Learn the fundamentals of one of the greatest spectator and participant sports. To understand this game is to love what it represents, not to mention the teamwork it celebrates.
We have talked about the Inside Linebackers, so now is the time to delve just a little deeper into the position. The Inside Linebackers as you recall align off the ball at 4-5 yards. They are the second level of defense.
In a 4-3 defense, there are three linebackers off the ball and the ones in the middle are the Middle Linebackers (duh!). In a 3-4 defensive alignment it is not quite as obvious since there are only two Inside Linebackers. In this alignment, the Middle Linebackers are normally the Linebackers to the TE side of the offensive formation.
Why would you even care what the Middle Linebacker is as opposed to the general label of Inside Linebacker? The traits for Middle Linebackers are somewhat different than the other linebackers.
As most of you already know, the Middle Linebacker is the signal caller. He is also the Quarterback of the defense and often the emotional leader as well. In the past, the Middle Linebacker was the thumper, hitter, enforcer, and was the most feared of all the defenders. That was in the days of ground and power football.
In this day and age of spreading out the defense and throwing the ball all over the field, the Middle Linebacker’s role is a little different. They are still the Quarterback and leader. Today’s game has required Middle Linebackers to be more mobile and proficient at coverage responsibility. It is important they have a real presence in stopping the opponent’s run game. They must be big enough to take on blockers and quickly shed to the ball. They must cover backs and TE’s.
The Middle Linebacker in today’s game may not be the most feared defender, but must be the most consistent, cerebral, and contact hungry.
Understanding the Zone Scheme to maximize performance.
The most skilled athlete will have little affect on the outcome of the game if she does not know how to play or does not know the rules of the game. It is the leader's or coach's job to teach players how to play and the rules of the game and then to fine-tune their talents to mesh with the skills of the other team members to provide a well-oiled fully functional team.
It is now time to talk about some common strategies in the game of football. From an offensive perspective, there are a couple common run game strategies. One strategy is power-oriented.
Power teams want to punch a hole through the defense. It is a straight-ahead downhill approach. If you encounter a brick wall, this approach would entail blasting a hole in it.
Another strategy is the zone scheme. This is more of a speed and finesse approach where you make the big strong obstacles run and pursue, rather than use their size and strength to plug a hole.
The zone running attack makes the defense the whole width of the football field. The offensive line players with more of a lateral approach, they double team or attempt to power defensive players off the ball. Zone scheme lineman are lighter and quicker than power teams. It is important they can attack defenders aligned outside or inside of their zone, rather than right in front of them.
With the offensive lineman playing lateral, it forces the defense to stretch with them. As the defense expands to cover the width of the field, a separation occurs between defenders. This separation is what the running back or ball carrier is looking to attack. It will create enough space for the ball carrier to attack and gain valuable running yards.
If the defenders do not expand the zone scheme, the ball carrier will circle the defense with the opportunity for a long run!
Life will sometimes attempt an end run or throw us for a loss as well. It is how well prepared we are for most anything life can throw at us that will help keep the rest of our team strong and able to fight to win.
Outside linebackers are tough, quick leaders on the field.
Outside linebackers are quite different depending on the front a defense uses. Outside linebackers in a 3-4 front are primarily pass rushers. Teams that prefer a 4-3 defensive front have outside linebackers who perform like inside linebackers. They align off the ball at 5 yards and are pass defenders more than pass rushers. They must be quick to diagnose runs and passes.
Versus the run game, they have a gap or multiple gaps to fill based on the offensive running play design. They will have to be strong enough to take on and shed the blocks of the offensive lineman. They must also be able to stuff and shed a lead blocker in the hole.
A 4-3 outside linebacker has to defend every aspect of the offensive game plan. Quick key and diagnosing ability is a must. Because the offense will run the ball to the tight end more frequently, the outside linebacker to the tight end is usually the bigger of the two linebackers.
