Football Speak - Football For Dummies (2015)

Football For Dummies (2015)


Football Speak


When the quarterback changes the play at the line of scrimmage by calling out prescribed signals to his teammates.


The group of offensive players — the running backs and quarterback — who line up behind the line of scrimmage.


A defensive strategy in which a linebacker or defensive back vacates his customary position or responsibility in order to pressure the quarterback. The object of a blitz is to tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage (also known as a sack) or force the quarterback to hurry his pass, thus disrupting the offensive play. (Prior to World War II, this defensive strategy was called a red-dog, but the name was changed to blitz after the German Army’s blitzkrieg tactics.)


A long pass play in which the quarterback throws the ball to a receiver more than 35 yards past the line of scrimmage.

bump and run

A technique used by defensive backs to slow down receivers. The defender bumps the receiver at the start of the play and attempts to keep his hands on him, as rules permit within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, before running downfield with him.


The act of running with the ball. In statistical charts, a runner’s rushing attempts are listed as carries.


The offensive player who hikes (or snaps) the ball to the quarterback at the start of each play. The term comes from the fact that this player is flanked on either side by a guard and a tackle; he’s the middleman (or center) in a contingent of five offensive linemen or blockers. He handles the ball on every play and also snaps the ball to the punter and holder.


When a player throws his body across the back of the legs of an opponent or charges, falls, or rolls into the back of an opponent below the waist after approaching him from behind. It’s a 15-yard penalty.

coffin corner

The area between the opponent’s end zone and 5-yard line. Punters try to kick the ball into the coffin corner so that the offense takes over the ball deep in its own territory.


A forward pass that’s successfully caught by an eligible receiver.


A defensive player who lines up on one of the wide sides of the field, usually opposite an offensive receiver. Called a cornerback because he’s isolated on the “corner” edge of the defensive alignment.


The numbers or words that a quarterback shouts loudly while waiting for the ball to be snapped. The quarterback usually informs his teammates in the huddle that the ball will be snapped on a certain count.


A running play designed to go against, or counter to, the expected direction of the defense’s pursuit.

defensive back

A member of the defensive secondary. Defensive backs form the line of defense whose job is to prevent receivers from making catches and then gaining lots of yards after the catch. Safeties, cornerbacks, and nickel backs are defensive backs.

defensive end

A defensive player who lines up at an end of the defensive line. His job is to contain any run plays to his side and prevent the quarterback from getting past him. On passing plays, he rushes the quarterback.

defensive line

The defensive players who play opposite the offensive linemen. The defensive line is made up of ends, tackles, nose tackles, and under tackles. Defensive linemen disrupt the offense’s blocking assignments and are responsible for clogging certain gaps along the line of scrimmage when they aren’t in a position to make the tackle themselves.

defensive tackle

A defensive player who lines up on the interior of the defensive line. His job is to stop the run at the line, or to shoot through the offensive line and make a tackle in the backfield. If he can’t make a play, he needs to prevent the opponent’s center and guards from running out and blocking the linebackers.

dime formation

When the defense uses six defensive backs rather than the usual four. The dime formation is used in obvious passing situations.

double foul

A situation in which each team commits a foul during the same down.


A period of action that starts when the ball is put into play and ends when the ball is ruled dead (meaning the play is over). The offense gets four downs to advance the ball 10 yards. If it fails to do so, it must surrender the ball to the opponent, usually by punting on the fourth down.

down lineman

A defensive lineman.


The selection of mostly collegiate players for entrance into the National Football League (NFL). The draft occurs in late April. The NFL team with the preceding season’s worst record selects first, and the Super Bowl champion selects last. Each team is awarded one selection during each of the seven rounds.


A disguised run that initially looks like a pass play. The offensive linemen retreat like they’re going to pass-protect for the quarterback. The quarterback drops back and, instead of setting up to pass, he turns and hands the ball to a running back.


The series of plays during which the offense has the football. A drive ends when the team punts or scores and the other team gets possession of the football.


