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How Quarterbacks Call Plays and Audibilize during Football Games

In American football, the quarterback relays to his teammates in the huddle what play the coach has called. The play is a mental blueprint or diagram for every player on the field. Quarterbacks are also allowed to audibilize, or change the play at the line of scrimmage. A changed play is called an audible. Quarterbacks usually audibilize when they discover that the defense has guessed correctly and is properly aligned to stop the play.

Everything the quarterback says in the huddle refers specifically to the assignments of his receivers, running backs, offensive linemen, and center. For example, the quarterback may say “686 Pump F-Stop on two.” Here’s how that breaks down:

  • 686: The first three numbers are the passing routes that the receivers — known as X, Y, and Z — should take. Every team numbers its pass routes and patterns, giving receivers an immediate signal of what routes to run. On this play, the X receiver runs a 6 route, the Y receiver an 8 route, and the Z receiver another 6 route.

  • F-Stop: Refers to the fullback’s pass route.

  • Two: Refers to the count on which the quarterback wants the ball snapped to him. In other words, the center will snap the ball on the second sound.

Most teams snap the ball on the first, second, or third count unless they’re purposely attempting to draw the opposition offside by using an extra-long count. For example, if the quarterback has been asking for the ball on the count of two throughout the game, he may ask for the ball on the count of three, hoping that someone on the defense will move prematurely.

After the quarterback reaches the line of scrimmage and puts his hands under the center, he says “Set” (at which point the linemen drop into their stances) and then something like “Green 80, Green 80, Hut-Hut.” The center snaps the ball on the second “Hut.”

“Green 80” means absolutely nothing in this case. However, sometimes the quarterback’s remarks at the line of scrimmage prior to the snap count inform his offensive teammates of how the play will be changed. The offensive linemen also know that the play is a pass because of the numbering system mentioned at the beginning of the called play.

Teams give their plays all sorts of odd monikers, such as Quick Ace, Scat, Zoom, and Buzz. These names refer to specific actions within the play; they’re meant for the ears of the running backs and receivers. Each name (and every team has its own terms) means something, depending on the play that’s called.

A quarterback may also use an offensive strategy known as check with me, in which he instructs his teammates to listen carefully at the line of scrimmage because he may call another play, or his call at the line of scrimmage will be the play. To help his teammates easily understand, the play may simply change colors — from Green to Red, for example.

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