Defensive tackle

Defensive tackle (DT) is a position on the defensive line in American and Canadian football. The defensive tackle(s) lines up toward the center of the field, and is flanked by the defensive ends. As a unit, they are referred to as defensive line.

Defensive tackles are typically the largest and strongest of the defensive players. The defensive tackle typically lines up opposite outside shoulder of the offensive guards. Depending on a team's individual defensive scheme, a defensive tackle may be called upon to fill several different roles. These roles may include merely holding the point of attack by refusing to be moved, which also prevents offensive lineman from being able to get to the linebackers and successfully block them on running plays, or penetrating a certain gap between offensive linemen to break up a play in the opponent's backfield. The former is often referred to as "two gap" play, the latter as "one gap" play. Historically, one gap play was more frequently the role common for a defensive tackle to use as two gap play requires a defensive tackle to be rather large (most DTs who are good at two gap play are over 330 pounds) a development that has only occurred in the last 5-10 years of football. The concept of using one or both defensive tackles in "two gap" play was popularized on the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who used Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa in this role, allowing their linebackers (namely Ray Lewis) to attack the ball carrier without being blocked by an offensive player. If a defensive tackle reads a pass play, his primary responsibility is to pursue the quarterback, or simply knock the pass down at the line if it's within arm's reach. Other responsibilities of the defensive tackle may be to pursue the screen pass or drop into coverage in a zone blitz scheme.

In the 3-4 defensive scheme the sole defensive tackle is referred to as the nose tackle. This scheme most often asks the defensive tackles to play a two gap role as opposed to penetrating the offensive line themselves, so that other players in the defensive front can attack ball carriers and rush the quarterback.

Jobs of Defensive Tackles

Run Stopping

Defensive tackles must be able to contain rushes and to fill holes in the defensive line. Good defensive tackles will force the runner to run to the outside of the line, allowing the linebackers and the secondary to tackle the runner, often for a loss of yardage.

Defensive tackles have many different responsibilities based on the reads they receive from offensive lineman on each play. Whether playing a one or a two gap technique, certain reads dictate the defensive tackle's response in the given defensive scheme. Some reads include trap, double team, guard pull, pass, cut off or reach block when facing a zone blocking offense, inside release or ride down when lined up away from the side the offense is attacking, and so on. To over simplify the defensive lineman's job as filling a hole or protecting the linebacker is absurd. Granted these are part of the job description, but much more is expected of them. First and foremost the defensive line controls the line of scrimmage. The defensive line can shut down the opposition's offense completely. Anyone can fill a hole, a defensive lineman however, must be able to react in a fractions of a second, making the offense go on the defensive.

Pass Rushing

On passing plays, the defensive tackles will in most cases rush at the guards and center to attempt to contain and/or sack the quarterback. Because the quarterback will usually drop back to avoid the rush, pressure down the middle of the line will prevent the quarterback from stepping into the "pocket" (a safe area for the quarterback to throw created by the offensive line), leaving the quarterback more vulnerable to the defensive ends, and in many cases, forcing a bad throw.

Also, defensive tackles will often jump up when a quarterback throws in an attempt to deflect the pass, sometimes leading to an interception.

Coverage

In rare cases, a defensive tackle will drop back from the line of scrimmage in order to cover passes. This is usually accompanied by a blitz by a linebacker where the defensive tackle would rush, confusing the offensive line.

Gaps

There are a lot of different ways to line up your tackles, and they have different names depending on how you line them up. On the offensive line, there are gaps between the linemen. The first important thing for a tackle is how many gaps he has to cover. Sometimes the defensive scheme says he is responsible for only one gap - it's his job to make sure the running back can't come through his gap, and the other gaps will be someone else's responsibility. In this case we say the tackle is playing in a one gap defense. The tackle will line up right in the gap, not directly facing any offensive lineman.

In other schemes, the tackle will be responsible for two gaps. In this case the tackle will line up directly facing an offensive lineman, and his job will be to push that lineman backwards and make sure the running back doesn't run past on either side of his lineman.

If you want to play a two gap scheme, you need larger stronger defensive tackles who can control an offensive lineman or even two offensive lineman. If you want to play a one gap scheme you can use slightly smaller defensive tackles who are faster and more athletic and can penetrate into the offensive backfield more often. In a two gap scheme, the tackles are supposed to control the linemen, thus making sure that no one is blocking the linebackers behind them and the linebackers are then free to make the play and tackle the runner. So in a two gap scheme, you don't expect the defensive tackles to have a large number of sacks or tackles. They are doing their job if the linebackers have a lot of sacks and tackles, or if the team has good statistics against up the middle rushes.

