Fundamentals : How to Use Uniform Numbers

You might have read that title and thought it was a typo…or just a weird post about repurposing old jerseys. But it’s so not! Your life is about to get so much easier, all thanks to the magic of uniform numbers.

Really.

So remember last week when we talked about the single high safety and how to find him on the field? That one was pretty simple, because you know that the one guy hanging out up top is the single high safety. It’s as close to self-explanatory as you’ll get in the NFL.

But what if you’re trying to figure out where the rest of the defensive backs are and you’re just not sure based on the formation alone?

That’s the beauty of uniform numbers.

In the NFL, players must to adhere to specific rules when it comes to picking their number. They have to select a number that is within the range for their position.

Each position in the NFL is identified by a specific range of uniform numbers.

What are those numbers and ranges? I made you a printable for you so you’ll have them handy all season long! (Just click the “Print Me!” icon below. A new window will open up and you can print the image by selecting File>Print in your browser. Enjoy!)

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Print Me!

Ok, so how do we infuse this newfound knowledge into game day?

Let’s take a look at one of the screen shots from last Wednesday’s post.

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It’s fairly obvious that this is Cover 1. We see Earl (hi, Earl!) hanging out up top. Also, he’s circled and the text beneath him says, “single high safety.”

I aim to please here, people.

So we know where Earl is – but where are the rest of the defensive backs? Are the three players in the second level linebackers? Which of the players on the defensive line are actually defensive linemen?

If you know your team well, you might know just based on what personnel your team usually fields. You know the players on the field. But if you don’t know the team, you can use three clues – uniform number, context, and the roster – to know who is on the field even if you don’t actually know who is on the field.

Let’s take a look at this play from a different angle and use our first clue to determine who’s on the field.

Uniform Number

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Using a combination of the screenshot and the video, we can see everyone’s jersey and determine their position based on their number. Let’s work left to right across each level in the formation:

25: Defensive back

57: Linebacker

69: Defensive lineman

92: Defensive lineman or linebacker

79: Defensive lineman

50: Linebacker

39 (not shown): Defensive back

56: Linebacker

54: Linebacker

31: Defensive back

29: Defensive back

It’s pretty cut and dry just from a survey of the uniform numbers. The only question is 92 – is he a linebacker or a lineman? We can figure that out by looking onto Clue 2.

Context

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Let’s take a look at this situation: 92 is in between two other defensive linemen. He’s in a 3-point stance, and a quick Google search tells us that he’s 300+ lbs – much too big for the typical linebacker. From the context we can tell that he’s more than likely a defensive tackle, which would make the other d-linemen next to him defensive ends. But to be sure we can always move to Clue 3, which is almost always* the golden ticket.

*Almost always – because a player can report as a different position than his uniform number indicates. We’ll be talking about that more next week!

Roster

We can be 100% sure of who’s on the field by using the Seahawks 2012 Roster.

25: Cornerback (Richard Sherman)

57: Linebacker (Michael Morgan)

69: Defensive end (Clinton McDonald)

92: Defensive tackle (Brandon Mebane)

79: Defensive end (Red Bryant)

50: Linebacker (K.J. Wright)

39: Cornerback (Brandon Browner)

56: Linebacker (Leroy Hill)

54: Linebacker (Bobby Wagner)

31: Safety (Kam Chancellor)

29: Safety (Earl Thomas)

When we match the players to their positions to their jerseys, the whole picture makes a lot more sense than it might have initially:

Defensive Math

It makes sense that the corners are on the edges, that there are three down linemen, that the linebackers are coming up front as pass rushers, and that the strong safety is in the second level playing zone. Adding all of the pieces together makes an effective whole, and also teaches us a lot more about what the defense was going for on this play. From this look, it seems like the defense was probably expecting a running play, since they’ve stuffed so many guys in the box.

Now, realistically, are you going to have time to do this level of breakdown before the snap of every play? Probably not. The game happens – and changes! – much too quickly for that. You might not have time to figure out every player at every position, but you’ll more than likely be able to spot that one player who made a difference on the last play and figure out who he is by using the workflow you learned today – number, context, roster – and by knowing all of the basics you’ve learned so far.

Because you’re just that good!

But just in case you need a little extra practice, we’ll be going over this again in Wednesday’s film room post. Let’s consider it our OTA for the week. See you then!

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