A running back (RB), or half back, is one of the most important players in the offense and is positioned behind the quarterback usually to the side of the full back in the offensive backfield. There are usually one or two running backs on the field during each play, depending on the offensive formation. Some coaches will also line up one of their running backs as an additional tight end or wide receiver. Along with the quarterback (QB), the RB is one of the most glamorous positions in American Football.
Basics of the position
The RB has a number of key jobs depending on the type of play in motion. If the quarterback calls for a running play, it is the RB’s job to take the ball from him, find a hole in the opposition’s defensive line (usually made by the full back on a running play) and run as far down the field as he can. This is called “rushing”. In the event of a passing play, the running back is tasked with staying close to the quarterback and blocking off any defensive players who beat the offensive line giving the QB time to throw the ball.
He will often be sent out as an additional receiver as well, providing the quarterback with alternative short passing options if the long throw is not on. When a running back is sent out, he will usually be protected by offensive tacklers and tight ends, who will block the oncoming defensive tacklers so that the RB can make up as much yardage as possible.
Famous running backs
Walter Payton, who played running back for the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987 was one of the NFL’s most highly regarded players and helped the Bears win Super Bowl XX while setting many new rushing records and earning a Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award.
Emmitt Smith (Dallas Cowboys 1990-2002, Arizona Cardinals 2003-2004) is arguably considered as the greatest ever running. Three times a Super Bowl champion, he also surpassed Payton to become the NFL’s all time rushing leader, notching up 18,355 yards over the course of his career.
Currently, LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers is one of the best in the league. In 2006, he scored a table topping 186 points, receiving the MVP award and the Associated Press’ Offensive Player of the Year award.
Development of the running back position
Because of the versatility of the position, there are several different types of running backs in American Football. Some are large and strong, while others are smaller but incredibly fast at running straight and agile enough to change direction quickly.
A running back is the closest to an all-round player on the offensive field and must be able to block the charging linebackers when the quarterback throws, run with the ball and must also be excellent at catching passes. A running back is likely to be involved in a tackle whenever on the pitch, be it defending the QB or going forward. For this reason, it is a particularly punishing position and there are few able to keep up with the pace beyond the age of 30.