Fundamentals : Holes and Gaps

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To prevent both offensive and defensive play calling from turning into “Hey, I’m going over there and you go over there!” football has a system of naming spaces in the offensive line.

But I would like to be in the huddle of a play that didn’t have a naming system, just for fun.

Since that’s not the case, here’s how the real system works:


Offensive players identify spaces with numbers called holes.

Defensive players identify space with letters called gaps.


Let’s start with the offensive numbering system.


football, basics, holes

The number of the hole tells the running back where to go. Even numbers are always on the right, odd numbers are always on the left, and both increase as they move from inside to outside. Identifying the hole in the play call lets all of the other offensive players know where the play is going and therefore the area they are responsible for blocking.

So does the running back jump in the huddle and call dibs on 2?

Again, I’d really like to be in a huddle where the backs play Rock, Paper, Scissors for the hole they want, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

Just as each hole has a number, so does each back (and it’s different than the number on the back of his jersey). Traditionally:

Where’s running back on that list? And where are the tailbacks and fullbacks in this picture, you ask? Good question! Tailbacks (usually the ball-carrier) and fullbacks (usually the blocker) are types of running backs. Pictured above is a 3-wide formation that features a tight end on the line and a running back in the I formation. Since there’s only one running back, he’s the main back, so he’d be number 2.

Running plays are called by naming the number of the back first, the number of the hole second, and the type of run third.

Let’s say the play is “23 Dive.” That would mean the running back (2) is going through the 3 hole and running a dive play (running straight ahead as fast as possible).

Make sense? As long as you know the numbers of the backs and the numbers of the holes in the offensive line, you should be just fine. If you want to challenge yourself and learn a few types of running plays, too (you do!), check out this article.

Moving on to defense.


football, basics, gaps

Whereas the offense uses numbers to identify holes from the backfield, the defense uses letters. The gap between the center and the guards is always the A gap, the gap between the guards and the tackles is always the B gap, the gap between the tackles and the outside edge (or the tight end, if present) is always the C gap, and the gap between the tight end (if present) and the outside edge is always the D gap – or just the edge.

We talked a little bit about gap responsibility in last week’s post about defensive techniques. In the photo above, the defensive tackle (who is also called the nose tackle since he’s the only DT in the 3-4 alignment) is playing 0-technique, so he’s responsible for blocking both A gaps. The ends are playing 5-technique, so they’re responsible for the B and C gaps (they’ll also likely get help from the linebackers depending on the play call).

As for defensive play calling, you’ll often hear that a certain defensive player is going to “shoot the gap.” Let’s say one of the middle linebackers is going to shoot the A gap. That means he’s going to charge through one of the A gaps, likely in an attempt to blitz the quarterback.

So: offensive spaces get numbers, defensive spaces get letters, and the football world continues to spin on it’s axis.

Until I talk someone into calling, “Whoever wins Rock, Paper, Scissors through that hole over there. GO!”

Author: Beka