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The Quarterback's Job in a Football Game

With the exception of kicking plays, quarterbacks touch the ball on every offensive play during a football game. A quarterback’s job is to direct his team toward the end zone and score as many points as possible. The typical team scores on one-third of its offensive possessions, resulting in either a touchdown or a field goal. So you can see that the quarterback is under enormous pressure to generate points every time the offense takes the field.

The quarterback (QB) is the player directly behind the center receiving the ball (see this figure).

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The quarterback is the player who announces the plays in the huddle, but he doesn’t call them on his own. Coaches on all levels of football (peewee, high school, college, and the NFL) decide what plays the offense will use. But the quarterback must be prepared to change the play at the line of scrimmage if it doesn’t appear that the play will succeed. Changing the play at the line of scrimmage in this way is called audibilizing.

After the quarterback is in possession of the ball, he turns and, depending on which play was called, takes one of the following actions:

  • Hands the ball to a running back.

  • Runs with the ball himself.

  • Moves f urther back and sets up to attempt a pass. Depending on the design of the offense, the quarterback takes a three-step, five-step, or seven-step drop before throwing the ball.

The area in which the quarterback operates, most likely with a running back and the offensive line protecting him from the defense, is called the pocket. It’s as wide as the positioning of the quarterback’s offensive tackles.

The quarterback’s main job is to throw the football and encourage his teammates to play well. In college, especially if the team runs a spread formation, the quarterback may run the ball as often as he passes, but in the NFL, the quarterback rarely runs with the ball.

Here are a couple of special-case plays the quarterback may need to call:

  • Quarterback sneak: Teams run this play when the offense needs a yard or less for a first down. The quarterback takes a direct snap from the center and either leaps behind his center or guard, or dives between his guard and center, hoping to gain a first down.

  • Shotgun snap: In passing situations when the team has many yards to go for a first down or touchdown, quarterbacks sometimes take a shotgun snap: the quarterback stands 6 to 8 yards behind the center and receives the ball through the air from the center, much like a punter does. Starting from the shotgun position, the quarterback doesn’t have to drop back. He can survey the defense and target his receivers better. However, defending against a quarterback who lines up in the shotgun position is easier for the defensive players, because they know the play is very likely to be a pass instead of a run.

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