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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Sports lingo for the average fan

Ever watch football on TV and hear announcers and analysts throw out terms that you’ve never heard of before? Football isn’t brain surgery, but it is more complicated than you think. Every Tuesday, we’ll be breaking down common football terms to help you fully understand the game.

Where are all the colored shirts?


It doesn’t literally mean that a player wears a red jersey while playing (unless they’re a quarterback in practice). With the recruiting phenomenon of recent years turning it into a season of competition in and of itself, football coaches have more players at their disposal to fill roster spots. Starting roles are generally occupied by upperclassmen, so unless he is a stud out of high school, a freshman doesn’t have many opportunities to play.

Since the NCAA only allows players four years of eligibility, it created a rule that gives players the opportunity to practice and learn the ways of the team without ever participating in a game. A coach can declare a freshman or an injured upper-classmen a “”redshirt”” player, and as long as that player does not take part in an official snap during a game, he is given an extra year to play. When you hear that a player is a “”redshirt senior”” that means that he is in his fifth year of college, but only his fourth year of eligibility.

Is there money on the field?

Nickel and Dime defense

Thanks to the increase of passing in both the NCAA and the NFL, defenses are forced to play with more secondary personnel on the field at one time than ever before. These traditionally smaller, faster players combat the speed and quickness of their offensive counterparts. A normal defensive set includes a combination of seven linemen and linebackers and four players in the secondary: two cornerbacks and two safeties (normally called a strong safety and a free safety).

To compensate for the athleticism and multitude of receivers on offense, defensive coordinators have created packages that feature more defensive backs and fewer linemen/linebackers. A “”nickel”” package typically substitutes a linebacker with a fifth defensive back, who then becomes the “”nickel back”” (no, not the band). A “”dime”” package is one step beyond the nickel: a sixth defensive back joins the fifth and replaces another linebacker or lineman. This gives defenses more athleticism on the field and increases the chance of defending the pass.

Who are these guys?

Mike, Sam, and Will linebackers

Linebackers are probably the most complicated positions on the defensive side of the ball. They have to be able to defend both the run and the pass unlike linemen and defensive backs, which can generally focus on just one. Despite the complexity of their positions, their nicknames are simple. “”Mike, Sam and Will,”” respectively, are nicknames given to middle and outside linebackers so that coaches can limit the syllables they scream at their linebacking corp.

A “”Mike”” linebacker is the middle linebacker. The middle linebacker is often referred to as “”the quarterback of the defense.”” He is in charge of telling the defense what play to run as well as making any last-second alignment changes with the defensive line before the ball is snapped.


A “”Sam”” linebacker is the outside linebacker that lines up on the strong side, that is, the side with the most receivers on offense. A good way to quickly figure out which side is “”strong”” is to find the tight end. Although it isn’t always the case, you will usually find the “”Sam”” lined up across from the tight end.


A “”Will”” linebacker is the linebacker who lines up on the weak side, which is the opposite side of the “”Sam.”” Typically the “”Sam”” backer is bigger because the ball is usually run right at him on the strong side, while the “”Will”” linebacker is a little smaller and more athletic. The “”Will”” linebacker deals with a running play to his side, which is usually a misdirection or trick play. In terms of defending the pass, he needs to be quicker since his defense responsibilities are much greater (slot receivers or running backs, as opposed to the tight end).

– compiled by Tim Kosch

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