The weak outside linebacker is most often the faster. The weak outside linebacker will be unblocked more often to pursue the ball on action away. There is a wide range regarding the height of the 4-3 three outside linebackers. The basic parameter would be 6’ to 6’5”. Weight can vary from 230 to 255 pounds.
Outside linebackers and a 4-3 must be able to play man and zone coverage concepts. In plays that call for man-to-man coverage they will be responsible most often for the tight end or back. On occasion, they must also cover a wide receiver.
Although pass rushing is not the primary role of the outside linebacker, they are used as blitzers fairly often. They can rush inside or outside. Players who are excellent rushers are valued highly in today's game.
Like the inside linebacker position, the outside linebackers are involved in the action play after play.
Goal: disrupt the running game and sack the quarterback
The difference between a 4-3 defensive lineman and a 3-4 defensive lineman is not only in the physical characteristics, but also in the philosophy of the defensive schemes themselves. In a 3-4 defensive structure the primary objective of the three defensive lineman is to occupy the blocks of two offensive lineman as long as possible. This keeps the linebackers unblocked and free to run and pursue the ball. In order to accomplish that role, they must be very big.
The 4-3 defensive lineman on the other hand are not as big. Most 4-3 games count on their defensive lineman to penetrate and disrupt the offensive line of scrimmage. These linemen, based on that philosophy, are not as big but are extremely quick and explosive.
In a four man front there are two defensive tackles who align on the guard or center. If you want space eaters they play the defensive tackle position in a 4-3.
In this pass-oriented game today as well as the fast-paced no huddle offense that has filtered into the NFL, these space eaters have become less common. The defensive tackles have gone from primarily a run stopping position to a smaller, quicker, better conditioned inside rusher. Rushing the passer is more taxing on the defensive tackles than the run game. Defenses are rotating at least three defensive tackles during the game to help keep players fresh. Tired lineman can't rush effectively.
The other two defensive lineman in the 4-3 scheme are the defensive ends. These players align on the offensive tackle or tight ends. They are taller, faster and they are the best pass rushers in a 4-3 scheme.
Their primary role is to disrupt the outside running game and most importantly sack the quarterback. Different than the defensive end in the 3-4 who eats up blocks for the linebackers and allows them to pursue and tackle, the 4-3 defensive end is a play maker himself. They are expected to produce with tackles, pressures, sacks, and quarterback hits. The 4-3 defensive end should be the most impactful position in the scheme to be an effective defense.
The 3-4 Defensive Lineman are unique and fascinating team players with tremendous size, strength and athleticism.
The Defensive Line position is the best when broken down into two segments. Teams will base their defense out of a 3-man front or a 4-man front. The 3-man front is called a 3-4 defense and utilizes three Defensive Linemen. The 4-man front is called a 4-3 defense and utilizes four Defensive Linemen.
We will be describing the 3-4 defense in this lesson. The three Defensive Linemen align as close to the football as possible and are in a three-point stance 99% of the time. The 3-4 defense has two Defensive Ends who align on the Offensive Tackle and sometimes the Guard. The third Defensive Lineman is the Nose who is one of the most important positions in the 3-4 defense.
The Defensive Line is your first line of defense. The Defensive Linemen are the biggest players on the defensive side of the ball. Not only must these defenders have bulk, but they must be quick and explosive in a short area. Most often the Offensive Linemen are larger than the defensive line. Regardless of the Defensive Linemens’ size they must be strong enough to anchor their area of the field. Most often there is a gap or two gaps between Offensive Linemen. They must have quick hands to shoot into the offensive line to keep them off their body and legs.
The two Defensive Ends in the 3-4 align on the offensive tackle and are normally 6’5” to 6’8” and weigh between 290 and 320 pounds. They must be able to anchor the offensive tackle and also pursue the football. The Nose is between 6’ and 6’4” and weighs from 300 to 360 pounds. If the center or guard can block the 3-4 Nose one-on-one, the 3-4 defense will not be effective.
