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Chalk Talk: Football Terminology Primer (Part 2)



We already looked at a handful of terms in Part 1 of this series, but today I want to introduce you to a few more. Let’s jump right back in with some defensive scheme definitions.


These are names given to certain defensive packages. The nickel package has five defensive backs, the dime has six and the quarter has seven. Nickel allows teams to properly align against an offense with two non-receivers on the field, such as a formation with a tight end or running back. The dime package is used in passing situations against teams that operate in 10-personnel. Quarter defenses, not to be confused with a quarters defense (another term for cover 4), are for hail mary or extreme pass defense situations.


The personnel of an offense indicates what players are on the field and in a certain formation. Personnel is often connected with a number or term, depending on the offense’s philosophy. Numbers-wise, the personnel is described with a two-digit number; the first number indicates the amount of backs in the formation while the second indicates the number of tight ends. For example, 11 personnel has one back, one tight end and three receivers. The signals, signs and words assigned to personnel groupings vary.

Strong/Weak Side

Most offensive formations have a strong and a weak side. If a formation has more players on one side than the other, then that side is the strong side. If the formation is balanced except for a running back or tight end, then their placement determines the strong side. Finally, if a formation is balanced in numbers but one side has a tight end and one doesn’t, then the side with the tight end is the strong side.


If you’ve ever heard the term “3 technique” or “0 technique,” that’s referring to the alignment of a defensive lineman. Each section of the line of scrimmage is numbered from the center outward. If a defensive lineman is directly over the center, he’s in a 0 technique. If he’s directly outside the guard, he’s in a 3 technique. The numbers go in order until the 6 technique, where it jumps around. Here’s an illustration that might help.


Short for run-pass option, an RPO is a play that features a run play and some sort of passing pattern or screen. The quarterback can decide to throw the ball or hand it off/run himself depending on the alignment and coverage of the defense.

Rub Route

pass route where one receiver purposefully gets in the way of a defender covering another receiver to create space. If the receiver initiates contact with said defender, it is then considered a “pick” route and is technically illegal. Rub routes can happen in the middle of the field, like in the play “mesh”, or on the perimeter, like in the play “spot”.

Zone Scheme/Gap Blocking Scheme

The term “zone” applies to both offense and defense, but in this context, it refers to run blocking. Zone and gap schemes are the two main categories of run blocking. Zone blocking, which caught on in the 90s thanks to people like former NFL coach Alex Gibbs, has the line move in one direction as a unit. The lineman’s assignment is solely decided on whether he is covered or uncovered, i.e. whether a defender is directly in front of him across the line of scrimmage.

Gap blocking, or man blocking, includes specific actions and assignments for each player. Power, for example, requires the backside guard to pull, the backside tackle to “hinge” block, and in two-back situations, the fullback to kick out an unblocked defensive end. Each player has a role on gap scheme runs, and power, counter and counter trey are the most popular gap schemes in both college and the NFL.

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