A penalty that occurs when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage and makes contact with an opponent before the ball is snapped. Encroachment is subject to a 5-yard penalty.

end zone

A 10-yard-long area at both ends of the field — the promised land for a football player. A player in possession of the football scores a touchdown when he crosses the plane of the goal line and enters the end zone. If you’re tackled in your own end zone while in possession of the football, the defensive team gets a safety.

extra point

A kick, worth one point, typically attempted after every touchdown (it’s also known as the point after touchdown, or PAT). The ball is placed on the 2-yard line in the NFL, or the 3-yard line in college and high school, and generally is kicked from the 10-yard line. It must sail between the uprights and above the crossbar of the goalpost to be considered good. See two-point conversion

face mask

The protective bars on the football helmet that cover a player’s face. Also the name of the penalty for grabbing these bars when tackling a player. Grabbing the face mask is subject to a 15-yard penalty.

fair catch

When the player returning a punt waves his extended arm from side to side over his head. After signaling for a fair catch, a player can’t run with the ball, and those attempting to tackle him can’t touch him.

field goal

A kick, worth three points, that the offense can attempt from anywhere on the field (but most kickers attempt it within 40 yards of the goalpost). The kick must sail above the crossbar and between the uprights of the goalpost to be considered good.

first down

A team begins every possession of the ball with a first down. The offense must gain 10 yards or more (in four downs) to be awarded another first down. Teams want to earn lots of first downs because doing so means they’re moving the ball toward the opponent’s end zone. See down


A player who catches passes, also known in more general terms as a wide receiver. In an offensive formation, he usually lines up outside the tight end, off the line of scrimmage.


The area of the field between the hash marks and the sideline and in close proximity to the line of scrimmage. A pass, usually to a running back, in this area is described as a flat pass.


A predetermined setup (or alignment) employed by the offense or defense.


Any violation of a playing rule.

franchise player

A player who’s designated by his team and must be paid the average salary of the top five players at his position. Football reporters also use this term to describe a superstar player who’s invaluable to his team.

free agency

An open signing period, usually beginning in late February, during which an NFL team can sign any unrestricted player who doesn’t have a contract.

free safety

The defensive player who lines up deepest in the secondary. He defends the deep middle of the field and seldom has man-to-man responsibilities. A coach wants this player free to read the quarterback and take the proper angle to break up or intercept any forward pass thrown over the middle or deep to the sidelines.


A player who lines up in the offensive backfield and generally is responsible for blocking for the running back and pass-blocking to protect the quarterback. Fullbacks also serve as short-yardage runners.


When any offensive player loses possession of the football during a play. The ball can simply drop from his hands or be knocked free by the force of a tackle. Either the offense or the defense can recover the fumble.


The open space (also called a split) between players aligned along the line of scrimmage. For example, there’s a wide gap between the offensive guard and tackle.


The poles constructed in a U-shape at the rear of each end zone through which teams score field goals and extra points.


A member of the offensive line. There are two guards on every play, and they line up on either side of the offensive center. The guards protect the quarterback from an inside rusher; they block defenders immediately across from them and also swing out, or “pull,” and run toward either end to block any defender when the ball carrier runs wide.

hail Mary

When the quarterback, usually in desperation at the end of a game, throws a long pass without targeting a receiver with the hope that a receiver will catch the ball and score a touchdown.


An offensive player who lines up in the backfield and generally is responsible for carrying the ball on run plays. Also known as a running back or tailback.


The act of giving the ball to another player. Handoffs usually occur between the quarterback and a running back.

hang time

The seconds during which a punted ball remains in the air. If the punt travels 50 yards and is in the air for more than four seconds, that’s very good hang time.

hash marks

The two rows of lines near the center of the field that signify 1 yard on the field. Before every play, the ball is marked between or on the hash marks, depending on where the ball carrier was tackled on the preceding play.


The player who catches the snap from the center and places it down for the placekicker to kick. A holder is used on field goal and extra point attempts.

hole number

The number the offensive coaching staff gives to each gap or space between the five offensive linemen and the tight end. The players, particularly the running backs, then know which hole they should attempt to run through.


When the 11 players on the field come together to discuss strategy between plays. On offense, the quarterback relays the plays in the huddle. On defense, the captain relays the coach’s instructions for the proper alignment and how to defend the expected play.

hurry-up offense

An offensive strategy that’s designed to gain as much yardage as possible and then stop the clock. It’s generally used in the final two minutes of a half when time is running out on the offense. The offense breaks the huddle more quickly and runs to line up in the proper formation, hoping to get off as many plays as possible. (Sometimes teams don’t huddle at all.) Offenses tend to pass in the hurry-up, and receivers are instructed to try to get out of bounds, thus stopping the clock.