The three Defensive Lineman in a 3-4 defense are under-rated because they usually don't show up on the stat sheet like the other defenders. Their primary role is to occupy the Offensive Linemen and allow the linebackers to be free from second level blocks to run and tackle the football.
The 3-4 Defensive Lineman are unique and fascinating players with tremendous size and strength mixed with incredible athleticism for such big athletes.
Outside Linebackers are very different depending on the defensive scheme. If the scheme is based out of the four-man front, the Outside Linebackers are normally aligned off the ball like the Inside Linebackers we have discussed previously.
The Outside Linebackers in a three-man front (34 defense) are the most important pieces of the puzzle to be successful. The two Outside Linebackers and three for the defense are the primary pass rushers. That must be their best attribute. They align on the line of scrimmage on the left and right side of the defect. They align in a two-point stance.
Most often one of the Outside Linebackers will be up pass rusher and the other drops in coverage. Obviously, there are times when they will both either rush or drop into coverage. This versatility makes it more difficult for the offense to determine who the fourth rusher will be.
The ideal size parameters for Outside Linebackers is 6’ 3” to 6’5” and 255 to 270 pounds. Ideally, their 40-yard dash should be 4.65 seconds or faster.
In order for the 34 scheme to be effective these two players must be able to continually pressure the quarterback. They must be able to win in their pass rush versus offense tackles and should not be blocked by the offensive back.
They must also have enough strength and power to defeat run blocks by offensive tackles or tight ends. Outside Linebackers must have explosive get off, shocking power, speed, flexibility, quick hands, and agility in the open. They must cover Tight Ends and Backs when they are not rushing the Quarterback.
These are the two key components of a 34 defense. Without two stellar Outside Linebackers, most 34 defenses are doomed to be average at best.
In a four man front or three men front there are usually two inside linebackers. These two defenders play behind the defensive linemen and align 3 to 5 yards from the line of scrimmage.
They are no doubt, the players most actively involved in the game on every play.
They must have a complete command of the defensive playbook. It is vital for the inside linebackers to know how to fit, or let's say defend, every running and passing play.
In the running game, they usually fit between two defensive lineman but can pursue the ball from sideline to sideline. Versus the pass, they normally defend an underneath area of the football field. It is not uncommon though for them to have deep coverage -- particularly in a two-deep zone.
One of the inside linebackers is the signal caller and handles any adjustments to be made on the field of play. The inside linebackers will most likely be the leading hackers each and every week.
They must be big and strong enough to take on an offensive lineman in the running game with power strength and ability to shed the block and get to the ball carrier. They must also be fast enough to get from the inside alignment to the perimeter for outside plays.
As well as being fast enough to pursue to the outside running game, they must be quick to cover slot receivers, tight ends or shifty backs man-to-man. These defenders are the most unique and valuable players on the field because of the action they are involved with. Inside linebackers will normally weigh between 230 pounds and 260 pounds.
Whatever weight, they must be durable enough day in and day out to handle high-speed and high power collisions. The inside linebacker position is also one of the most cerebral of all defensive positions to play.
As an inside linebacker you will be included in the blitz game as well. Although not a requirement, an inside linebacker with good pass rush ability has an added skill which substantially upgrades their value. Playing inside linebacker is the busiest of all positions. You must have a great instinct to feel, see, and react to all the traffic and chaos around you. Through it all you must diagnose the play, react and pursue.
There are a few plays in which the linebacker isn't involved. It is the most rewarding of all positions and one of the most fun to play. Inside linebackers as you would expect must be leaders to deliver a defense that is disciplined, carrying out whatever role assigned.
If you want strategy, tactics, technique, leadership and action on every play and statistics to back it up, choose to play or study inside linebackers!
The fullback, as in every down player, is obsolete in today's pass-happy era of football.
The fullback is the second back aligned in the backfield. He is normally aligned in front of the primary ball carrier called the running back. He aligns in this position to be the blocker to lead the way for the running back or ball carrier.
