Sunday, December 22, 2013

Practice Safe Ball

We here we are at the last few positions of the defense. We are talking cornerbacks and safeties (CB and FS SS). These two are the deepest positions on the field. What that means is that they usually line up much farther back from the line of scrimmage than the other defensive players. Sometimes they aren’t even visible on TV because of how far back they are. These are the players that make up the “secondary”. Secondary means the group of players that usually defend the pass plays.

The cornerback is the player that defends against the wide receiver. They are fast, lean and a special kind of competitive. Corners line up behind the linebackers. When the ball is snapped, these are the defenders that we see running alongside the wide receivers. They have a special love for intercepting the football. Some are so good at intercepting that opposing offenses will not even try to pass to their side. If they can’t intercept the ball, they try to bat it away or run the wide receiver out of bounds. Most of these match ups will happen very close to the side lines. That is very intentional by the defense because they are trying to make the space very small for the wide receivers. The less space they have to make a play, the more opportunities for the corner to make a play and the harder it is for a quarterback to get the ball to their player. These guys have to be mentally tough as well. They are the defenders that are beat when a wide receiver makes a great catch. All eyes are upon them (kind of like the Eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings) when a deeply thrown ball is caught by the receiver. They have to get back up and defend again, because if the offense is successful at that once, then they will try it again. So the corner has to shake it off and do it again.

The last line of defense are the positions that are called safeties. I have always found that name ironic. There is nothing safe about a safety, it would be more accurate to be called “un-safeties”. One of the things that the safeties do is hang back and watch the play unfold. They will then adjust to whatever the play is. There are two types of safeties, the free safety and the strong safety. The strong safety is a generally a little bigger than the free safety. He lines up a little closer to the line backers (a little closer to the line of scrimmage) and has a bigger part in the rushing defense. The free safety lines up deeper and has a bigger part in the passing defense. Both players are expected to be great tacklers because if the offense gets past them, it’s pretty much over; the offense will score. Safeties are another position that loves to be challenged. They look forward to the contact and conflict that comes with the game.

It seems that the farther away a player lines up from the line of scrimmage the more contentious they are. They thrive on the collective hate that opposing offenses direct their way. They are the antithesis of a people pleaser unless they are on your team’s defense. If you are wondering what I am talking about watch corners Richard Sherman or Lester Hayes (retired). Also ask about Earl Thomas and Jairus Byrd ( if anything, your loved ones will be so impressed that you know those names).

Happy watching! And Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Crazy-eyed Dancers

Well on to our next position group.  Last week we talked about the defense that directly lined up on the line of scrimmage.  This week we will look at the defense that usually defends the middle of the field.  They are the linebackers. (See the LB in chart below)  Most of the time, the linebackers are the most recognizable figures on the defense.  Think of Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor.  Have I lost you yet?  Think of the craziest characters on a defense.  The men who wear eye-black down their cheeks to their chins.  They scream, make up wild dances in the pre-game, wild dances if they sack the quarterback, wild dances if they intercept the ball and they dance wildly post-game.  They tend to have a half-crazed looks to their eyes.  And although they might not make your top prospects in dating your daughter, they should be first on the list for leaders on your defense. 
The linebackers usually line up a few yards back of the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive ends and the tackles.  There are three different types of linebackers.  They are the middle, strong side, and weak side linebackers.  The middle linebacker is the best known position.  The middle linebacker is also known as the Mike linebacker.  This position’s job description includes lining up opposite the offense’s center but off the line of scrimmage about 3 or 4 yards.  He is also known as the “quarterback” of the defense because is the one who directs the defense with play calls.  During the play, he is responsible for the middle of the field action, or in other words, stopping the action.  His assignment usually includes stopping the quarterback and/or the running back. 
Another linebacker is the strong side linebacker or the Sam linebacker.  If you remember a few blogs back, the strong side of the line of scrimmage is the side where the tight end lines up.  It is called “strong” because there is an extra man (the tight end).  The Sam linebacker lines up wherever the tight end on the offense lines up.  His job description is to make the tight end’s life miserable. If the play isn’t going to include the tight end then the Sam linebacker goes after the quarterback or the running back.  The Sam linebacker is usually a little bigger than the other linebackers because the tight ends tend to be bigger football players.
The other linebacker is the weak side linebacker or the Will linebacker.  The term “weak side” in no way describes him; it only describes the side of the line of scrimmage without the extra man.  That is the side of the line of scrimmage that he lines up against.   His job description is a little more varied as he usually isn’t assigned to a specific player.  Depending on the defensive call he either drops back for a passing play or tries to sack the quarterback.  The Will linebacker is usually a little smaller than the Sam linebacker but quicker and more agile in order to have an easier time adjusting to the play.
I am not sure where the nicknames came from.  The educated guesses infer that it is easier to call “Mike, Sam or Will” in the huddle than “middle, strong side or weak side”.  My own imagination thinks that no one wants to call a professional football player “weak” and so in a very impartial decision, they decided to rename all of them.  Then there is the very real threat of being pummeled  by a furious weak side line backer followed by wild dancing.