I formation

An offensive formation that looks like an I because the two running backs line up directly behind the quarterback.


A forward pass that falls to the ground because no receiver can catch it, or a pass that a receiver drops or catches out of bounds. After an incompletion, the clock stops, and the ball is returned to the line of scrimmage.


A pass that’s caught by a defensive player, and thus stolen from the offense.


Either a specific player or a shift in a particular offensive formation that serves as a clue to a defensive player. From studying a team’s tendencies, the defensive player immediately knows which play the opponent will attempt to run and to what direction.


A free kick that puts the ball into play at the start of the first and third quarters, and after every touchdown, field goal, and safety.


A backward or sideways pass thrown from one offensive player to another. A lateral isn’t considered a forward pass, so players can lateral to one another beyond the line of scrimmage.

line of scrimmage

The imaginary boundary between the two teams prior to the snap of the ball. The offense’s and defense’s scrimmage lines are defined by the tip of the ball closest to them and stretch from sideline to sideline. The defensive team usually lines up less than a yard away from where the ball is placed.


A defensive player who lines up behind or beside the defensive linemen and generally is regarded as one of the team’s best tacklers. Depending on the formation, most teams employ either three or four linebackers on every play. In a three-linebacker defense, the linebackers are called the strong-side, middle, and weak-side linebacker.

long snap

When the quarterback or punter takes the snap while standing 6 to 15 feet behind the center. A long snap is used in punts, the shotgun formation, and the wildcat formation.

man-to-man coverage

Pass coverage in which every potential offensive receiver is assigned to a particular defender. Each defensive player must stick to his receiver like glue and make sure he doesn’t catch a pass thrown in his direction.


When an offensive receiver or running back begins to move laterally behind the line of scrimmage — after his teammates have assumed a ready stance and are considered set — he is in motion. This motion can’t be forward, and only one player is allowed to move at a time.

neutral zone

The area between the two lines of scrimmage, stretching from sideline to sideline. The width of this area is defined by the length of the football. Other than the center, no player can be in the neutral zone prior to the snap; otherwise, the official calls an encroachment or violation of the neutral zone (offside) penalty.

nickel back

An extra defensive back used in some defensive formations.

no-huddle offense

When the offense for several plays in succession lines up and snaps the ball without first going into a huddle. The no-huddle offense is used when time is expiring in the first half of the game and the team with the ball doesn’t want to use precious time in huddles. Sometimes offenses run a no-huddle offense to confuse the defense or catch it off guard.

nose tackle

The defensive player (also called a nose guard) who lines up directly across from the center, or “nose to nose” with him. His job is to defend the middle of the offense against a running play.

offensive line

The human wall of five men who block for and protect the quarterback and ball carriers. Every line has a center (who snaps the ball), two guards, and two tackles. Teams that run a lot may employ a blocking tight end, too, who’s also considered part of the offensive line.

offensive pass interference

A penalty in which, in the judgment of the official, the intended receiver significantly hinders a defensive player’s opportunity to intercept a forward pass.


The men in the striped shirts who officiate the game and call the penalties. Their decisions are final, except when overturned by videotape review.


A penalty caused when any part of a player’s body is beyond his line of scrimmage or the free kick line when the ball is snapped.


A strong-side run, meaning the running back heads toward the end of the line where the tight end (the extra blocker) lines up. The runner wants to take advantage of the hole supplied by the tackle (the tight end) and his running mate (the fullback). He can take the ball either outside the tackle or around the tight end. He hopes that the fullback will block the outside linebacker, giving him room to run.

onside kick

When the kicking team attempts to get the ball back during a kickoff by kicking the ball so that it travels a relatively short distance (but more than 10 yards) and is recovered by the kicking team.


When a quarterback has the choice — the option — to either pass or run. The option is more common in high school and college football, where quarterbacks may be excellent runners.


