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CFL Football 101: Lesson 4 – The Offense

In today’s lesson, our focus is on the offense – players who are part of the offense play when their team has possession of the ball and they are trying to score. Don’t stress – this is a longer lesson but will give you a really good understanding of what is actually happening when your team has the ball!

  1. When the quarterback has the ball, after the snap, what can he then do with the ball? He can take the ball forward himself, he can hand it off to another player or he can throw the ball to a receiver.
  2. What is the job of the offensive linesmen? Their primary responsibility is to protect the quarterback from the defense, so the QB can throw the ball or make some sort of play.
  3. What is a “hail Mary” pass? Usually thrown at the last second to try and beat the clock to get a touchdown. Generally you will see them as a long pass into the endzone.
  4. What is a down? A down is essentially a set of attempts to gain 10 yards on the field i.e. in the NFL a team has four attempts to gain 10 yards.
  5. What happens if a team doesn’t gain 10 yards? If the offense doesn’t gain 10 yards in four downs, possession of the ball reverts to the other team.

The job of players in offensive positions is to advance or move the ball towards the opposing team’s end zonken into two groups:

  1. Offensive Line – Responsible for blocking.
  2. Backfield (and receivers) – Responsible for advancing the ball by running it towards the opposing team’s end zone or passing it; this includes the running backs and quarterback who line-up behind the line of scrimmage.



  1. Backfield – The group of offensive players — the running backs and quarterback — who line up behind the line of scrimmage.
  2. Drive – The series of plays when the offense has the football, until it punts or scores and the other team gets possession of the ball.
  3. Fumble – The act of losing possession of the ball while running with it or being tackled. Members of the offense and defense can recover a fumble. If the defense recovers the fumble, the fumble is called a turnover.
  4. Interception – A pass that’s caught by a defensive player, ending the offense’s possession of the ball.
  5. Kickoff – A free kick (meaning the receiving team can’t make an attempt to block it) that puts the ball into play. A kickoff is used at the start of the first and third quarters and after every touchdown and successful field goal.
  6. Offensive line – The human wall of five men who block for and protect the quarterback and ball carriers. Every line has a center (who snaps the ball), two guards, and two tackles.
  7. Sack – When a defensive player tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of yardage.
  8. Snap – The action in which the ball is hiked (tossed between the legs) by the center to the quarterback, to the holder on a kick attempt, or to the punter. When the snap occurs, the ball is officially in play and action begins.
  9. Touchdown – A score, worth six points, that occurs when a player in possession of the ball crosses the plane of the opponent’s goal line, when a player catches the ball while in the opponent’s end zone, or when a defensive player recovers a loose ball in the opponent’s end zone.
  10. Audible – The quarterback may make changes to the play at the line of scrimmage (an “audible”), depending on the defensive alignment.
  11. Rushing Play – Any offensive play that does not involve a forward pass is a rush – also called a run.

The job of players in offensive positions is to advance or move the ball towards the opposing team’s end zone to score points. The offense is made up of 11 players (or 12 in the case of the CFL) and they are broken into two groups:

  1. Offensive Line – Responsible for blocking.
  2. Backfield (and receivers) – Responsible for advancing the ball by running it towards the opposing team’s end zone or passing it; this includes the running backs and quarterback who line-up behind the line of scrimmage.


The Offensive Line

The offensive line is mainly responsible for blocking. Offensive linemen do not handle the ball (aside from the snap from center) during normal play, unless the ball is fumbled by a carrier, or when a player who normally plays as an offensive lineman takes a different position on the field. The offensive line is made up of:

  • Center (C): The player who snaps the ball and begins the play from scrimmage to a back. The center typically plays in the middle of the offensive line. The center, like all offensive linemen, has the responsibility to block defensive players. The center is also responsible for calling out blocking assignments and making last second adjustments depending on the defensive set-up.
  • Offensive Guard (G): Made up of two guards lined up directly on either side of the center. The offensive guards’ responsibility is to block on both running and passing plays.
  • Offensive Tackle (T): There are two tackles are on outside of offensive line and protect quarterback from getting sacked and create a line for the running back by pushing defensive line out of the way

Backs & Receivers

There are six backs and receivers and they line up outside or behind the offensive line. There are four main positions in this set of players:

  • Quarterback (QB): The most important position on the offensive side and the player who you see throwing the ball to his teammates to advance the march down the field. The quarterback is typically responsible for confirming the play from the coaches and sharing the play with the offensive players in the huddle. After receiving the snap (when the center passes the ball to the quarterback), the quarterback has three options to advance the ball: run the ball himself, hand it to an eligible ball carrier to run it, or throw a forward pass to a player downfield.
  • Running Back (FB) or (HB): These are players who line up behind the offensive line and are in position to receive the ball from the quarterback and carry out a rushing play. Anywhere from one to three running backs may be used on a play. Depending on their line up, and what role they have, running backs come in several varieties:
    • Tailback or Halfback: A team’s primary ball carrier on rushing plays.
    • Fullback: These players are typically larger and stronger than the tailback, and act as a blocker, though the fullback may also be used to complete catching passes or for rushing.
    • Wingback or Slotback: A running back who lines up behind the line of scrimmage outside the tackle or tight end on the side where positioned.
  • Wide Receiver (WR): These players are pass-catching specialists and their main job is to run pass routes and get open for a pass; they are occasionally called on to block. Like running backs, there are different types of wide receivers depending on exactly where they line up:
    • Split End: A wide receiver that is directly on the line of scrimmage and is counted among the seven required players on the line of scrimmage.
    • Flanker: A wide receiver who lines up behind the line (counts as one of the four backs).
    • Slot Receiver: A wide receiver who lines up between the outermost wide receiver and the offensive line (“in the slot”).
  • Tight End (TE) : These players play on either side of, and directly next to, the tackles and are considered hybrid players (in between a wide receiver and an offensive lineman). Tight ends are frequently called on to block because they play next to the other offensive lineman, especially on running plays. Tight ends are also eligible receivers and may also catch passes.


Types of Plays

A play begins when the team is in formation and the quarterback gives a signal, either by calling out instructions or giving a non-verbal cue at which point the center snaps the ball to the quarterback.

Running Plays: When the quarterback hands the ball to another player, who then attempts to run the ball past the line of scrimmage and gain yards. A running play is also when the quarterback keeps the ball and tries to run it beyond the line of scrimmage.

Passing Plays: When the backs and receivers run specific patterns/routes, and the quarterback throws the ball to one of the players. On passing plays, the offensive line’s job is to prevent defensive players from tackling the quarterback before he throws the ball (this tackle is called a “sack”) or disrupting the quarterback in any other way during the play. When completed successfully, passing plays usually cover more ground than running plays.

IN TOMORROW’S LESSON: We will cover the basics of defense and special teams. We will go over types of plays, basic terminology, and the different defensive and special teams player positions.