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Football: Defensive Line

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Defensive line in goal line stand

The defensive line makes up the first line of defense. They are responsible with stopping the run and rushing the quarterback.

Skills Needed
  • Size
  • Strength
  • Speed
  • Determination

The positions played on the defensive line depend on the type of defensive formation the team is running. The two main defenses that teams run today are the 3-4 defense and the 4-3 defense.

The 4-3 Defense

The 4-3 defense has four defensive linemen and three linebackers. The D-line positions are:
  • Defensive Tackle (DT) - There are two defensive tackles. The DTs cover the inside part of the line. They try to stuff up the A and B gaps (areas between the center and the offensive tackles). These guys are generally the biggest players on the defense.
  • Defensive End (DE) - Outside of the DTs are the defensive ends. The DEs try to get around the outside of the offensive line and into the backfield. They keep the runner from getting around the edge, and they put pressure on the quarterback. DEs are big and strong, but also fast.
The 3-4 Defense

The 3-4 defense has three defensive linemen and four linebackers. In this defense the D-line positions are:
  • Nose Tackle (NT) - The nose tackle plays in the center of the defensive line. He is one of the biggest and strongest players on the team. He has to take on two offensive linemen, the center and one of the guards, on just about every play. He tries to clog up the center of the field while at the same time keeping the center and tackle from getting out to block the linebackers.
  • Defensive Tackle (DT) - On each side of the nose tackle is a defensive tackle. These players are big and strong as well. They take on the offensive tackles and make sure that the running back doesn't get through on either side.
Gap Responsibility

One concept in defensive line play is gap responsibility. The space between each offensive lineman is called a gap. Between the center and the guards are the A gaps and between the guards and the tackles are the B gaps. Each defensive lineman is responsible for a gap or gaps. They are supposed to make sure that the running back does not get through their gaps.

Stopping the Run

The first responsibility of the defensive line is stopping the run. A big part of this is gap responsibility as described above. The linemen must take on the blockers, guard the gaps, and then tackle the running back if he tries to get through one of their gaps. The defensive line works closely with the linebackers on run defense. They try to push back the offensive line and keep them from blocking the linebackers. This way the linebackers can help to fill in the gaps and make tackles on the running backs.

Rushing the Passer

When the quarterback drops back to pass, the defensive line rushes the passer. It is important that they get to the quarterback quickly. The more time he has, the more difficult it is for the cornerbacks to cover the receivers. The inside rushers try to push back the middle of the offensive line and collapse the pocket. The DEs often try to use their speed to get around the outside.

Rushing the passer

Despite their huge size, many defensive ends in the NFL are very fast. They use their speed to get to the quarterbacks around the outside. This is one of the most important defensive positions in football. Players also practice and perfect moves such as the bull rush, spin move, the rip move, and the swim move.

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