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CFL Football 101: Lesson 5 – The Defense & Special Teams In today’s lesson, our focus is on the defense and special teams.  The objective of the defensive line is to stop the other team from scoring.  Special teams are groups of players that are generally called upon to perform kicking functions.

  1. navigate to this site What is the difference between the offensive line and the backfield/receivers? The offensive line are responsible for blocking (they protect the quarterback). The backfield and receivers are the players who will catch the ball or run the ball toward the endzone.
  2. What’s an audible? Usually a team has a group of set plays (sometimes more than 100!). The Quarterback will often call an “audible” which essentially is a change in the game plan. Usually the players huddle and the QB will tell the team what the set play is, but an audible is when the QB changes the play on the fly and there is no huddle.
  3. Why is an interception a bad thing? It means that the ball is caught by the opposing team, resulting in a turnover (where possession of the ball moves from the offense to the defense)
  4. Wide Receiver or Running Back – who is responsible for “rushing” the ball? Running backs “rush” or run with the ball. Receivers catch the ball.
  5. When the centre passes the ball through his legs to the quarterback – what is that called? A snap.



  1. Defensive line – The defensive linemen line up in front of the offensive line. Their responsibility is to prevent the offensive line from opening up running lanes for the running backs or to sack the quarterback, depending on whether the play is a passing or running play.
  2. Interception – this is when a defensive player catches the ball that was intended for an offensive player.
  3. Safety – A score, worth two points, that the defense earns by tackling an offensive player in possession of the ball in his own end zone but.  It is also the name of a position (so can be confusing) see below under defensive backs.
  4. Punt – The term used to describe the act of kicking the ball in a similar manner to a drop-kick, except a punt occurs before the ball hits the ground. The punter catches the ball and drops it towards their foot in order to kick it down the field to the other team.


The Defensive Linemen

Defensive linemen line up directly on the line of scrimmage, close to the ball. There are two positions that are considered part of the defensive line:

  • Defensive tackle (DT) : These players play at the center of the defensive line. There are typically one or two defensive tackles in most defensive sets.
  • Defensive end (DE): The two defensive ends play beside the defensive tackles, at the edges of the defensive line. Their job is to attack the passer or stop offensive runs to the outer edges of the line of scrimmage.


These players play behind the defensive line and have several duties depending on the situation, including rushing the passer, covering receivers, and defending against the run:

  • Middle Linebacker (LB) : Sometimes called the “inside linebacker”, the middle linebacker is often known as the “quarterback of the defense”.
  • Outside Linebacker (LB) : These defenders are given different names depending on their role. Some teams keep outside linebackers on the same side of the field at all times, and  are known as “right outside” (ROLB) and “left outside” (LOLB).


Defensive Backs

Also known as the “secondary”, defensive backs play behind the linebackers or stand to the outside, near the sidelines. Defensive backs are mainly used to defend against pass plays. They cover wide receivers and tight ends to prevent them from catching the ball they also attempt to intercept the pass from the quarterback.

  • Cornerback (CB): Typically two players who primarily cover the wide receivers. Cornerbacks try to stop successful quarterback passes by swatting the airborne ball away from the receiver or by catching the pass themselves
  • Safety (FS) and (SS): The last line of defense (farthest from the line of scrimmage) and usually help the cornerbacks cover passes made far down the field (deep passes) by the quarterbacks (FS is a Free Safety – will follow the play and is more flexible in duties, while SS is a Strong Safety – usually a bigger or stronger player that is used to cover the “strong” side of the offense where the Tight End lines up on offensive plays – see diagram above for positioning).


Special Teams

This is the group of players who take the field during kickoffs, free kicks, punts, and field goal attempts.  Special Teams are generally made up of players who act as backups or substitutes on the team’s offensive and defensive units, so you’ll see them primarily called out for their Special Teams duties.

Special Teams Positions

Here’s a quick rundown of the different positions you’ll see and hear about when you are talking about a Special Team.

Kicker: The kicker handles kickoffs, extra points, and field goal attempts. All three situations require the kicker to kick the ball off of the ground, either from the hands of a “holder” (see below) or off of a “tee” (the football rests on a tee on the ground)

Holder: This player holds the ball for the placekicker to kick. The holder is often a backup quarterback or a punter because of their “good hands,” feel for the ball and experience taking snaps from the Long Snapper.

Long snapper: A specialized center who snaps the ball directly to the holder or punter.

Punter: Punting requires the player to drop the ball from their hand and kick it from the air. It is done when the offense knows they are giving possession to the defensive team; usually only done on fourth down in the NFL and third down in the CFL.

Kickoff specialist: Kickoff specialists are exclusively used during kickoffs.

Punt returner and Kick returner: Returners are responsible for catching kicked balls (either on kickoffs or punts) and running the ball back. They are usually the fastest players on a team.

Upback: A blocking back who lines up about one to three yards behind the line of scrimmage in punt situations. Because the punter plays so far back, the upback frequently makes the line calls and calls for the snap to be received by the punter. The upback’s primary role is to act as the last line of defense for the punter. Upbacks may occasionally receive the snap instead of the punter on fake punts. They normally run the ball but may throw it.

Gunner: A player on kickoffs and punts who specializes in running down the field very quickly in an attempt to tackle the kick returner or the punt returner unless the kick returner waves for “fair catch”.

Jammer: Jammers try to slow down gunners during punts so that punt returners have more time to return punts.

No Quiz today! Congratulations on spending a week with the Gal’s Got Game and learning about Football. We hope you enjoyed your course.  Check out more of our courses at

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