Vol.2, No.3

What football position is best for you?

Each of the basic positions in football requires different physical and mental skills. The need for good physical conditioning is common to each position.

Young football player
Photo Credit: Doug Webb
Each of the basic positions in football requires different physical and mental skills. One thing each position has in common is the need for good physical conditioning. Injuries are a part of the game regardless of the level and being in the best physical condition will minimize those injuries.

There are four basic positions on the defense: cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers, and defensive linemen. Each requires a different set of physical strengths and mental approaches.

To be a good cornerback, you need three things--speed, speed, and more speed. Cornerbacks have to cover the fastest players on the offense, the wide receivers. The type of speed most important is "closing speed." This is how quickly a cornerback can decrease the distance between himself and a receiver he is covering and how quickly he can get into position to defend a pass thrown in his direction. Good cornerbacks anticipate the wide receiver's route and make cuts to overtake him.

Cornerbacks are not often involved in stopping the running game of the offense or rushing the passer, so superior strength is not critical. For these same reasons, a cornerback usually does not need to know the finer details of the defensive plays. Most cornerbacks are on an island (so to speak) in defensive situations. Their job is simply to prevent the receivers on the other team from catching the ball.

Safeties need more strength and not quite as much speed as cornerbacks. Safeties usually do not cover the faster players on the offense one on one unless a mismatch has been created by the offense. Instead, safeties help cornerbacks in double coverage and cover tight ends. Safeties help stop the running game and rush (blitz) the quarterback so good strength is necessary.

A safety needs to know the finer details of the defensive plays since they are used in defending the run and pass. Safeties often have to make quick decisions on which receiver to double cover or if they need to help in stopping the run. This can not be determined in many cases until the offense has started the play. Finally, safeties need to have good tackling skills since they are involved in so many plays.

Linebackers need a combination of good speed, strength, and intellectual power. Linebackers will cover offensive players in the passing game, help stop the running game, rush the passer as a down lineman, and blitz the quarterback. Linebackers have to be good tacklers as well since they are involved in just about every offensive play. Most leading tacklers on teams are linebackers.

Linebackers are usually the defensive coaches on the field. Thus, they need to be intimately familiar with all the defensive plays. They need to know what everyone is supposed to be doing on each defensive play so they can call the best play or make adjustments to stop the offense. This requires quite a bit of memorization.

The most important physical attribute for a lineman is strength. Linemen need to have explosive power in order to get past offensive linemen who are just as big and strong as defensive linemen. Defensive linemen are primarily involved in helping stop the offensive running game at or behind the line of scrimmage and putting pressure on the quarterback. Quickness is a good attribute also. This will help the lineman get a step ahead of the offensive linemen.

Defensive linemen will need to have good memorization skills. They need to know on each play if the scheme is designed to stop the run or stop the pass. There are many different schemes used in rushing the quarterback and playing run defense. In addition, linemen often have to "key" on the offensive linemen, react to what scheme they are employing, and quickly decide what is best for them to do.

There are four basic positions for offense as well; quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. Again, each requires a different set of physical strengths and mental approaches.

The quarterback is the offensive coach on the field. A quarterback often calls the offensive plays or relays them from the coaches to the rest of the offensive team. Quarterbacks occasionally change the original play at the line of scrimmage. They must be able to read the type of defense shown and alter plays accordingly. Quarterbacks have to decide which receiver has the best chance of making the play successful during a passing play. Thus, a quarterback needs to have quick thinking and good memorization skills.

Physically, a quarterback needs a strong throwing arm and some throwing talent. Accuracy and strength can both be developed with practice, but it's good to have a starting point. A good combination of speed, agility, and strength are good attributes but there have been successful quarterbacks with a weakness. One thing all good quarterbacks have in common is a strong throwing arm.

Running backs are the workhorses of the offense. Running backs are actively involved in almost all offensive plays. They need a sharp mind because they run the ball, block on running plays, receive the ball, block on passing plays, and even on rare occasions throw the ball on trick plays. Good memorization skills and quick, sound judgments are required of running backs.

A running back needs to be able to handle a great deal of physical contact and continue playing through minor injuries. Often, running backs are tackled hard and they usually block bigger and stronger defensive players. Good offenses usually run the ball effectively, so a running back needs endurance. Speed and agility are also important but not critical to success.

Wide receivers are not as involved in the plays as running backs so their mental approach may not be as intense. Still, knowledge of all the plays is important as receivers provide critical blocks in the running game. Receives must learn to run the routes efficiently and when to alter those routes when the normal flow of an offensive play breaks down.

Wide receivers need to have good speed, agility and most importantly, great hands. If a good wide receiver gets even a part of his hand on the ball, he usually catches it. Sometimes, receivers are tackled very hard when catching the ball and must learn to ignore potential hits and hold on to the ball. Endurance is a great quality also, as wide receivers spend a great deal of time running long routes as fast as possible even when they know they are not the intended receiver.

Tight ends will be involved in the running game as a blocker, and in the passing game as a receiver. It is important a tight end know all the plays and adjustments to those plays at the line of scrimmage.

Often, tight ends are extra linemen, so they need to be strong and powerful. A tight end needs to be quick but not necessarily fast or have high endurance. Like good wide receivers, good tight ends need to have great hands--being able to catch most balls they touch. Tight ends are often intended receivers in short yardage situations and near the goal line so being tall or being a good jumper is a definite advantage.

Other positions used in football are on the special teams, punting team, kickoff team, and the field goal/extra point kicking team. With the exception of the field goal kicker and punter, players already in other positions usually fill all positions on the special teams.

Simply put, kickers and punters need to be able to placekick or punt the ball long distances with excellent accuracy. Outside of that, no special physical or mental skills are necessary for these positions.