Look, I know you want to play in the NFL, but truth be told, there’s very few new roster spots available each year in the league.

If you’re hungry enough to hang in there and fight for your dream, you may find yourself having to play some indoor football in a league like the Arena Football League (AFL) or Indoor Football League (IFL).

…and while you’re there, if you’d better light it up, or you might have to kiss that NFL dream goodbye.

All Arena League quarterback Aaron Garcia, of the Jacksonville Sharks (ICON Sports)

So today I’ll be sharing some of the things I’ve heard guys say they had to adjust to when they played indoor football for the first time.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking playing in these leagues is going to be a cake walk.

Competition for roster spots in these leagues can get fierce, and there’s a lot of players in these leagues from big time schools.

So maybe this list of things to get adjusted to can help you prepare and know what to expect.

Related: Bet You Didn’t Know NFL Scouts Look for Some of this Stuff…

Who knows, they might just help you improve your chances of landing a roster spot.

Let’s get started with some of the differences that players at all positions experience, then we’ll get into some more position-specific adjustments.


Indoor Football is Faster


Due in part to the smaller field, most players find that the plays develop a lot faster indoors  than they do in the outdoor game.

Related: Contact Info for all IFL Teams


Not As Many Stunts on the Defensive Line


Quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive linemen don’t have to deal with as many stunts from the defensive line in indoor football.

Check out this highlight of Tim McGill, a 2011 All-Arena Nose Tackle.  See if you can notice any of the things we’ve talked about so far when it comes to adjusting, especially along the d-line.

Did you see the d-line running any stunts in the video?


IFL is More Like Outdoor Football than the Arena League


The Arena League is a more passing oriented game, whereas leagues like the IFL have rules in place that make it more like outdoor, 11-man football.

The IFL’s rules make it so that there’s more of a chance that the offense will actually run the ball from time to time.

In the Arena League, they very, very rarely run the ball.   On top of that, the Arena League’s rules make it tough to stop the pass.

Although you’ll see more running in the IFL, the frequency of running plays is still noticeably smaller than outdoor football; partly due to the smaller field, which gives the offense less room to run the ball.

Now let’s look at some position-specific adjustments that are common for guys transitioning to the indoor game.




Defensive Backs


Mental Toughness is Key. One thing that db’s (and defensive players as a whole, for that matter) have to get used to in the indoor game is getting scored on…  a lot.

And being that so many of the scoring plays are passing plays, as a db, you have to be able to mentally bounce back after getting scored on.

You have to keep in mind that indoor football is set up to be exciting, high-scoring football, so the odds are stacked against you to begin with.

Otherwise, if you don’t, you’re at-risk to get too down on yourself; and if that happens, you’re in for a long day; and possibly a short stay with the team.

Here’s proof.  The NFL’s single season touchdown record belongs to Tom Brady, with 50.

Well, compare that with Aaron Garcia’s single season td record in the Arena League.

He threw 104 TD’s when he was with the New York Dragons.

Yeah, you read that right.

Scoring happens so often as a defense, that you might only make four or five defensive stops in an entire game, and that’s considered a good outing.


Covering the Motion Receiver. Another thing that can be tough to get used to, is having to cover the motion guy, who’s running full-speed at the line of scrimmage directly at you as a db.

It’s a whole other animal from what you’ve experienced in outdoor football.

In 11-man football, as you know, motion players can only run backwards or laterally.

The “Box Rule” (see “Linebackers” section below) has really made it even more” difficult to stop the pass, because it limits the amount of help db’s can get from the linebackers.

DB’s in the Arena League have to be able to play man coverage.

Related: Cornerback Tips – What NFL Scouts Look For in Cornerbacks Part 1





Plays Develop Quickly. Again, the game is so much faster indoors, that there’s very few plays where you’ll make full three or five-step drops.

Timing is of the utmost importance, partly due to the smaller field.  This gives you a smaller window of time to fit the ball in, so the throws have to be quicker and on time.

Because of the condensed field, the timing between the quarterback and the receivers is crucial.

As a qb in the indoor game, you normally don’t have the time to check down to your third and fourth passing options, so that can take some getting used to as well.

Check out these highlights from the Arena League’s single-season passing touchdown record holder Aaron Garcia.  Check out how much quicker the plays develop than in outdoor football.

Related: Quarterback Tips – What NFL Scouts Look for in QB’s




Restrictions. In Arena, the Jack and Mac linebackers have restrictions on what they can do.  Coming from the outdoor game, these restrictions can take some time to get used to.

For example, the Jack can’t blitz, but he can roam from sideline-to-sideline as long as he stays within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and he can drop into coverage when the quarterback pump fakes.

Also, the Mac linebacker can only blitz the A-gaps.  In the outdoor game, you can blitz any gap.


Box Rule. As I mentioned earlier, the Arena Football League has the “Box Rule.”

This rule mandates that there has to be 5 defensive, and 5 offensive players inside of the imaginary area between the tackles.  This area goes 5 yards deep into the backfield and 5 yards deep on the defensive side of the ball.

A few years ago, they modified this rule so that the Jack linebacker can move laterally outside of the box.


Alley Rule. In indoor leagues like the IFL, they have the “Alley Rule.”

This rule mandates that only the 3 down d-linemen can be inside the box.  All Linebackers and db’s have to stay out of the “alley” until the ball is snapped.

This can take some getting used to as well, as linebackers are used to lining up in the box in 11-man football.

This rule is a major reason why you’ll see a little more running of the ball in the IFL.

Having only 3 people in the box pre-snap gives the offense a little more room to run the rock.

As a linebacker, this can be a little frustrating at first; ‘backers are used to being in the box for immediate run support.

Obviously the “Alley Rule” makes it tougher to rush the quarterback as well.

Related: Middle Linebacker Tips – What NFL Scouts Look For in Middle Linebackers, Part 1.


Safeties Adjusting to Playing Linebacker. Jack linebackers in the Arena League are often guys that used to play safety in the outdoor game, so making that adjustment to playing linebacker can be challenging for some players.

This is not always the case, though, and depends on the team they’re playing for, and their specific scheme/system.

Even guys that have played linebacker before in the outdoor game tend to have challenges getting used to the differences in spacing that they experience in the indoor game.

Related: What the NFL Looks for in the Safety Position in Football – Part 1


Here’s a highlight film for the 2012 IFL season of one of the top linebackers in the IFL right now, Peter Buck.  See if you can notice any of the adjustments we’ve spoken about up to this point when it comes to the indoor game.



Do you know of any adjustments that I left out?  Leave a comment below, I’ll be sure to add them in!

Check back for part two, where we’ll finish up looking at common adjustments for the other positions.

Follow me on Twitter!  @alvingrier

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