In the game of football, every player is given a specific position — both on offense and defense — that determines their role when on the field. Some of these positions are universal to whatever scheme you’re playing, while others are only specific to one scheme — such as a nose tackle.
So, what is a nose tackle in football?
A nose tackle, also known as the nose guard or middle guard, is a player that aligns themselves in the middle of the defensive line. This player is only used in a 3-4 defensive scheme, opposed to a 4-3 defensive scheme. They’re usually the largest player and go head-to-head with the opposing center.
Any coach that wants to find success with a 3-4 defensive scheme needs a dominant nose tackle. They are often referred to as the anchor of the defense because their sole responsibility is to limit the amount of space an offense has down the middle of the line of scrimmage.
If you’re interested in learning more about the nose tackle position in football, continue reading for a full breakdown of what a nose tackle does and what it takes to be a dominant nose tackle.
The Nose Tackle Position
Nose tackles don’t receive a lot of glamour in modern football. They don’t always receive large contracts, they generally don’t run up the stat sheet, and they’re most likely not going to be a fan’s favorite player on the field — at least not like a quarterback, running back, or wide receiver.
With that said, the nose tackle position is highly respected by their teammates and is most likely going to be the defensive coordinator’s favorite player when things are going well. Not only that, but they’re offensive lineman’s — specifically the center and guards — worst nightmare.
This is because the nose tackle position is one of the most physically demanding positions in all of football. They’re some of the hardest-working players that are almost always double-teamed, if not triple-teamed, when on the field. You simply can’t run a 3-4 defensive scheme without one.
Nose tackles are found in the middle of the defensive line when running a 3-4 defensive scheme. They line up with a defensive end on both sides of them, but there’s a pretty large gap between them since the offensive line is made up of five players. For the most part, the nose tackle is responsible for filling up these two gaps.
When done correctly, the nose tackle acts as a space-eater. They try to take up as much space as possible down the middle of the line of scrimmage, which often means taking on the center and one — or both — of the offensive guards. This allows the defensive ends to cover the outside of the offensive line and frees up the middle linebackers to find the quarterback or running back.
Nose Tackle Size and Weight
Since nose tackles are largely responsible for clogging up the middle of the line of scrimmage, it’s almost required that they have a big body that’s difficult to block. You have to keep in mind that offensive linemen are big players and that the nose tackle is almost always double-teamed.
With that said, most nose tackles in the league are anywhere from 6’0’’ to 6’3’’ and weigh anywhere from 300-350 pounds. They need to have a big body, but they also need to have some speed and strength to make them quicker and stronger than a center and offensive guard.
This is different from defensive ends, which are usually taller (around 6’5’’) and slimmer (285 pounds) so they can keep up with offensive tackles. Unlike a nose tackle, a defensive end’s main responsibility is to control the outside of the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback.
It’s okay for a nose tackle to be smaller or bigger than the average nose tackle, so long as that player is good at taking up space and freeing up room for the rest of the defense to do what they do best. If you can do that, then your coach will always have a spot for you on the defense.
Nose Tackle vs Nose Guard
Many people refer to a nose tackle as a nose guard, but they’re two completely different positions in football. As we learned above, the nose tackle lines up in the middle of the defensive line in a 3-4 defense — which consists of one nose tackle and two defensive ends.
The nose guard, however, lines up in the middle of the defensive line in a 5-2 defense. This type of scheme consists of five players on the defensive line — a nose guard, two defensive tackles, and two defensive ends. They have a similar role, but the defensive schemes are very different.
A 3-4 defensive scheme is more of a base defense that can be effective against the run and pass when performed correctly. This is because four linebackers can either drop back and guard the middle of the field or play at the line of scrimmage against the run.
A 5-2 defensive scheme is extremely effective against the run, especially the inside run. Where the 3-4 defense has two gaps in-between the nose tackle and defensive ends, those two gaps are completely covered by two defensive tackles in the 5-2 scheme, which makes it hard to run the ball.
Although used in very specific situations in the NFL, the 5-2 defensive scheme was largely phased out of pro football in the 1950s and eventually college football in the 1980s. This is because the 4-3 defensive scheme has two inside linebackers that can fill those two gaps if needed.
Nose Tackle vs Defensive Tackle
While many people often confuse a nose guard with a nose tackle, many fans also use the terms nose tackle and defensive tackle interchangeably. Again, these are two completely different positions in the game of football and have entirely different roles in defensive schemes.
The nose tackle is largely used in the 3-4 defensive scheme — as well as a 5-2 defensive scheme. They line up in front of the offensive center and are responsible for clogging up the two gaps on both sides of the center — in-between the center and two offensive guards.
The defensive tackle is largely used in the 4-3 defensive scheme — as well as the 5-2 defensive scheme. A coach usually elects to have two defensive tackles on the field, although one of those defensive tackles might be a versatile nose tackle. Still, their role changes as a defensive tackle.
Defensive tackles rarely line up head-to-head with the center. Instead, they line up head-to-head with the offensive guards. In some situations, they might line up in-between the guards and center if they want to directly fill the gaps during a run play. It all depends on the game situation.
Whether you’re playing in a 3-4 defensive scheme or 4-3 defensive scheme, two defensive ends line up by the offensive tackle. A 3-4 scheme has one nose tackle in the middle, while a 4-3 defense has two defensive tackles in-between the defensive ends.
What Is the 0 Technique in Football?
As you learn more about football, you start to hear the term ‘defensive technique.’ It’s not something a normal fan has to be concerned about, but it’s something that gets mentioned by the announcers and commentators regularly. If you’re a football player, you must understand what a defensive technique is.
Defensive techniques serve two major purposes — they tell the defenders where they need to line up for that specific play and they tell the defenders what their role is when on the field. Any even-numbered technique (including the 0-technique) must line up head-to-head with the offensive line. An odd-numbered technique must line up ‘over the shoulder’ of the offensive line.
