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Football Explained: Right Defensive End in a 4-3

Today we start our look at positions. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, I’ll handle these one at a time. For many readers, these will seem very rudimentary, but that’s entirely the point. After I’ve covered the basics, I’ll use that basis to explain more complex subjects. I’m starting with the seven basic positions in a 4-3 defense.


Blindside: The side opposite to where the quarterback faces while passing.

Edge Rush: A defensive technique where the defender attempts to run around the offensive tackle's outside shoulder.

End: A position on either end of the defensive line.

First Step: A term denoting a player’s ability to react to the snap. A “fast” first step implies good reaction time following a snap.

Gaps: A theoretical position between two offensive blockers or on the outside shoulder of one offensive blocker playing at the end of the line.

Guard: The position on a typical five man offensive line that plays between the center and the offensive tackle.

Offensive Tackle: The position on a typical five man offensive line that plays on the outside end of either side of the line.

Pass Rush: The collective pressure created by a defense.

Pressure: Any action that hurries, rushes or panics a quarterback. Pressure precedes a sack. Defenses seek to create pressure and pass rush to limit the time a quarterback has to throw the ball.

Pocket: The space between a quarterback and his blockers.

Sack: A tackle, forced fumble or forced out of bounds of an offensive player, behind the line of scrimmage, who is attempting to pass.

3 or 4 Point Stance: A crouched position with either one hand down (3 point) or two hands down (4 point).

The right defensive end in a 4-3 plays opposite the offensive left tackle. For a right handed quarterback, the left side is said to be his “blindside”. Because a right handed quarterback normally cannot see pressure coming from the right defensive side, defenses emphasize pass rush from the right side. Offenses put special significance on protecting a quarterback’s blindside. Therefore, defenses typically put their best pass rusher at right defensive end. That player may not lead the team in sacks, but he usually possesses the best “first step” and provides the fastest arriving “pressure”. Examples include Seattle’s defensive end tandem, Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp, or Green Bay’s Aaron Kampman and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Kampman and Kerney both play the left defensive end position, both record more sacks than their respective teammates, but Tapp and Gbaja-Biamilla have faster first steps and provide faster arriving pressure.

In a 4-3, a right defensive end typically begins a play in a 3 point stance. On most plays, a right defensive end in a 4-3 is assigned a single gap. When pass rushing, they run into the gap outside the left tackle’s left shoulder or into the gap between the tackle and the guard. The goal is to move around or over their blockers and get to the ball carrier. Moving to the tackle's outside shoulder in an attempt to run around the tackle is called “edge rush”. Certain schemes, like the Tampa 2, emphasize edge rush.

On rushing plays, a defensive end may be assigned two gaps. On these plays, the end is said to “control” the two gaps. They are not assigned to run into either gap immediately, but to run into either gap should the ball carrier run into or towards that assigned gap. The defensive end is said to “read and react”. For most right defensive ends, run stopping and gap control are considered secondary skills of lesser importance than creating pressure and sacking the quarterback. Rushing the quarterback is the primary and most common assignment for a right defensive end.

In most 4-3 defenses, right defensive end is considered one of if not the most important position. A defense's ability to limit a quarterback’s time in the pocket helps decrease that quarterback’s completion percentage and yards per attempt and increase his rate of fumbles and interceptions. Because of the value of its contribution and the paucity of athletes who can contribute from the position, defensive end is the second highest paid position on the defense behind cornerback.

Prototype: Len Ford