Decoding the NFL: Can a Lineman Run the Ball and Change the Game?

Ever wondered if a lineman can run the ball in a football game? It’s a question that’s sparked quite a debate among football enthusiasts. You might think it’s strictly the job of the running backs, but the rules aren’t as black and white as you might believe.

The NFL rulebook is a dense document, filled with all sorts of stipulations and exceptions. Within its pages, you’ll find the answer to our question. But don’t worry, you don’t need to dig through it yourself. We’ve done the research for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Linemen play a crucial role in controlling the game at the line of scrimmage. Their job involves both offensive and defensive tasks, but traditionally, they are not ball carriers.
  • According to NFL rules, linemen, categorized as ineligible receivers, are usually prohibited from running the ball beyond the line of scrimmage during a forward pass play.
  • There are exceptions to this rule that add unpredictability to the game. To run the ball, a lineman must report beforehand to the referee and get permission to act as an eligible receiver. This tactic, known as an “ineligible man downfield,” is rarely used due to associated risks.
  • A lineman is allowed to run the ball if they recover it from a fumble. This can add an excitingly spontaneous element to the game, especially in chaotic endgame scenarios.
  • Examples from NFL history demonstrate that linemen running the ball is not a recent phenomenon. Despite being rare, such instances add an unexpected twist to the game, with plays such as kickoff returns or fumble recoveries leading to touchdowns.
  • A lineman running the ball can have a disruptive effect on the game, challenging defensive strategies, and introducing an element of surprise. However, there’s inherent risk with these plays due to linemen’s unfamiliarity with ball handling.

In the NFL, linemen are generally not the players who run with the ball, but there are exceptions and strategic plays where they can indeed become ball carriers. NFL Rules Digest outlines the conditions under which a lineman can run the ball, typically involving fumbles or special plays where they are eligible receivers. Pro Football Network explores historical instances where linemen have scored touchdowns, showcasing their ability to change the game unexpectedly. Furthermore, ESPN compiles data and stories on every lineman touchdown in NFL history, providing a fun look at these rare but exciting plays.

Exploring the Role of Linemen in Football

Before we dive into the specifics of NFL rules, it’s helpful for you to understand the general role that linemen play in a football game. Linemen are the unsung heroes of football. They are generally the largest players on the field and are in charge of controlling the game at the line of scrimmage. Their primary role involves both offensive and defensive tasks, such as blocking opponents and creating conduits for other players to run or pass the ball through.

In the offensive lineup, you have the interior linemen, known as the center, guards, and offensive tackles. The Center hikes the ball to the quarterback, guards protect against oncoming defense and tackles are placed on ends to guard the quarterback or to open up holes for the running backs.

Defensively, linemen are at the heart of the action too. This group, made up of the defensive tackles and ends, has the job of stopping offensive moves. They’ll attempt to break through the offensive line, prevent running backs from moving upfield, and put pressure on the quarterback to either force an incomplete pass or achieve a sack.

Understanding these duties and responsibilities gives an idea about the linemen’s role, however, it doesn’t directly answer the question, “can a lineman run the ball?”. The answer to that question is something you’ll find is governed more by NFL rules than by traditional roles or expectations. As we get into the nitty-gritty of these rules, keep in mind that football, like any sport, can sometimes be unpredictable. And, in moments of unpredictability, what seems unlikely might just occur, making the game more thrilling and exciting.

Understanding the NFL Rules on Linemen Running the Ball

We’ve unpacked the primary responsibilities of linemen. Now let’s dive deeper and examine the NFL’s specific rules regarding whether a lineman can run the ball.

NFL rules categorize players into two types: eligible and ineligible receivers. The catch here isn’t about their ability to catch a ball during a play; instead, it’s about legal downfield participation during a forward pass. The eligible receivers typically include quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and any other backfield players, while the ineligible receivers are mostly offensive linemen, namely centers, guards, and tackles. To prevent interference and ensure safety, ineligible receivers mustn’t catch, touch, or run with the ball beyond the line of scrimmage during a forward pass play.

Now you may wonder, are there exceptions to this rule? Yes, indeed, there are. NFL rules do offer a loophole. To run the ball, an ineligible receiver like a lineman must report to the referee before the play starts and get permission to act as an eligible receiver. This tactic, often referred to as an “ineligible man downfield,” adds an unexpected twist to a game, keeping the opponent and spectators on their toes.

Take note, however, that these plays are rarely used, primarily due to the risk factor involved. A failed attempt could lead to lost yardage, a turnover, or a penalty. Plus, linemen usually aren’t as agile or swift as their backfield counterparts, limiting their effectiveness in running the ball.

There’s also a special rule related to fumbles. If a lineman recovers a fumbled ball, he can run with it. This scenario is impressively exhilarating as it often happens spontaneously in the chaotic environment of a football game.

By examining these rules, it’s clear that NFL dictates when and how lineman can run the ball. Be it a forward pass play or a spontaneous fumble recovery, linemen may get that rare chance to dash downfield with the football, muddying the waters of predictable gameplay. It’s these unexpected events in football that often add excitement and a touch of unpredictability to the game.

Historical Examples of Linemen Running the Ball

If you’re new to football, you might think that linemen running the ball is a recent phenomenon. That’s not the case. You’ll be surprised to learn that the history of linemen carrying the ball dates as far back as the sport itself.

One of the most famous cases of a lineman running the ball is Dan Connolly’s 71-yard return for the New England Patriots in a Dec 2010 game against the Green Bay Packers. Connolly, a 313-pound player, ran the ball as he lined up as part of the front wall on the kickoff return unit and caught the ball after a Packers’ player made a short kick. The play’s unexpectedness coupled with Connolly’s agility makes this an unforgettable moment in NFL history.

