SHS: Center, the Quarterback of the Line

People I talk to with only a small interest in football often don’t know the difference between offensive line positions. I tell them I played offensive guard in high school, in return I receive a look so perplexing my grandfather is confused. So then I say, “one of the guys on the front lines”, and they say “oh, so you’re a lineman? Why didn’t you just say that?”

“Because offensive guard is my position,” I say.

“Psh, offensive guard, offensive lineman, what’s the difference? You all just stand up there and block.”

After that my hand turns white, because I’m gripping my wrist to try and stop myself from facepalming.

Nothing against anyone who doesn’t know the difference, but the roles of the three different types of offensive linemen differ in a number of ways. So to educate those who may not know, my next three articles will be explaining the three subdivisions of linemen more in depth. I call it the “Sweat Hog Series” (SHS in the title).

Center

Three years ago when I was taking driver’s ed I talked football with a former coach of my father who also happened to be my instructor for the class. He told me a good center is “worth his weight in gold.”

I think that is the truth.

As far as body size goes centers are typically larger than guards but smaller than tackles, though a tremendous amount of quickness is required to throw a ball between your legs and then smash someone’s face in before they can cross the line. Which is the main way the position differs from the other two types of linemen, going back to the point of the article- you have to be able to multitask. You have to safely deliver the ball and then prevent the person carrying said ball from being tackled.

If you want an idea of what it’s like to be a center, paint a one foot by foot target three and a half feet off the ground on a wall. Then stand four yards in front of the target. Get into your best lineman stance with a football in one hand and a tennis ball in the other. Throw the tennis ball off the wall, while snapping the football between your legs into the target, and catch the tennis ball.

You see what I’m getting at? Tough. And as a guard, I didn’t have that skill set.

To round out this point about quickness and multi-tasking at the position here is a quote given to active.com from former Utah center Jesse Boone, who was a team captain for the Utes and was selected as first-team All-Midwestern Conference in 2005. The quote talks about his move from tight end to center and the difficulties.

“The proximity of the players–how everything is right on top of you. A lot of people struggle with snapping the ball. I had a good coach that went over that with me. But not having the time you have at other positions like guard and especially tackle. At center, the (nose tackle) is inches away from my head (before the snap). You don’t have any time.”

Centers also have to serve as the quarterback of the line.  They organize pass protections to keep the actual quarterback safe in the pocket.

Now this can get kind of complicated to explain, so here is a diagram, courtesy of slideshare.net:

*If you do not understand the positions in the diagram, refer to the footnotes at the bottom of the article.

center position football

The center has to know all the protections pictured above and determine who has who if something changes. For instance, in the picture on the bottom left, let’s assume the middle linebacker rushes the quarterback. If he were to show in between the center and left guard, the center would need to know that the linebacker is his. The running back also has the strong-side defensive end, and the center would communicate that to the rest of the line. If he were to walk in between the left guard and left tackle, the center makes a “fan” call. This is where he takes the weak-side defense end. The left guard takes the blitzing linebacker, and the left tackle would stay on the weak-side linebacker.

As a center, your football IQ has to be high enough to know the protection scheme and adjust your line accordingly when something happens. Above I didn’t even mention the chaos that can occur in pass pro (short for pass protection). It’s more complicated for a stunt on the D-line, but I’ll keep it simple for now.

I’ll conclude this post with a quote from Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, a quote in memory of a great football player and one of many players who struggled with permanent brain injury after his playing days. Quote found on startingstrength.com

“Everyone has to start at the same place you do, at the beginning, and learn from there. Just always remember there’s another guy out there right now, to either beat you or take your place, and you’d better outwork him.”

 

Diagram Positions

  1. The square with the X indicates the center.
  2. The circles to the left and right of the center are the offensive guards.
  3. The circles outside of the offensive guards are the offensive tackles.
  4. The circle behind the offensive line is the running back.
  5. Defensively (Strong-side is determined either right or left by where the offense has more receivers)

N – nose guard, T – strong-side defensive tackle, $ – strong-side defensive end, E – weak-side defensive end. W – weak-side linebacker, M – middle linebacker, S – strong-side linebacker, SS – strong safety

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