His primary job is to block the second level of the defense -- the linebackers. The H-Back position is today’s newer version of yesterday’s fullback. The only difference is the H-Back will align often as a second TE on the line of scrimmage. He is a more versatile player and is utilized far more often in the passing game.
The fullback is on average between 240 and 270 pounds. He must be a good run blocker and capable pass protector. The fullback is a glorified offensive linemen in the back field. When using an H-Back, he is a larger version of the slot receiver in some offensive schemes. Teams will do this to get a bigger body on a smaller defender.
Today's game has become more specialized with the personnel usage.
Any player on the active list game day will have a role to fill, not only as a special team’s player but a specific role for offense or defense. The fullback’s role must be managed, but becomes invaluable when short yardage, goal line or possess the ball situations arise on offense.
The Free Safety is normally the deepest defender on the field. He is similar to a centerfielder in baseball. He's the last line of defense as they say. Responsible for making touchdown-saving tackles on ball carriers breaking through the defense, he’s also the defender who protects the deep area of the field in the passing game.
The free safety has excellent range to roam from sideline to sideline. The more speed he has the better. The quarterbacks of the defensive backfield, they make the coverage calls and any defensive audible for the secondary.
They're also athletes with great field scope, meaning they can keep the whole offense in their field of vision. They know how to attack the ball carrier at an angle to close quickly and insure a solid tackle.
A free safety may not be involved in as many plays as the other defenders. The plays they make can be game-saving passes defensed or game-saving tackles.
These players are rarely recognized and when they are, it is sometimes for missed opportunities rather than for great plays. The free safety is an unheralded yet critical element of a great defense.
The Strong Safety is the safety used closest to the line of scrimmage. He must have enough size to absorb the punishment of making a lot of tackles on big running backs who are barreling downhill with a head of steam. They must also be lengthy enough to cover the tight end. There are times he will be assigned coverage to a slot receiver. The strong safety is the tight end’s counterpart. He is an extremely versatile defender.
The Strong Safety position has gone from being an under-rated and under-utilized one to one of the best play-making positions on the defensive side of the ball. He's often used in the blitz package. On top of all those requirements he must also pair with the free safety to defend the deep half of the field versus the pass.
A defense acquiring a standout strong safety can create many challenges for the offense. It is difficult for an offense to account for a defender who can be utilized in so many different ways.
To be able to understand and carry out so many different types of assignments, this player must have a complete grasp of the defensive playbook. He must have a very high football IQ and instincts to go with it. It is one of my favorite positions on the field and it's the most fun to play.
The cornerback position is one of the most difficult and lonely on the field.
The corners, as they are called, must defend the wide receivers. The receivers are the fastest, most graceful, and athletic players on the field. The receivers know where they are going on every play. The corners must defend these spectacular athletes by running backwards and not knowing which route to defend.
It requires speed, anticipation, and instantaneous change of direction to react to the receiver.
Not only do corners have one of the most challenging jobs physically, it requires a special mental and emotional makeup as well. When they are beat on a play they must come back with the same fearless mentality they always have.
Corners cannot perform well if they are afraid of being beaten. Many times, corners must be able to defend the pass without ever seeing the ball thrown. They must be able to pick up the ball in mid-flight with their eyes and have the reflexes to knock it down or catch it for the interception.
Interceptions are the corners’ most rewarding plays and most difficult to come by. The corners are also some of the smaller players on the field. They are however, pound for pound, the toughest.
Not only are great corners adept at defending the pass, they must also provide run support. At times, they must take on offensive lineman as blockers -- giving up over 100 pounds in weight. They must shed blocks and make tackles on ball carriers who are running with a full head of steam and power. Little guys tackling big guys is a tough job.
When you have a corner who defends the pass and runs well, you have a special player. The corners are aligned on the widest players on the field. They're out on the island as it is called. These players are the most important players next to pass rushers in building today’s defenses.
