Basic Football Formations

WILDCAT, 4-3, 3-4, SHOTGUN… Before the team can run a play, the players must first line up in a formation. Below are a few basic offensive and defensive formations.

First, if you need to familiarize yourself with the different football player positions, click here. Otherwise, let’s jump right in!


  • Remember, the Offensive Line is the Center (C) with 2 Offensive Guards (OG) and  2 Offensive Tackles (OT)



  • Very traditional formation
  • Looks like the letter I
  • 2 Running Backs (RB) lined up directly behind the Quarterback (QB)
  • 1 Tight End (TE) and 2 Wide Receivers (WR)



Pro-Set Formation or Split-Formation

  • Just like the I-Formation except the Running Backs SPLIT the QB (line up on either side of the QB)



  • The QB lines up about 5 yards behind the Center and receives the football by a snap rather than a hand-off
  • Usually used with 1 RB, 3 WR, and 1 TE, but any combo is possible
  • The QB has more time to throw the ball and can see the defense better




  • It “spreads” out the defense creating bigger holes
  • This example shows 4 WR and no RB, but sometimes a RB will be used
  • More common in College than NFL




  • Known as a “trick formation”
  • A catch-all formation for when any player other than the QB takes the snap from the Center



  • Remember, Defensive Line is made up of Defensive Ends (DE) and Defensive Tackles (DT)
  • The Secondary is made up of Cornerbacks (CB) and Safeties (S)


The 4-3

  • 4 Defensive Linemen backed up by 3 Linebackers (LB) and 4 players in the Secondary
  • Stronger against the run


The 3-4


  • 3 Defensive Linemen backed up by 4 LB and 4 players in the Secondary



  • Any time there are 5 defensive players in the Secondary.
  • The additional defender is called the Nickelback (NB) – 5th player, 5 cents, Nickel, get it?



  • Any time there are 6 defensive players in the Secondary (2 Nickels = a Dime)
  • Used against aggressive passing plays

And just like that, you have mastered 9 formations!




Category: Football