On the other hand, you’ll find cases where linemen running the ball was the result of a fumble recovery. Remember the “Immaculate Reception” in the 1972 game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders? Well, Franco Harris wasn’t the only player to receive a lot of attention from that game. Defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene recovered a fumble and ran it into the end zone to score for the Steelers.

However, it’s also crucial to remember how rare these instances are. Most often, linemen position themselves to defend the ball carrier, not to take on this role. Therefore, when a lineman does carry the ball, it’s usually a surprise, whether due to a unique play call or an unexpected recovery of a loose ball.

Yet, these historical examples serve as a reminder of the versatility and unpredictability of football. Whether it’s Connolly’s kickoff return navigating a herd of Packers or Greene’s fumble recovery to score that touchdown, football has its way of keeping fans and even players on their toes. In these unexpected moments, your favorite sport offers much more than a scripted run of plays. Instead, what it delivers is an exhibition of physical prowess, strategic brilliance, and seamless teamwork that weaves a narrative of drama and spectacle on the gridiron.

The Logistics and Strategies Involved

You may be thinking, can a lineman run the ball? Yes, indeed, they can. But the logistics, rules, and strategies behind this move aren’t as simple as a regular running play. Let’s unravel it together.

Typically, linemen are the “unsung heroes” of a football team. They block, they tackle, they protect; they rarely get to run with the ball. For these burly behemoths to turn into sprinters, certain endgame scenarios and exploitable loopholes come into play. In an unexpected turn of events, amid the chaos and confusion, a lineman might just scoop up a loose ball to make a run for that highly coveted touchdown.

An apparent example is the fumble recovery run. If a player fumbles the ball and it’s scooped up by a lineman, they’re allowed to hotfoot it straight to the end zone. They’re not just limited to defence. They can–and do–dazzle with their versatility.

Yet, it all comes down to strategic brilliance. See, some teams also pull off an eligible receiver play, where a lineman temporarily switches his status to become an eligible pass receiver. It’s tricky, it’s rare, but when it works, it’s downright spectacular. Toss in a creative offensive coordinator into the mix and picture a lineman catching a smooth pass, shocking the opponent’s defence, and carrying the ball to glory.

However, these plays come with their own risk. Ball handling isn’t really a lineman’s first language. So, a perfectly timed play is critical. One misstep could result in an incomplete pass or even worse, a fumble.

There’s a saying in football – “Desperate times call for desperate measures”. And sometimes, this desperation finds a way to open up lanes for linemen, showing us that the unpredictable world of football knows no bounds.

Analyzing the Impact on the Game

As an integral part of the chaotic and unpredictable nature of football, a lineman running the ball adds an unexpected layer of excitement to the game. It’s like a rare gem that appears only once in a while but creates a lasting impact. This occurrence is not only a spectacle for spectators but a testament to a lineman’s versatility, bringing a fresh perspective to their traditional defensive role.

When you see a behemoth of an athlete, often tipping the scales at over 300 pounds, barreling down the field with ball in hand, you realize the sheer physical prowess of these players. These powerful runs demonstrate the speed, agility, and balance that linemen possess, qualities usually attributed to the smaller, faster skill players. It shatters the stereotype that linemen are merely large roadblocks designed to protect their quarterbacks or disrupt opponents’ strategies.

Next comes the impact of these plays in the tactical aspects of the game. Though it’s a rarity, a lineman running the ball signals a disruptive play that can unsettle established defensive strategies. It introduces an element of surprise, rendering traditional defensive preparations futile and opening unexpected alleys for advancing the ball.

Moreover, moving the ball through a lineman can sometimes be a necessity rather than a novelty – the quick thinking needed during fumble recoveries, especially in the endgame scenarios, might mandate such an unpredictable move. These desperate, on-the-spot decisions can swing the momentum of the game, outlining why football is as much a battle of wits as it is of physical toughness.

At the same time, this strategy is not without its risks. Linemen, not accustomed to handling the ball, are prone to fumbles and potential turnovers. So the beauty of this move lies in its balanced risk and reward scenario. This risk/reward dynamic makes the game thrilling for both players on the field and audiences at home, echoing football’s inherent drama and unpredictability.


So, you’ve seen how a lineman running the ball can electrify a game. It’s a testament to their athletic prowess and a curveball that can disrupt the best-laid defensive plans. Yet, it’s a high-risk, high-reward play. A fumble could spell disaster due to a lineman’s lack of ball-handling experience. But when it pays off, it’s a sight to behold and a game-changer. It’s these moments of unexpected brilliance that truly encapsulate the thrilling unpredictability of football. It’s clear that while a lineman running the ball might not be a common occurrence, it’s definitely a game strategy worth considering.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the impact of linemen running the ball in the NFL?

The impact is twofold. Firstly, it adds an element of surprise and excitement to the game as it challenges traditional defensive strategies and player stereotypes. Secondly, it’s a balance of risk and reward as it can led to fumbles due to linemen’s unfamiliarity with ball handling.

2. How do these unexpected runs showcase the physical prowess of linemen?

These runs showcase the physical prowess of linemen through their demonstration of speed, agility, and balance, traits not typically associated with these largely defensive players.

3. Why do these plays disrupt traditional defensive strategies?

These unusual runs are often unnerving for defenses, as they do not normally account for linemen carrying the ball, which can cause a shift in the game’s momentum.

4. Do linemen always succeed when they run the ball?

Linemen don’t always succeed when they run the ball. While it can be a strategic necessity, there’s a risk of fumbles due to their unfamiliarity with ball handling.

5. What does the article say regarding football’s drama and unpredictability?

The article relates the drama and unpredictability of football with the risk and reward of a lineman run as it challenges the traditional norms and strategies, making the game more thrilling.