The offensive line is the most underrated of all the positions on the offense. They're the five big guys who do all the hard work that is rarely recognized.
Without a proficient offensive line the offense cannot function. These five players are normally the biggest players on the field. They are massive and rarely substituted during the game.
- They play every offensive snap.
- The center is the offensive lineman who snaps or shotgun snaps the ball to the quarterback and is aligned in the middle of the other four linemen.
- The two linemen to the immediate left and right of the center are called guards.
- The offensive guards are the lineman who must block the bigger defensive linemen and are also the lineman who will pull on some run plays to block the perimeter of the defense.
- The offensive tackles are aligned on the outside of the guards and are the tallest, biggest, and most athletic of the offensive line. They must be big and athletic to pass protect versus the best pass rushers the defense has.
The offensive line never gets the glory reserved for the quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs. None of those players would have any success without a good offensive line. No matter how talented Tom Brady is, he wouldn't be effective unless the offensive line allows him time to use his talent passing the football.
The best running back in the NFL would have marginal success if the offensive line didn’t open holes with great blocking. Wide receivers can't catch passes unless the offensive line gives the quarterback time to throw the ball.
When NFL teams sign free agent offensive linemen or draft an offensive lineman with a high draft pick it is not received with much fanfare. These additions pay dividends but are rarely noticed by anyone but the experts. The Dallas Cowboys for example are having success this year primarily because of the offensive lineman they have assembled.
The two critical players on the offensive line are the center and the left tackle. The center is important because he snaps the ball every play. He's also the lineman responsible for making the line calls. He identifies the defense and calls pass protection to the other offensive lineman. The left tackle is critical because most quarterbacks are right-handed and he protects the quarterback’s blindside on pass plays.
The offensive line receives little notoriety but is possibly the most important position on offense next to the quarterback. They take pride in doing the work no one else wants to do with little recognition. The offensive line takes great enjoyment in the success of their teammates.
In this modern era of football, the offensive unit most often displays three wide receivers. Offenses can use many types of personnel. That means they change up the five eligible receivers position. Those five eligibles can be wide receivers, running backs, or tight ends used in any fashion the offense desires to create possible mismatches.
For example, there are times an offense will play with five wide receivers on the field. The five offensive linemen (big guys) are constants, as well as the quarterback.
I want to explain the slot receiver because it has become such a vital position. The slot receiver aligns inside of the widest man on the field.
Contrary to the wide receiver, who is one of the best pure athletes on the field, the slot receiver may lack size, speed, or power. However,
- The slot most often catches short throws.
- They must be extremely quick with instant change of direction skill and be consistent making the catch.
- It's important they are mentally and physically tough.
- They operate often in the middle of the field where violent collisions most often happen.
- These players have outstanding run after the catch ability.
The slot can become a deep threat when the defense decides to use two defenders to cover the great athletes at wide receiver and leave the deep middle of the field vulnerable.
Although the slot is not always the best athlete, they are often the best playmakers!
Tight End changes the game.
The Tight End in many ways has revolutionized the offense. These athletes have recently become taller, stronger, faster and more explosive than the players who are defending them.
The Tight End used to be the run blocker of the eligible receivers and occasionally be an outlet for the quarterback when he had no one else open to throw the ball to. The Tight End is now an integral part of the passing offense. They’ve become much more than run blockers. They are more receivers than blockers in the current game.
Most teams will substitute an offensive lineman when they need a run blocker. You'll see tight ends aligned anywhere on the field to gain a matchup advantage. They will align as a wide receiver, in the slot, or in the backfield.
The position is so revolutionary now because of the Tight End’s size and speed. You will see Tight Ends range from 6’5” to 6’8” and 240 to 270 pounds. These players look more like professional basketball players than professional football players.
With that size, speed, and agility there is no defender that presents a suitable challenge. The Tight End position has become one of the most intriguing positions on the field!
