What’s the difference between a Mike and a Sam linebacker? What does it mean when you hear a TV analyst call someone a “waist-bender”? Learn some of the intermediate-level inside football terminolgy with our Football 201.
46 defensive front: The 46 defensive front, made popular by Buddy Ryan and the 1985 Chicago Bears, is a variation of the 4-3 defense. One defensive end lines up wide of the offensive tackle, two linebackers move up to the line of scrimmage across from the strong-side tight end, and the strong safety plays up in the box as a linebacker. The formation was named after Bears strong safety Doug Plank, who wore No. 46.
H-back: An offensive player who has similar responsibilities to a tight end or fullback but is smaller in size. H-backs are often versatile and can line up along the line of scrimmage, in the slot or in the backfield. They also can be called the “F” receiver for playcalling purposes.
Jack linebacker (or Leo linebacker): In a 3-4 defense, the outside linebacker who lines up on the weak side of the formation. He usually is a defensive end/linebacker hybrid whose primary responsibility is to rush the passer.
Jet sweep: A trick play where a wide receiver goes in motion before the snap, then receives the handoff from the quarterback. It’s different than an end-around when the receiver does not go in motion before the snap and a reverse when the running back takes a hand-off or pitch from the quarterback, heads one way, then hands it off to a receiver who is running the opposite way.
Mike linebacker: The middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense, or the inside linebacker who lines up toward the strong side of the formation in a 3-4 defense. The Mike linebacker is responsible for calling out plays and defensive audibles, which is why he’s often called the quarterback of the defense.
Pulling blocker: An offensive lineman who leaves his normal spot to block another player in a different area of the field. This is the key part of a trap run.
Sam linebacker: The outside linebacker who lines up on the strong side of the formation. The Sam linebacker usually is the team’s strongest and/or best run-stopping linebacker.
Sluggo: A route that starts off as a slant, then breaks into a go route.
Stunt: A defensive line move in which one lineman, instead of immediately rushing the passer at the snap, drops back andcrosses behind another lineman before rushing upfield.
Tackle-eligible: When an offensive tackle lines up as an eligible receiver, usually as a tight end. The lineman must declare himself as an eligible receiver to the referee before the play in order to be tackle-eligible.
Waist-bender: An offensive lineman who bends at the waist instead of at the knees when blocking. Bending from the waist is a near-surefire way to be caught off-balance, so it’s not a good thing if you hear this term being used.
Wheel route: A type of route, usually run by a running back or slot receiver, in which a player starts out by running a flat or flare route, then turns upfield and runs a seam route.
Will linebacker: In a 4-3 front, the Will linebacker is the outside linebacker who lines up on the weak side of the formation. In a 3-4 front, he is the inside linebacker who lines up on the weak side of the formation. The Will linebacker usually is the team’s fastest and/or best coverage linebacker.
X receiver: The X receiver, also called the split end, is the receiver who lines up along the line of scrimmage, usually on the weak side of the formation.
Y receiver: The Y receiver is another name for the tight end or a slot receiver.
Z receiver: The Z receiver, also called the flanker, is the receiver who lines up one or two yards behind the line of scrimmage, usually on the strong side of the formation.
(Need a refresher on the basics? Read up on some of the more commonly used phrases in our Football 101.)