What Is A Line Judge In Football

A line judge or LJ in football is an official that lines up on the line of scrimmage opposite the down judge. The line judge helps the down judge with calling penalties around the line of scrimmage.

As the play progresses line judges are responsible for making calls on plays that end up near their position on the sideline. Line judges line up behind the line of scrimmage on field goals and punts to determine if any players are offside or encroaching.

Common calls made by this official include:

  • offsides
  • encroachment
  • illegal forward throw

Every Down Responsibilities

Depending on whether the offense decides to run or pass the ball a line judge will have different responsibilities. Though there are a few tasks that they must do each and every play.

Watch The Line

Along with the down Judge, the line judge is always responsible for watching the line of scrimmage for encroachment and offside.

Regardless of the play, this official will always have an eye on the line of scrimmage. Oftentimes you will notice wide receivers pointing to officials to determine whether or not they are onside.

The officials these plays are checking with are the down judge and line judge.

Counting Offensive Players

Another responsibility of the line judge is to count the number of offensive players on the field. If there are more than eleven players the line judge will call a penalty for too many men on the field.

The line judge has this duty on all plays including punts.

Sideline Plays

Line judges are also responsible for ruling on plays that occur near the sideline on his half of the field. This may include calling fumbles, players in bounds as well as complete or incomplete passes.

Passing Downs

Since the line judge is so close to the line of scrimmage they have quite a few responsibilities when it comes to the passing game. First off the LJ will check out the formation to determine which receivers he is responsible for.

The line judge must then be prepared to rule on pass interference, holding or illegal contact occurring amongst the receivers and defensive backs he is responsible for watching.

Additionally, if a play ends up in the LJ’s vicinity he must make calls regarding whether the pass was complete. As well as if the receiver was inbounds or not when the catch was made.

When a pass is thrown in the direction of the LJ he must also determine if the throw was a forward pass or a lateral. This official must also determine if the passer was behind the line of scrimmage when the pass was thrown.

Running Downs

The first responsibility of the LJ on running plays is to watch for false starts, offsides, or encroachment amongst any player on the defense or offense.

The LJ then must watch the blockers and defenders on his side of the field for penalties. Common penalties such as holding, illegal contact, illegal blocks are the sorts of things this official will be looking for.

They are then responsible for watching his sideline to determine if the ball carrier forward progress is stopped or he steps out of bounds. At this point, the LJ must mark the location in which the ball carrier progressed the ball to.

Special Teams

On special teams this official has several responsibilities. On the kickoff, this official is lined up on the receiving team’s goal line. If the ball travels out of bounds before the endzone it is this official that makes the call.

The LJ is also responsible for counting the number of players receiving the kickoff.

On punts, the LJ must watch the line of scrimmage to determine if any players on either side of the ball move early.

On field goals or extra-point attempts this official lines up at the line of scrimmage and calls offsides, encroachments, and false starts.


The positioning for a LJ is very straightforward. On almost every play the line judge will line up on the line of scrimmage across from the down judge.

It is only on kickoffs that this official lines up far from balls starting location.

If you enjoyed this guide check out our article on the chain gang in football. Or learn about other officials similar to line judge such as the side judge position or the back judge position.

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