The 0-technique is largely specific to the nose tackle but can be played by defensive tackles as well. It’s where the defender lines up head-to-head with the offensive center. This player is mostly responsible for filling the two gaps on either side of the center in-between each guard — also known as the A-gaps.
The 0-technique is generally played in the 3-4 defensive scheme, which is why it’s largely a nose tackle technique. They’re responsible for taking up space and making it hard for the center and guards to make room for the running back. The more space they take up, the less of a hole the running back has to make it through the line of scrimmage.
Sometimes a nose tackle or defensive tackle will line up in a 1-technique. Instead of going head-to-head with the center, they’ll line up on the outside shoulder of the center, either on the left or right. This can either give them an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the play being called by the offense.
What Is the 3 Technique in Football?
Like we mentioned above, the 0-technique (and any other even-numbered technique) is asked to line up head-to-head with the offensive line. If it’s a 2-technique, the player must line up head-to-head with the guard. A 4-technique lines up head-to-head with the tackle. If there’s a tight end on the play, a 6-technique lines up head-to-head with the tight end.
Of course, that’s not the case with any odd-numbered technique. In this technique, the defensive player must line up over the outside shoulder of the offensive line. For the 3-technique, the defensive player is asked to line up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard.
When you line up in a 3-technique, you’re only responsible for the gap between the offensive guard and offensive tackle — also known as the B-gap. This is different from the 0-technique, which is responsible for the two gaps in between the center and both offensive guards.
Most defensive tackles that line up in a 4-3 defensive scheme are lining up in a 3-technique. This makes it hard for the running back to find a hole through either of the two B-gaps (in-between the guard and tackle). Of course, it leaves some space right up the middle.
While a 3-technique refers to the outside shoulder of the offensive guard, there’s also something called the 2i-technique. This is where the defensive player lines up on the inside shoulder of the offensive guard.
What Is the 5 Technique in Football?
So far, we’ve mentioned how the 0-technique lines up head-to-head with the center, and the 2-technique lines up head-to-head with the offensive guard. We also mentioned how the 1-technique lines up on the outside shoulder of the center and the 3-technique lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard.
What does that make the 5-technique? Well, first we need to understand the 4-technique. This is where the defensive player lines up head-to-head with the offensive tackle. It’s generally reserved for the defensive end and they’re responsible for both the B-gap (in-between the guard and tackle) and C-gap (on the outside of the tackle).
Since the 5-technique features an odd number, that means the defensive lineman lines up on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. They’re largely responsible for the C-gap, which is the space on the outside of the tackle, but they might try and confuse the tackle by starting outside and making a move inside.
Much like you have the 2i-technique, which lines up on the inside of the offensive guard, you also have the 4i-technique, which lines up on the inside of the offensive tackle — opposed to the outside of the tackle. This would make them more responsible for the B-gap (in-between the tackle and guard).
Best Nose Tackles in NFL History
Throughout history, there have been several players that have revolutionized what it means to be a nose tackle. These players are often the most recognized players in the locker room — especially among the defensive coordinators — for helping clear up space for the rest of the team.
While most nose tackles don’t receive a lot of praise from the fans (largely due to their lack of stats), some nose tackles throughout history were so good that you had to recognize them — no matter what. Let’s take a look at some of those specific nose tackles:
- Vince Wilfork – one of the most technically sound nose tackles ever to play the game, Wilfork was known for his leverage and footwork. He played for the New England Patriots and Houston Texans. If he was on the field, the offense always needed to double-team him.
- Casey Hampton – one of the main reasons the Pittsburgh Steelers had a strong run defense was because of Hampton occupying the middle of the line of scrimmage. He’s one of the best 2-gap defenders of all time.
- Ted Washington – while most defensive tackles are under 6-foot-3, Washington was a whopping 6-foot-5 and weighed 375 pounds. He played his best ball with the Buffalo Bills but was a physically demanding nose tackle up until the age of 39.
- Jamal Williams – many people remember Jamal Williams as the anchor to the San Diego Chargers’ dominant defense in the late-1990’s and the early 2000s. He was very intelligent and knew how to use his body to free up the rest of his defense.
- Jay Ratliff – although he was regarded as taller and slimmer than most nose tackles, Ratliff was a force to be reckoned with when lining up opposite the center. He was most known for his amazing pass-rushing ability, which most nose tackles don’t possess.
- Isaac Sopoaga – originally a defensive end, making the move to nose tackle was one of the best things for Sopoaga’s career. It’s one of the large reasons why Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis were able to have the careers they had with the San Francisco 49ers.
- B.J. Raji – there aren’t many nose tackles as versatile as Raji. He allowed his defensive coordinator the freedom to call whatever play he wanted because he knew Raji was going to anchor that defense no matter what. He made a ton of plays behind the scrimmage.
- Sione Po’uha – with as much strength as Po’uha had, what he surprised us with the most was his tremendous speed. He had a quick first step that allowed him an advantage when lining up opposite the center. He made Rex Ryan’s job easy as the Jets’ coach.
- Domata Peko – one of the things that made Peko so dominant was his ability to play the nose tackle position in a 4-3 defensive scheme. It was because of him that Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins had the careers they had with the Cincinnati Bengals.
- Paul Soliai – one of the best 2-gappers in the entire league, Soliai is extremely hard to handle for any offensive line. His versatility saw him move across the defensive line throughout his career, but we’ll always remember him for his nose tackle work.
It’s unclear if we’ll ever see any nose tackles in the future that live up to the names listed above, but there’s no doubt that these players are some of the least-recognized superstars of their time. The next time you see a nose tackle playing well, make sure you tip your hat to them!