Extra playing time tacked on to the end of the game to decide a game that’s tied at the end of regulation play.

pass interference

A judgment call made by an official who sees a defensive player make contact with the intended receiver before the ball arrives, thus restricting his opportunity to catch the forward pass. The penalty awards the offensive team the ball at the spot of the foul with an automatic first down. (In college, pass interference is a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.) See offensive pass interference


See extra point

personal foul

An illegal, flagrant foul considered risky to the health of another player.


When a defender intercepts, or picks off, a pass and runs it back for a touchdown, thereby scoring six points. See interception


A slang term for the football, which is actually made of leather, not pigskin.


The act of the quarterback tossing the ball to a running back who’s moving laterally away from him.


The player who kicks the ball on kickoffs, extra point attempts, and field goal attempts. Unlike a punter, a placekicker kicks the ball either off a tee or while it’s being held by a teammate.

play-action pass

A pass play that begins with the quarterback faking a handoff to a running back while he’s dropping back to pass. The quarterback hopes the defense falls for the fake and doesn’t rush him.


The area where the quarterback stands when he drops back to throw the ball. This area extends from a point 2 yards outside of either offensive tackle and includes the tight end if he drops off the line of scrimmage to pass-protect. The pocket extends longitudinally behind the line back to the offensive team’s own end line.

point after touchdown (PAT)

See extra point


When a player maintains control of the ball while clearly touching both feet, or any other part of his body other than his hand(s), to the ground inbounds. A team is also considered in possession of the ball whenever it has the ball on offense. A team’s possession ends when it scores, turns over the ball, punts the ball, or when a half of the game ends.


A forward pass that the quarterback throws down the center of the field as the intended receiver attempts to line up with the goalpost.


A kick made when a player (the punter) drops the ball and kicks it while it falls toward his foot. A team usually punts on a fourth down. The farther the ball flies from the line of scrimmage, the better.


The lone player who stands 10 to 12 yards behind the line of scrimmage, catches the long snap from the center, and then kicks the ball after dropping it toward his foot.


The offensive player who usually receives the ball from the center at the start of each play. He informs his teammates in the huddle of the play that will be run and then, after the center snaps the ball to him, either hands the ball to a running back or throws to a receiver.


See wide receiver

red zone

The unofficial area from inside the 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line. Holding an opponent to a field goal in this area is considered a victory by the defense.


A college player who postpones a year of eligibility due to injury or academic trouble or in order to gain another year of physical maturity. For example, a redshirt freshman is a player who’s in his second year of school but is playing his first season of football. Players have four years of eligibility and five years in which to use them, so they can be redshirted only once.


To catch the ball after a punt, kickoff, or interception (or pick it up after a fumble) and run it back toward your own end zone.


A play in which the running back receives a handoff from the quarterback then runs laterally behind the line of scrimmage before handing off to a receiver or flanker running toward him.

roll out

When the quarterback runs left or right away from the pocket before throwing the ball.


The prescribed direction and exact distance, coupled with specific physical movements, that a receiver follows when he runs from the line of scrimmage for a forward pass. Every receiver has a route that he must run on a particular play.

running back

An offensive player who runs with the football. Running backs are also referred to as tailbacks, halfbacks, and fullbacks, depending on their exact responsibilities and alignment.


To advance the ball by running, not passing. A running back is sometimes called a rusher.


To tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in a loss of down and yardage.


A two-point score by the defense that occurs when one of the defensive players tackles an opponent in possession of the ball in the offensive player’s end zone. See also free safety and strong safety

salary cap

In the NFL, the maximum amount of money a team can spend on player salaries in a given year under a formula that includes base salaries, prorated portions of signing bonuses, and likely-to-be-earned incentives. The salary cap figure is a league-wide number that every team must adhere to.


A slang term used to describe offensive and defensive formations and the overall strategy for using such formations.


When the quarterback, to gain time for receivers to get open, moves behind the line of scrimmage, dodging the defense.

screen pass

A forward pass in which at least two offensive linemen run wide to a specific side of the field and then turn and block upfield for a running back who takes a short pass from the quarterback.


The defensive players who line up behind the linebackers and wide on the corners of the field opposite the receivers and defend the pass. These defensive players, who are called defensive backs, are separated into safeties, cornerbacks, and, occasionally, nickel backs.