Wide receivers align the furthest from the football. When the camera angle is tight you won't always see them on the screen. The players at the wide receiver position are some of the fastest, most agile, fluid and graceful of all the athletes on the field. Wide receivers are the players who catch the passes from the quarterback.
Catching the football appears easy on the screen. It is very difficult to do on a consistent basis. The velocity the quarterback puts on the football can literally tear your skin. That is why receivers wear gloves even in the heat. Catching the football is critical to the position but before they can catch the ball they must be able to separate from the defender. Crisp routes with sharp breaks help them do that. The route they are to run is communicated to them in the huddle by the quarterback.
The number of plays that could be called in the huddle sometimes can be as many as 100. Routes are called patterns because they are tied into the routes of the other receivers creating a pattern. The receivers run short, medium, and deep routes. They can break to the outside of the field towards the sideline or run inside away from the sideline.
Often the quarterback will call a play designed for the receiver to catch the ball quickly and use his athletic ability to run after the catch. The wide receivers are covered most often by one defender. Some of the best receivers in the NFL will be covered by two and even three defenders. The receiver and the defender are often playing a one on one game away from the real chaos and action in the middle of the field. The area of the field they play in is commonly call “the island”. It's called the island because it looks like the receiver and defender are alone in their area of the field.
The wide receivers do get involved in the action during a running play. On a running play the wide receivers become blockers and like all the blockers, push, impede or knock down defenders to give the ball carrier a path to gain more ground.
Receivers get most of the fans and media attention next to the quarterback. You'll see them make spectacular catches and runs resulting in the longest and most exciting plays of the game. They don't normally get credit for their toughness but they must be mentally and physically tough. They are recipients of some of the most violent, ferocious and vicious collisions. Teams are trending towards taller, stronger and more explosive athletes to play this position. It is not unusual to see wide receivers 6’3” to 6’5” and 230 pounds.
The wide receivers are definitely some of the most gifted athletes on the football field.
In this current style of football most offenses use only one running back. When there are 2 running backs in the game one of them is primarily a blocker. The running back aligns behind the QB or just to the side of him in the backfield. The position is called running back because he is the player most likely to get the quarterback’s handoff and run with the ball. In running plays, the running back is trying to avoid all 11 defenders who are trying to tackle him. That’s 1 versus 11 on running plays.
As offenses have evolved into the game you see today, you can find the running back lined anywhere on the field. He can be aligned as a receiver in any of the eligible positions in the formation. His role has evolved much like offenses. He must not only be a good runner, but must be able to catch the ball as well as a receiver. One of the most underrated of all his duties is his ability to block as a pass protector. You might see one running back in the game on early downs and a different one on third down. That can be for a number of reasons.
The third-down back is most likely a better receiver and pass protector. At times, it is simply to give the early down back a rest. The running back position is no longer run to daylight position. The position is far more intricate and complicated than in past years. The running back must be able to identify defenses and his protection assignment as well as know and execute his pass routes.
The running backs of today's game are fast, powerful, durable, elusive, explosive, and knowledgeable of all aspects of the game.
The best runners have great vision of the field as the play unfolds in real-time and can make a cut instantly to attack an opening.
Today's running backs come in all shapes and sizes. They might be short, stocky and powerful or tall, lean and fast. They sometimes take the most violent and vicious hits on the field. They are one of the toughest players in the game.
“The game of football draws me to the screen to watch the game and characters of players and coaches. I get frustrated and eventually tune out because of a lack of understanding and knowledge of some of the basic elements of the game.”
If you are one of these new fans I will explain the very basic objectives, then go through a position by position description to get you up to speed so you may enjoy one of the most popular sports.
Let's start with the basic objectives. The football field is 100 yards long from Goal line to Goal line and 53 1/3 yards wide. The objective is for the offense (the team with the football) to get the ball across the opponent’s goal line. You can do this by running or passing. Crossing the goal line with the ball is a touchdown (six points).
