Offensive line

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The position of the offensive line

The offensive line (also O-Line or OL) is the line of American football players who are right in front of the quarterback and at the forefront of the offense . It always consists of exactly five players: a center, two guards and two tackles.

In American football, there must always be at least seven players on the line of scrimmage , of whom only the two outer players are allowed to catch a ball (see sketch: The tight end and the right wide receiver are like the linemen on the line, while the left receiver is behind is set up offset at the rear). However, these players who are entitled to “pass” are never the linemen, even if they are on the outside of the line, but either tight ends or wide receivers. The offensive line must do " block work ", that is, prevent incoming opponents of the defense from tackling . The offensive line may only block it, anything else - holding on or the like - is prohibited and will be punished. In addition, offensive linemen are not allowed to touch forward passes (unless the pass has already been touched by a so-called "authorized pass recipient"), which is why they are the players who are by far the least likely to get possession of the ball (if they do, then due to a fumble or a lateral pass ). They always have numbers between 50 and 79 (these numbers indicate in the offense that the players are not authorized to pass).

There are two types of blocks:

  • Run Block: Here the opponent is pushed forward and - if necessary - to the side, so that a passage is cleared for the ball carrier and he can run far forward undisturbed. The offense usually creates a preponderance of blockers on one side or at one point, which may also include tight ends and fullbacks .
  • Pass Block: Here are the offensive linemen go back and form a semicircle that looks like a pocket ( Engl. Pocket), to protect the quarterback. In addition, on passing moves, they are not allowed to cross the line of scrimmage before the pass has been played.

An ideal offensive lineman is strong and tall so that he can block as well as possible. In the National Football League (NFL), heights of more than 1.85 m and 125–135 kg are standard values, in German amateur teams sizes of 1.80–1.95 m and 120–140 kg are common. If an offense player moves after all attackers have been set up, there is a penalty ( false start , punished with five yards loss of space). Offensive linemen are rather “invisible” to the spectator, as they never carry the ball, but “only” enable the ball carriers to actually play. Therefore, the average viewer usually only pays special attention to one penalty they cause .


A center just before the snap

The center (C) is in the center of the offensive line and also in the center of a play. His task in particular is that he begins every move by passing the ball through his legs to the quarterback (QB), but sometimes also to the punter or holder . Usually this happens "directly", that is, the quarterback has his hands on the tailbone or on the buttocks of the center and the center then passes the ball there. With plays with punter, kicker, but also with normal plays when the quarterback is a few yards behind the center ( shotgun formation ), the center throws the ball to the player standing behind him and starts the move. This process is known as a snap . When the center is “thrown” to a holder or punter, this becomes a long snapper (LS). In professional leagues there is usually a separate player for this purpose, with amateurs this task is often taken over by the normal center.

At the time of the snap, no player may be in the neutral zone - with the exception of the center. The neutral zone lies between the two groups of linemen and is bounded by the two ends of the football. Also, no player is allowed to touch the center until the end of the snap, i.e. until the recipient has safely received the ball. This does not apply to long snaps and the shotgun offense, as the ball flies for a short time before it reaches its target, in which the defense is allowed to attack. After the snap, the center must also block the defensive linemen . This makes the center's task the most difficult of the offensive line, as it is first the key figure in the move and then an important blocker. In the early years of American football, the center was also known as snapper-back . Because before the hash mark was introduced in 1934, the snapper had to line up on the far right or left of the line of scrimmage if the previous down ended directly on the edge of the field. Since 1934 the middle player of the offensive line has practically always snapped and the term "snapper-back" is out of use.


The guards (G) represent the players who are on the left and right of the center. It is also your job to keep attacking defensive linemen and linebackers away from the quarterback if he wants to pass the ball. During a running play, guards are often part of so-called pull maneuvers , that is, they do not block straight forward, but take a step back behind the line and then move to one side in order to gain an advantage for the blockers.


The position of the tackles in the offense

The tackle (T or sometimes OT, as there is also a tackle in the defensive line [DT]) represents the outside position on either side of the offensive line, if you do not count the tight end. They too have to stop the attacking defense players, but because of their position on the outside they are physically the largest link in the offensive line to compensate for the missing "neighbors". Ideally, a tackle is around 2 m tall and must not weigh less than 125 kg.

But there are differences between the left (LT) and the right (RT) tackle. Due to the predominantly right-sided disposition of the people, the LT usually has to be the better pass blocker of the two, since this side is the "blind" side of a right-handed quarterback. During the passing play, the latter turns with the right side of the body backwards and turns his back to the left side of the playing field. In contrast, the RT is the better run blocker, because the ball should always be carried outside during running plays and the stronger side of most running backs is the right one.

Individual evidence

  1. Illegal formation. Rule 7 Section 5 Article 1. National Football League (NFL), accessed on February 3, 2020 (American English): "The offensive team must be in compliance with the following at the snap: (a) It must have seven or more players on the line "