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Terminology: Neutral Zone

13 Oct

The neutral zone is a no-man’s land.  It is the DMZ formed by the two lines of scrimmage that intersect each end of the ball when it is made ready for play.  It’s as wide as the ball is long.

There are two kinds of neutral zone violations: offside and encroachment.

Encroachment is an offensive penalty.  It’s when an offensive player is in or beyond the neutral zone after the Center “touches or simulates touching” the ball before the snap.  The Center is the only player allowed in the neutral zone.

Offside is a defensive penalty.  It occurs when a defensive player is: 

  • in or beyond the neutral zone when the ball is snapped,
  • contacts the ball before it is snapped,
  • threatens a lineman who reacts before the ball is snapped,
  • or is not behind his restraining line when the ball is free-kicked like on a kick-off.

Terminology: Shovel Pass

19 Aug

It’s “shovel” pass.  Not shuffle or shuttle, but shovel!

“Cactus” Jack Curtice is credited with developing the nifty little pass play that has so many coaches and fans alike confused as to what to actually call it.

Because of the pass play’s unique throwing motion — a kind of hybrid overhanded, pitch forward — the term “shovel” pass was the first name assigned the technique some decades ago.  It was later twisted into the erroneous nom de guerres presently associated with the play because some people either can’t spell or pronounce the word, “shovel”.


Now there’s some disagreement as to who first developed the pass play.   Some say Walter “Bug” Bujkowski and others point to “Cactus Jack Curtice as the play’s principal architect. We’ll let you decide who deserves the credit.

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Terminology: Bubble

7 Feb

A bubble is the space or void between a Linebacker and the line of scrimmage.  It’s a soft spot in the defensive front that offenses routinely attack with a running play.

The bubbles pictured below are over the Guards.  Where they appear in other defenses depends upon the scheme being used, but it’s easy to see why offenses will attack them.

The bubbles in the College 4-3 defense pictured below are over the Center and the Offensive Tackles. They’re generally about 5yds deep which gives the LBs time to read and react to any play.

The offense pictured below is attacking the Mike (middle) Linebacker in the bubble over the Center (65) in what looks like a beautifully blocked “Iso” play.

Terminology: Bootleg

27 Jan

A bootleg is schizophrenic or something.

For starters, it’s a misdirection play.  The Quarterback fakes a hand off in one direction then rolls out to the other.

It’s also a play-action pass in that it starts out looking like a running play then, most of the time, ends up being a pass.  The run fake does two things: it confuses the defense and it slows down any pass rush.

And, lastly, it’s an option play — sort of.  Depending upon how the defense’s backside reacts to the Quarterback’s sudden appearance with the ball, the Quarterback has the option to either run or pass.

The defense, in this case, is specifically the force defender.  He’s the lone wolf in a defense’s perimeter who’s entrusted with “forcing” a ballcarrier back into the pursuit.

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Terminology: Selling the Nine

27 Jan

The nine is football’s most bsic and most important pass route and yet, it is nothing more than a race to the end zone — or at least as far as the Quarterback can throw.

Selling the nine is convincing a defensive back that he is in that race every time a receiver releases from the line of scrimmage.

The nine is basically is a straight line.  As such, it’s the stem for many of the other routes a receiver can run.  By stem, we refer to another straight line, the one a receiver runs when he escapes the line of scrimmage and races to the breakpoint of his assigned route.

If a receiver can fool a defensive back into thinking he’s going deep, the the underneath routes that work off the nine open up.  Separation — the goal of any receiver — becomes easier.

This example of a passing tree is fairly simple, but it shows how the “9” is strictly vertical and other routes break off it.  Note how even-numbered routes work to the inside while odd-numbered routes work to the outside.

(Sample Passing Tree)The deception succeeds because the nine is a defensive back’s worst nightmare.   “Don’t get beat deep” is the mantra he hears in his head each time a receiver lines up.The way, then, a receiver deceives a defensive back is by being consistent.  Each time he runs a route that comes off the nine, he mimics the actions of a nine which derives its name from the passing trees found in offensive playbooks.It’s also known as a Take-Off, Streak, Fly or Go Route.

Terminology: Big-on-Big

16 Jan

Also know as BOB, Big-on-Big is generally a six-man – 5 OL and 1 RB – pass blocking scheme that pits offensive linemen against defensive linemen.  In other words, big guys on big guys and for the obvious reason: they’re equal in size and strength.

This, in turn, allows the running back to block a defender more his size: a linebacker or defensive back, should they blitz.

Even better, though, when the defense doesn’t blitz, the running back can release into a pass route. This is called a “check release” assignment.  The running back checks first for a blitz before releasing into a short pass route.

In the photos below, big guys are blocking big guys and the running backs are checking for a blitz, but there is none so they’re free to attack any  open grass in the underneath coverage, giving the Quarterback a checkdown option should everyone else be covered.