How To Play Defensive Line In Football

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

The defensive line position is one of the most gritty positions in football. It requires quick reactions, strong hands, and the ability to shed offensive linemen.

This article will show you how to play defensive line in football and what you need to be a great defensive lineman.

Defensive Lineman In Football

The defensive line controls the line of scrimmage. It is up to these players to make sure the offense can’t effectively run the football.

If a team has a weak defensive line, there’s a good chance that the offense can run whatever play they want.

Defensive linemen must possess tough qualities, as they contact bigger offensive linemen every play.

Before you decide to play defensive line, there are a few qualities that every defensive lineman should have.

Defensive Line Positions

The defensive line is broken up into positions. Each position has a certain body type and skill set necessary to excel at their position.

Defensive Tackle

The first position is the defensive tackle. This is the 2 interior linemen in an even front and the one interior lineman in an odd front.

It’s common the most inside defensive tackle is called the nose tackle, or nose guard. This player is often the heaviest player on the field, as they are responsible for anchoring the A gaps on defense.

Nose tackle and defensive tackle positions

The defensive tackle is someone who needs to be quick enough to the guard pulling or attacking him. They should be quick with their hands and strong enough to fight a double team from offensive linemen.

Defensive Ends

Defensive Ends In Football

The next position is the defensive end position. Defensive ends are responsible for containing the run and making sure nothing gets to the outside. On passing plays, the defensive end is in charge of trying to beat the offensive tackle and get to the quarterback for a sack.

In an even front, they are typically lined up on the outside of the offensive tackle. In an odd front (three defensive linemen), they are lined head-up with the offensive tackle or on the inside shoulder. It all depends on the coach and how many defensive formations he wants to use.

Their job is to make sure that the team’s primary ball carrier on offense doesn’t get to the outside, into space on running plays.

Defensive ends can choose to be in a three point stance or a two point stance on the line of scrimmage.

Defensive Lineman Qualities


The first quality of a defensive lineman is their toughness. When we say tough, we mean both mentally and physically demanding.

Mental toughness is being consistently blocked by an offensive lineman but still giving maximum effort.

Physical toughness is being able to hold your ground against single man blocks, as well as double team blocks.

This means you may have to fight off two offensive players simultaneously while maintaining your gap fit responsibility.


The second quality of an excellent defensive lineman is good stamina and endurance. All it takes is one play for the other team to score in football.

If you’re someone who tires easily, playing the defensive line may not be the position for you.

That way, defensive linemen need to play at 100% every play; they can force the offense not to run the football or not run it to your side.

If you’re not in shape, the offensive coordinator on the other team will see that and continuously run the football to your side.

Relentless Effort

The last characteristic of a good defensive lineman is a relentless attitude. This means whenever the ball goes, you’re running full speed to it.

Defensive players who take plays off, or jog to the ball carrier, are only hurting their team.

Defensive linemen should run as fast as they can to the football every play.

This is why being in shape is crucial, as defensive players need to swarm the ball carrier so he doesn’t gain yards.

How To Play Defensive Line In Football

Now that you know the mentality and qualities a defensive lineman should possess, let’s talk about playing defensive line in football.


A defensive lineman’s first and most important learning is a proper stance. The stance helps propel the defensive lineman toward the offensive lineman at maximum power.

Remember, speed and power are the two crucial elements when playing as a defensive lineman. You’ll want to maximize both efforts when getting into your stance.

First, start with your feet shoulder-width apart from each other.

Next, move your power foot back, 6 inches behind when your opposite heel is.

From here, get into a squat, so your elbows are touching your knees.

Last, reach out with the same hand, on the same side as your power foot (the foot that is back). This should get you into a stance where you are ready to explode off and play football.


Now that we’ve taught you the proper stance, it’s time to practice your start. Your start, also known as the “get-off,” moves toward the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped.

Your stance and start are essential to getting past an offensive lineman as a defensive lineman.

When the ball is snapped, fire off to the offensive lineman and make contact with your hands first. You want to make contact with your hands first to get separation from the offensive lineman.

If you bury your head or hit with your shoulder pads, you will have no vision of the ball carrier. Our job as a defensive lineman is to disengage the offensive player and make a tackle in the backfields.

Run Fits

Run fits are responsibilities in the run game.

Each play will be responsible for a gap (or sometimes 2). This means they must punch the offensive player and protect their gap if the running back or quarterback tries to run through it.

To understand run fits, you must first understand gaps and techniques. We recommend you check out this article, which explains everything you need to know about gaps and techniques.

Pass Rush Moves

Pass rush moves are the key element when playing defensive line. When the opposing quarterback drops back to pass, it’s essential to get to him as fast as possible.

Our goal as a defensive lineman is to disrupt the quarterback. This means making him feel uncomfortable and making a wrong decision.

Constant defensive pressure on the quarterback will cause him to make poor decisions, which will benefit your team.

A pass rush move is a movement that you do to get past the offensive lineman trying to block you. We recommend checking out this article for a complete list of pass rush moves.

Training To Be Defensive Linemen

As a defensive lineman, working on your agility is critical. Agility allows you to move around and make quick decisions, which a great defense does.

Defensive linemen who are both agile and powerful are the hardest to block and move.

One drill we recommend you do is punch the sled as often as possible.

If your team doesn’t have a sled, we recommend purchasing a shield or pad from Amazon and constantly working on coming out of your stance.

Have a family member or friend hold the pad about 2 yards away from you. They will simulate an offensive lineman.

Start in your 3 point stance, fire out, and hit the pad as fast and hard as possible. Repeat this a hundred times until you feel comfortable coming out of your stance.

Keep Learning

The defensive line in football plays a massive role in stopping the offense’s running plays. If the offensive counterparts are able to run the football for positive yards, it will typically be a long day for the defensive team.

The offensive line consists of big players as well, so it’s important the defensive line has moves that are both quick and powerful.

If you want to learn more about defensive line play, we recommend you check out our Defensive Line University Course. It has everything you need to play the defensive line effectively.

Learn more about defensive line play below.

Defensive Pass Rush Moves Explained

This is an introduction to how to play defensive line. We also recommend you check out how to play the offensive line, as they require similar skill sets.

If you want to learn more about the defensive line position, we recommend checking out our list of courses here.

If you want to learn more about football in general, we recommend you check out our learning center for more!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.