In a one gap scheme, the defensive tackle is supposed to tackle the running back if he comes in the tackle's gap. On a passing play, the tackle is supposed to get into the quarterback's area and disrupt the play, possibly tackling the quarterback for a sack. So you expect tackles in a one gap scheme to tackle the runner and sack the quarterback more often.

If you want to be especially good at rushing the passer you'll find four relatively athletic, perhaps somewhat smaller defensive linemen and line them up in a 1 gap scheme. Now you will have at least three gaps unprotected, so it's important in this scheme that you have three very solid linebackers who can cover these gaps. If you want to be particularly good at stopping the run, then you will get four heavier and perhaps slightly slower defensive linemen, and play them in a two gap scheme. Now the offensive linemen will be all tied up with your linemen, clogging up all the interior running lanes and leaving your three linebackers free to roam for the running back.

Plays by Tackles

Just as the offensive linemen have choreographed routines to block the defense, the defensive linemen have choreographed routines to try to get into the offensive backfield. Two of the most popular are called a stunt and a zone blitz. In a stunt, one lineman will block an offensive lineman diagonally, say to his left. Then a second defensive lineman who started on the first lineman's left will take a half step backwards, run quickly around behind the first lineman, and then try to run into the backfield in the hole the first lineman created in his right. Another favorite dance is called a "zone blitz." In this scheme, one or two linebackers will rush on the same side of the center, perhaps the weak side away from the tight end. So you have a center, a guard, and a tackle trying to stop a defensive tackle, a defensive end, and two linebackers. This is almost impossible. However, when you do this you leave a big hole in your defense where the two linebackers ran away to get into the backfield. What the defense can do about this is to have the defensive tackle and perhaps defensive end drop back from the line and try to defend those "zones" that the linebackers just vacated. Of course defensive linemen are not the greatest guys in the world at pass defense, but the idea is that they only need to defend these areas for about two seconds, then the blitz should be hitting the quarterback.

Types of Tackles

The linemen on the offensive line up a few feet away from each other. This leaves gaps between the linemen. These gaps are both lettered and numbered, as shown below. The gap between the guard and tackle is called the B gap. If you are a defensive tackle lined up in the B gap, but shifted over a bit towards the guard, you're called a 3-technique. If you were lined up in the same gap but shifted over a couple feet to line up on the tackle's shoulder, you would be a 4i-technique. If you lined up head up on the tackle, you would be considered a 4-Technique. The "i" stands for inside shade. Head-up techniques are always even-numbered, and Odd numbered techniques on the outside shoulder are odd-numbered. However, if you are shaded inside of the offensive lineman you are on, you keep the even number and just put the "i" beside the number. The only exception to this rule is on the center. This is because there is no inside or outside shade of the center. If you line up on any shade of the center, you are considered to be in a 1-technique. If you line up directly facing the center, you're called a nose tackle or a 0-technique.

Nose tackles are either two-gap players (in a 3-4 scheme) or 1-technique players (in most 4-3 schemes) and are typically very big and very strong men. These guys have the responsibility of clogging up the entire center of the field, of keeping the center and at least one guard busy, and thereby protecting their middle linebacker. The nose tackle will also be responsible in passing plays to push the center back towards the quarterback so that the quarterback cannot step up in the pocket and evade the rush of the defensive ends. A good nose tackle can be hit simultaneously by 650 pounds of center and guard and will not budge as much as one inch.

Occasionally, a defensive scheme will ask both defensive tackles to essentially play as nose tackles, one trying to occupy both the center and a guard, and the other trying to occupy the opposite guard and the corresponding tackle. If successful, this leaves a tight end trying to block a defensive end on one side, and the other tackle left to block the other defensive end, leaving the responsibility to blocking the three linebackers, be it if they are blitzing a pass or preventing a run, to the running backs. This strategy requires two nose tackles who either are very good at two-gap play or two defensive tackles that can successfully clog the gap they are assigned, and two athletic ends who can beat a blocker to the outside for pass rush, but can be very effective if the talent is there. This style was the preferred defensive scheme of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, a top-5 defensive team of all time and the best defense at stopping the run in the modern era.

A 3-technique tackle lines up between the offensive guard and tackle. A 3-technique tackle is supposed to run through his gap immediately while being alert for different schemes such as trap and sweep and things of the like. He is a B-Gap player. He also has to be able to think very quickly and react to anything as if it is instinct. His job is not to block or get tied up in a block, but rather to be athletic and get himself into the offensive backfield and disrupt their plans. Because of this a 3-technique tackle is a lighter, more athletic guy than a nose tackle.Famous D-Lines:Noah Kjos ThoresenOle Andreas Dalsbø

References


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