What Are the Offensive and Defensive Positions on a Football Team?

American football, quarterback looking to pass (Digital Composite)
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If you're new to football, you may not be able to name all of the positions on a team. Some, like the quarterback or center, are fairly obvious. But do you know the difference between the cornerback and the fullback and what positions they occupy on the field? By learning how to identify the different positions on a football team, you'll be able to understand how different plays are executed and learn the basics of offensive and defensive strategy.

Offensive Positions

There are 11 player positions on a football team's offense:

  • Quarterback: Receives the ball from the center at the start of each play before either handing it to the running back, throwing it to a receiver or running with it himself. The quarterback is usually the player in charge of calling the offense on the field.
  • Halfback: Lines up in the backfield and generally is responsible for carrying the ball on run plays. A running back's primary role is to run the football, he is also used as a receiver at times.
  • Fullback: Lines up in the offensive backfield and generally is responsible for run-blocking for the halfback and pass-blocking for the quarterback. Fullbacks are usually bigger than halfbacks, and also serve as short-yardage runners.
  • Wide receiver: Lines up on or near the line of scrimmage, but split to the outside. His primary job is to catch passes from the quarterback.
  • Tight end: Serves as a receiver and also a blocker. The tight end lines up beside the offensive tackle either to the right or to the left of the quarterback.
  • Offensive tackle: A member of the five-player offensive line. There are two tackles on every play, and they line up on the outside of the offensive guards.
  • Offensive guard: A member of the five-player offensive line. There are two guards on every play, and they line up on either side of the offensive center.
  • Center: Hikes (or snaps) the ball to the quarterback at the start of each play. The center lines up in the middle of the offensive line, between the offensive guards, and often relays play calls and offensive assignments to the other linemen.

Offensive Positions

There are 11 player positions on a football team's defense as well:

  • Defensive end: These two players occupy the outer sides of the defensive line. Their job is to penetrate the offensive line and target the quarterback or to stop the run.
  • Defensive tackle: These two players occupy the inside of the defensive line and are expected to block the offensive line from advancing.
  • Linebacker: Three or four of these players who line up behind the defensive line, serving as a backup. Depending on the play, there will be outside, inside, and middle linebackers.
  • Corner: These two line up opposite the wide receiver on offense to block runners from advancing and create outside pressure on the QB.
  • Safety: Charged with stopping the long pass and the deep run, these players line up behind the linebackers.

Special Teams

In addition to the offense and defense, a football squad will also have a few dedicated "special teams" players. These players take the field during kickoffs, punt returns, and extra points. 

  • Kicker: The player responsible for kicking field goals and extra points, as well as for the opening kickoff.
  • Punter: The kicker's counterpart, a punter kicks the ball to the opposing team after his team has surrendered the ball on downs or has scored.
  • Long snapper: Perhaps the most unappreciated position, this player snaps the ball to the punter. 
  • Return specialists: The players who return punts and kicks. Some players fill both roles, others only one.