When a touchdown is scored, that team chooses to attempt an extra point or “go for two” as they say. An extra point is worth just that by kicking the ball through the uprights. When going for two, the ball is placed on the 2-yard line and the scoring team can again run or pass the ball across the goal line for two points.
The opponent plays defense and obviously is trying to prevent the score. The one with the ball on offense is called the ball carrier. Everyone without the ball is a blocker. A blocker tries to push, impede, or knock defenders out of the way so the ball carrier can advance across the goal line. The defense will try to prevent the ball carrier from advancing by tackling the ball carrier to the ground. When the ball carrier hits the ground, that play is whistled dead and the new play begins. Each team gathers together in what's called a huddle to communicate the next play. Blocking (offense) and tackling (defense) are the most basic elements of the game. You will hear coaches constantly preaching about blocking and tackling.
There are 11 players on offense and 11 players on defense. The offense has four downs or plays to score or get a first down by advancing the ball 10 yards or more. A first down means the offense gets another four downs to score or advance the ball another 10 yards.
If the offense fails to advance the ball 10 yards it turns the ball over to the opponent at that spot. Most often when the offense doesn't advance the ball 10 yards on three downs or plays, it will elect to punt the ball. Punting the ball means the offense will have a player kick the ball high and deep so the opponent will have further to advance in order to score. That is called field position. A strategy to make the opponent go the length of the field. On a punt, the team receiving the ball may advance the ball like any other play.
There are times when the offensive team is close to the opponent’s goal line. On fourth down the offense may elect to kick a field goal. Kicking the ball through the uprights is a successful field goal attempt and worth three points. If the ball doesn't go between the uprights it is unsuccessful and the opponent takes control of the ball. These are the most basic objectives of the game.
As you learn the game and become enthralled with the human chess match unfolding right in front of your eyes, you will become even more enamored as you understand each position and its role. Televised games will most certainly focus on the ball carrier. The most important position on the field touches the ball on almost every single play. That position is the quarterback.
The quarterback plays offense and receives the snap from an offensive lineman called the center. The quarterback is the play caller in the huddle. He will rattle off a play that tells everyone on offense what to do.
As he readies for the snap he barks out a cadence or snap count which tells the center when to snap the ball. It will sound something like this… “red 88, red 88, set, hut, hut”.
Once the ball is snapped, all 11 players proceed to execute their assignment. On a running play, the quarterback will hand the ball to an eligible ball carrier. There are many types of actions the quarterback takes to hand off the ball. On pass plays the quarterback throws the ball to one of five eligible targets. He must avoid the rush, see the field, know his assignment and progression of who to look for and why, then deliver the ball accurately in approximately 3 seconds.
For the most part, every other position comes down to a one-on-one matchup between an offensive and defensive player. The quarterback on the other hand is one versus 11. He has to be aware of all 11 defenders. The quarterback position is the most cerebral of all the positions on the field.
All positions of offense and defense require an incredible amount of knowledge of their position. The quarterback, to be at his best, must know the assignments of all of his offensive players.
From a physical standpoint, the quarterback is usually a taller player from 6'2" to 6'7" on average. It is not a requirement but it is advantageous. There are some extremely successful quarterbacks in the NFL who have been under 6 foot 2.
The quarterback doesn't have to be fast, but must be quick in the pocket avoiding rushers and getting his feet ready to throw. He must have great pocket presence. He must be aware of the pass rushers with his eyes looking downfield to his receivers. He must have outstanding field vision and anticipation to effectively and accurately throw the ball.
The quarterback must have a strong arm like a pitcher in baseball, but must deliver it much more quickly. The quarterback’s throwing motion must be compact. The longer the quarterback’s motion is, the easier it is for defenders to react. The more pace or speed the quarterback can put on the ball the better. He has to be capable of throwing the ball long 50 yards or more and also delivering touch passes on short throws 15 yards or less. There are very few athletes in the world capable of performing at this high level. That is one of the reasons it is the most important and intriguing of the positions to watch.