant in the 1950s. That's right, folks, Bama fans aren't the only ones living off of his glory. Anyway, you will often hear coaches describing defensive linemen as "3 techniques" or "2 techniques"....WHAT THE HECK does that even mean??? Those terms refer to the placement and assignment of a defender during a play.

To quote Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson:

If there is a defender heads up on the center he is a 0 technique. If he aligns on the guard's shoulder he is in a shade or 1 technique. Moving outside from the center, all the head up positions are labeled with even numbers. Heads up on the guard is a 2 technique, over the tackle is a 4 technique, and the over the tight end is a 6 technique. The outside shoulders of the offensive linemen are the odd-numbered techniques. The outside shoulder of the guard is a 3 technique, the outside shoulder of the tackle is a 5 technique, and the outside shoulder of the tight end is a 9 technique. The inside shoulder of the tight end is a 7 technique. No one knows why that is the case, but Coach Bryant numbered it that way and no one has the guts to change it. There are two special techniques on the inside [shoulder] of the guard and tackle. Those are called the 2i and 4i techniques.

I know this is all still clear as mud, so, here is a diagram to help clarify what Coach Johnson is talking about:

Quick tips:

  • Odd numbers = the defender lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive lineman
  • Even numbers = the defender lines up head up with the offensive lineman
  • Even numbers + i = defender lines up on inside shoulder of offensive lineman
  • Shade = shoulder - This term occasionally pops up. Coaches say "shade" because you would shade in which shoulder of an offensive lineman to cover when drawing a defensive play

Offensive Gaps:

Now that a defensive lineman knows where to line up, they now need to establish their assignments. The defense uses a lettering system to label certain spaces between offensive lineman and identify their points of attack. These spaces are referred to as "gaps." The space between the center and either guard is called the "A-gap," the space between a guard and a tackle is the "B-gap," and the space outside the tackle is the "C-gap." REMEMBER: the purpose of these identification systems is to make it easier for coaches to communicate to players about their assignments. Do not get overwhelmed! It's is easier to understand when you can see it in a diagram:

See the gap between each offensive linemanThis diagram should help you see where each lineman would typically line up, and to see which gaps each technique would line up against.

Defensive Line:

Defense linemen are the guys that line up directly on the line of scrimmage and play with their "hand on the ground." This means they are typically in a three-point (one hand on the ground)or four-point stance (both hands on the ground) before the ball is snapped. This isn't ALWAYS the case for all defensive linemen, but it's a good note for football newbies so they can distinguish between the DL and the linebackers, who begin in a two-point stance (no hand touching the ground) 4-5 yards away from the ball. The basic concept for defensive line is very simple: stay in their assigned gap/area and get the ball carrier/rush the passer. Successful defenses must be "gap sound." This means a defensive lineman MUST be able to protect his assigned offensive gap and not be knocked out of their gap by the fellas trying to move them (the offensive line). There are several different types of defenses that a defense can employ and most of them use 4 defensive linemen: (4-3 or 4-2-5), 3 defensive linemen (3-4, 3-3/3-5 stack front), or even 5 defensive linemen  (bear front) . We will address the different types of defenses in a later article. The purpose of this article is to simply explain the GENERAL responsibilities of defensive linemen. The man in charge of getting our defensive linemen this season is Coach Lance Thompson.

The defensive line positions are as follows:

Defensive Tackles:

  • Line up in between the defensive ends covering the interior gaps (the A and B gaps) or cover the interior offensive linemen (the center and guards)
  • Noseguard: The Defensive Tackle that lines up over the center in certain defenses
  • Run stopper
  • Goal of defensive tackles is to cause disruption in the offensive line
  • Defensive tackles also attempt to clog gaps to prevent the run game
  • They are short & stocky
  • Typically strongest athletes on the defensive line
  • To further the "if football players were dog breeds" analogy, D-Tackles are pit bulls.
  • 0-3 techniques
  • 6'2"-6'5 270-350 lbs
  • Kelsey Griffin #94, Ulric Jones #93, Taylor Stallworth #90, Abu Lamin #99

Defensive Ends

  • Play at the edges of the defensive line
  • Pass rusher and the player who protects the edge (preventing sweeps or off tackle runs)
  • Purpose is to put pressure on the quarterback and defend the run game
  • The faster of the two defensive ends is typically placed on the right side of the defensive line. This means he would be rushing on the quarterback's left side. For a right-handed QB, his left side is left vulnerable when he is throwing the football. This is also known as his blind side. For a left-handed quarterback, this would be reversed
  • Typically slender and tall
  • Longer arms
  • Typically the most athletic on the defensive line
  • If D-Ends were a dog breed, they would be german shepherds
  • 6'2" - 6'7" 250-290 lbs
  • Marquavius Lewis #8, Keir Thomas #18, Daniel Fennell #30, Darius English #5

Penalties most often called on defensive linemen:

  • Offside: a foul in which the defensive lineman is on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped, also known as encroachment
  • Roughing the Passer - the defensive player continues continues to hit or tackle the passer even after he has thrown the ball

In this video, I break down what happened during a particular defensive play. Kelcy Quarles, a defensive tackle, sacks Tajh Boyd. Make a note of where the linemen are placed and try to see that placement in the Youtube video that follows!

The play I have drawn starts at 0:26 -- Watch the other highlights and pause the video at the beginning of each play to practice labeling techniques!