Understanding Defensive Line Techniques

Justin JavanCorrespondent INovember 5, 2009

DENVER - OCTOBER 29:  Linebacker Gary Brackett #58 and defensive end Dwight Freeney #93 of the Indianapolis Colts wait for the snap during the game against the Denver Broncos on October 29, 2006 at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado.  The Colts won 34-31.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

In teaching football, coaches try to look for the easiest way to teach their players what they want them to do. Over the years, various numbering systems have been developed to form the foundation upon which more complex ideas can be built. One such system is the numbering method used for the alignment of the defensive lineman.

This numbering system is referred to as “defensive line techniques.” In a sense, the name is a little bit misleading because the numbering system instructs a defensive lineman where he is to line up in relation to the opposing offensive lineman. It is not a step-by-step procedure on the type of blocks to use or what he should “key” off of in different downs and distances.

So why should you, the average fan, learn this system? Well once you understand it, you can learn a lot about how the offensive and defensive linemen are going to attack each other. 

                  O       O        O        C       O         O        O

       8    9 - 6 - 7 5 - 4    3 - 2 1 - 0 -1 2 - 3    4 - 5 7 - 6 - 9    8

Above is the infamous numbering system that I have referred to in so many of my articles. The numbering technique tells the defensive lineman, and the linebackers, where they are to line up in relation to the opposing team's offensive linemen. This is a bare-bones system I'm presenting here. Though it may form the basis for all teams’ defensive alignments, it's not the gospel. As with anything, teams add their own variations or tweaks.

Now let's go over a few examples. The most basic technique is the zero technique, where the defensive tackle, or in some cases, the Mike Linebacker, lines up right over the center. Now let’s say the defensive tackle is using a one technique. Then he is lined up over either the left or right shoulder of the center. If the defensive tackle is in a two technique, rushing the right guard, then he is lined up over the guard’s left shoulder, covering the "A" gap.

What the numbering system really does is tell you if a player on the defensive front is lining up over the left shoulder, directly in front of the offensive lineman, or his right shoulder. It also tells you what gap he is covering and what his reads are (which is way beyond the scope of this article).

So if you read that the defensive end is playing a seven technique on the weakside of the line, you would be incorrect if you said he was lined up to the outside of the offensive lineman’s right shoulder. The correct answer is he is lined up on the outside of his left shoulder.

The easiest way to remember all of this is to take the technique of the defensive lineman, and if that number is to the right of the offensive lineman, then switch your read to the opposite side. So you would say the defensive lineman is lined up to the offensive lineman’s left shoulder, and covering the "C" gap.

Also, don’t get confused if you see an offensive formation that doesn’t have a tight end lined up on the outside. You still use the same system.

The numbering system also tells a player how far off the line of scrimmage he is to line up. Typically, this applies more to the defensive end and outside linebackers.  

For example, if a defensive end is in an eight technique, he is really playing to the outside of the offensive tackle or tight end.

In closing, remember the above isn't gospel. Ninety percent of the time, this is the system used.  But you will, on occasion, see others. The important thing is, now you know how to read them and understand what they mean.

Just remember, where the number is located in relation to the offensive lineman tells you the alignment of the defensive player. It also tells you what gap he is covering and how the offensive lineman is going to try and block the defensive lineman. It also gives you a clue as to how the defensive lineman is going to try and attack the offensive front.

One last thing that is really important: Don’t get this confused with a player's stance. There is a big difference between a three-point stance and a three technique.