Gridiron Glossary: Nickel

The nickel is a defensive formation feature five defensive backs.


Standard defensive formations have four defensive backs: two safeties and two cornerbacks.  A nickel is a variation where a fifth defensive back is inserted into the game, usually in place of a linebacker.  Originally the formation was conceived and employed to combat passing teams and formations featuring many receivers.  Today it is often used against Spread offenses.

Some teams use a nickel as their base set running a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 defense. The fifth defensive back in those teams is usually a player dedicated to that position.  Other teams use an additional safety or an additional cornerback as their fifth defensive back.

Gridiron Glossary is a resource for football terms that are often used by commentators, coaches and players but rarely defined.  If there is a term you have questions about or a definition you don’t agree with, let me know at

About Billy Koehler

Billy Koehler is the founder of and a contributing writer at He has been covering college football since 2006. You can follow him on twitter @billykoehler.
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