A passing formation in which the quarterback stands 5 to 7 yards behind the center before the snap. This setup enables the quarterback to scan the defense while standing back from the line of scrimmage.


The sides of the field along its long part, where players, coaches, trainers, and the media stand. These areas aren’t part of the actual playing field; they’re considered out of bounds.


A run play in which the runner slants his angle forward after receiving the ball instead of running straight toward the line of scrimmage. Or a pass route on which an outside or “wide” receiver “slants” toward the center of the field.


The action in which the ball is handed or hiked by the center to the quarterback, to the holder on a kick attempt, or to the punter.

special teams

The 22 players who are on the field during kickoffs, field goals, extra points, and punts. These units have special players who return punts and kicks, in addition to players who are experts at covering kicks and punts.


The tight spin on the ball in flight after the quarterback releases it. The term “tight spiral” is often used to describe a solidly thrown football.

split end

A player who catches passes. This player is also known in more general terms as a wide receiver. In an offensive formation, the split end usually lines up on the line of scrimmage to the opposite side of the formation from the tight end.


A type of offense designed to spread the defense on the field. The spread offense features play-action runs, option plays, and roll-out passing. In a spread offense, the quarterback runs as often or nearly as often as he passes.


The position that any player assumes prior to the snap of the ball and after he’s aligned.

strong safety

A defensive player who generally lines up in the secondary, but often aligns close to the line of scrimmage. In most defenses, this player lines up over the tight end and is responsible for both playing the pass and supporting the run.

strong side

The side of the offensive formation where the tight end aligns. With a right-handed quarterback, the strong side is usually to his right side.


A maneuver by two defensive linemen in which they alter their course to the quarterback, hoping to confuse the offensive linemen and maximize their strengths. In most stunts, one defensive lineman sacrifices himself in hopes of his teammate either going unblocked or gaining a physical advantage in his pursuit.


The act of a player (called a substitute) running onto the playing field, replacing another player.


A fairly common run in every team’s playbook. It begins with two or more offensive linemen leaving their stances and running toward the outside of the line of scrimmage. The ball carrier takes a handoff from the quarterback and runs parallel to the line of scrimmage, waiting for his blockers to lead the way around the end.


To use your hands and arms or body to bring down an offensive player who has the ball. Tackle also refers to a position on both the defensive and offensive lines. Offensive tackles are outside blockers on the line of scrimmage; on defense, the tackles are in the inside position, generally opposite the offensive guards.


An offensive player whose primary role is to carry the ball. Also known as a running back or halfback.


How a defense describes any possession in which it forces a fumble and recovers the ball or registers an interception. Any turnover that the defense collects is called a takeaway.

tight end

An offensive player who serves as a big receiver and also a blocker. Unlike a wide receiver, this player generally lines up beside the offensive tackle either to the right or to the left of the quarterback. See strong side


A situation in which the ball is ruled dead behind a team’s own goal line, provided the impetus came from an opponent and provided it isn’t a touchdown or a missed field goal. After a touchback, the ball is spotted on the offense’s 20-yard line.


A situation in which any part of the ball, while legally in the possession of a player who is inbounds, goes on or beyond the plane of the opponent’s goal line. A touchdown is worth six points.


A loss of the ball via a fumble or an interception.

two-minute warning

The signal that two minutes remain in the half.

two-point conversion

After a touchdown, scoring two points with a pass or run into the end zone rather than kicking through the goalpost to score one point in an extra-point try.


A quick-hitting run in which the ball is handed to either running back, whose routes are determined by the slant or charge of the defensive linemen.

weak side

The side of the offense opposite the side on which the tight end lines up.

wide receiver

An offensive player who uses speed and quickness to elude defenders and catch the football, but who isn’t primarily a blocker. Wide receivers are also known as pass catchers. Also called a wideout.

wildcat formation

An offensive formation in which the quarterback doesn’t play and the ball is snapped directly to a running back. The formation allows for an extra blocker on the field and permits offenses to strike quickly without taking time to hand off the ball.

zone coverage

Coverage in which the secondary and linebackers drop away from the line of scrimmage into specific areas when defending a pass play. Zone means that the players are defending areas, not specific offensive players.