Football 101: Gaps And Techniques


Football is a complicated sport. There’s an absolute ton of terminology that is thrown around every day on sites like this one that, quite frankly, can be very intimidating if you’ve never had someone explain it to you. Fortunately, once you learn a few of basics, the rest can be picked up from context when watching games or other shown on ESPN or NFLN.

This is something that I’ve wanted to do since I first took over this site. The problem is that I just didn’t know where to start. How basic is too basic? And if I don’t start basic enough, then I won’t be helping the people I’m writing this for. It was all very intimidating to be honest, and why it’s taken me 2 years finally start this.

What I’ve decided to do is to assume that you know the basic positions and rules. If that’s not the case, then leave a comment below and I’ll either write something on that or point you to somewhere where you can find the information.

Gap Designations

“Both middle linebackers blitzed right through the A-Gaps.” “Wagner was standing right in the B-Gap waiting for the ball carrier.”

“Gaps” are the spaces between the offensive linemen. The are labeled starting from A for the one’s next to the center, B for the next gap, etc. There is no designation for right and left, so there are 2 A-gaps, 2 B-gaps, etc.

This can continue outward beyond D in rare occasions. If both TEs are on the same side of the line, the gap to the outside of the 2nd TE would be the E-gap, though this is rarely used.

Defensive Linemen “Techniques”

“Brandon Mebane is a prototypical 1-technique Nose Tackle.” “Offensive tackles aren’t used to having to deal with a 5-tech DE as massive as Red Bryant.”

This is a bit more complicated that the gap names above. It’s simple at first, but it can get a little confusing once the players take the field. Basically, a position is defined based on where the team wants the player to line up most of the time.

Like the gaps above, the techniques are labelled from the inside-out. A zero-technique NT (like Vince Wilfork with the Patriots) lines up directly over the center. A 1-tech, like Brandon Mebane, lines up more in the A gap, than over the center, but still slightly over the center.

2 and 3 are the same, but over the guard and B gaps. Same goes for 4 and 5 over the tackles and C-gaps, and 6 and 7 over the TEs and D-gaps.

There is also a 9-technique, which is often referred to as being in a “wide-9 position.” This means that the defensive end’s inside most shoulder is at least a half yard outside of the TE’s outside shoulder. This is there you find Chris Clemons most of the time, and is one of the characteristics of what the Seahawks call the “Leo.”

Here’s the endzone angle of a play from the Seahawks game vs the Packers this past season. I’ve labelled the players, so you can see who this translates on the field. Be sure to note where they are in relation to offensive linemen.

Now, before anyone bites my head off, I need to say something here. There are many different versions of this. Some use the letter i in places to help designate where the player lines up more precisely. What I’ve included is the most common (by far) system, and the one that the Seahawks use.

Theory vs Practice

The biggest problems with the position designations is that they’re more of a suggestion than a requirement on game days. Red Bryant is the team’s 5-technique DE, but he doesn’t always line up just in the 5-tech position. He can also be found in the 4 and 6 positions, depending on the offensive alignment and the defensive play that’s been called.

The reason for the confusion is that we name the position based on where they usually line up. The Seahawks have 2 defensive tackles, a 1-tech and a 3-tech, even though they will occasionally not line up in those exact locations.

The same goes for the 5-tech and “Leo” 9-tech DEs. Those are names, and where the players line up most of the time, but not always. Clemons can be found in the 7-tech position at time, especially in obvious running situations.

The end result is unneeded confusion for those who are learning the game. If a player isn’t lined up right where’d you expect them to be based on their position’s name, don’t fret. You understand just fine, the team is just moving people around to lay some smack down on the offense. It’s all good.