What Is The Defensive Line In Football?

The defensive line in football refers to a position group responsible for sacking the quarterback on passing plays and stopping the running back from leaving the backfield on rushing plays.

There are three or four players on the defensive line depending on which formation the defense is using.

defensive line positions

Within the defensive line, there are two different positions defensive tackles and defensive ends.

Defensive tackles line up in the middle of the defensive line and are usually the largest players on the field. 

These players are more involved in stopping the run. Depending on the formation the defensive line is going to feature one or two defensive tackles.

The other position on the defensive line is defensive end. These players line up on the end of the offensive line and are primarily used to rush the quarterback.

On any given play the offensive line is going to face off against the defensive line.

These two lines feature all the biggest and strongest players on the football field. Due to the size and frequency of contact the area in which the defensive line plays is referred to as the trenches.

Since the defensive line plays so close to the line of scrimmage these players often make splash plays.

Players on the defensive line will usually lead the team in sacks and tackles for loss. The defensive line is going to make up three or four of the positions in a defense’s front seven.

Understanding positions on the defensive line

Now that you understand what the defensive line is in football you may be wondering what exactly each player does on the line.

Defensive ends

defensive end position lining up

The defensive end position is one of the most important positions on the Defense and usually the highest-paid.

This position is so important because they have the best opportunity to stop the opposing team’s quarterback.

On any given play the defensive end is going to line up against the opposing teams offensive tackle.

The offensive tackle also lines up on the end of the offensive line which means these players typically face off in open space.

This open space at the end of the line makes it much easier for the defensive end to get to the quarterback.

Since these players have the best shot at getting to the quarterback offenses will put a lot of value on the offensive tackle position. Left tackles who protect the quarterback’s blindside are often one of the highest-paid offensive players for this reason.

When it comes to rushing plays defensive ends do not play as large of a role. In most cases, the defensive ends will set the edge and not allow the running back to get outside him.

This means the end will not always make the tackle but instead will funnel the player into the middle of the field.

The middle of the field is going to have a lot more defenders waiting for the running back making it more likely they bring him down for the tackle.

Defensive Tackles

defensive tackle position lining up

The defensive tackle position is another key position in a football team’s defense. Defensive tackles are going to set up in the middle of the line.

When it comes to passing plays the defensive tackle is going to attempt to get into the pocket and tackle the quarterback.

Since the tackles line up in the middle of the formation it is often difficult for them to get to the quarterback. Unlike the defensive end who operates in the open field defensive tackles are usually in a sea of bodies.

The guards and center lineup in front of the defensive tackle which often results in the defensive tackle being double-teamed on a pass rush.

Defensive tackles will often use bull rush tactics on passing plays in order to push interior offensive linemen back into the pocket.

On rushing plays, the defensive tackles are going to play a larger role. The ability to stop rushing plays is why defensive tackles play with such large frames.

On a rushing play, the offensive line is trying to push the defensive line in order to create a hole for the running back. The defensive tackle is meant to fight off these blocks and plug the hole for the running back.

These players will not always make the tackle but they may keep the running back in the backfield long enough for another player to make the tackle.

That concludes our guide to the defensive line, learn about the offensive line or what the term lineman means in football.

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