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What Do These Offensive Football Terms Mean?

Football is a sport that surprisingly involves a lot of wording and terminology that may confuse avid fans.  The game is much more mental than people give it credit.  Here is an explanation for just some of the most perplexing offensive football terms.

Number one receiver: This may mean the most frequently targeted receiver on a team but it also means the most outside receiver from a defensive perspective. Whenever a coach says “Cover number one” he is referring to the widest receiver. Number two is the next receiver from the sideline, otherwise known as the slot receiver. Number three is usually a tight end, or whoever is lineed up next, after the slot receiver.

Bubble screen: A screen pass to the wide receiver. This can be a quick pass to the slot receiver so he’s able to run to the outside, or to the wide receiver so he can cut back inside. Both kinds of bubble screens require precise blocking schemes in order for it to be successful.

Wing tight end/Wing back: A two tight end formation in which one of the tight ends is on the line of scrimmage and the other tight end is behind him in more of a running back position. This second tight end is the wing back who goes in motion a lot.

Smash: A two route concept in which the inside receiver runs a corner route and the outside receiver runs a hitch. There are some variations of the routes but the idea is to use a smash play against a cover 2 defense so that the cornerback bites or “smashes” on the hitch to leave the corner open.

football terms

Juke: A ball-carrier move to avoid defenders, the juke is essentially a sidestep or quick cut to the runner’s left or right.  Watch Barry Sanders for an example.

Wildcat: A bizarre looking offensive formation in which a skill player, usually a receiver or running back, takes the snap instead of the quarterback. The wildcat is filled with numerous razzle-dazzle possibilities. This skill player can immediately run with the ball, run the option or a reverse, or even throw it back to the quarterback who can then pass it deep downfield. It’s really a trick play formation that few offenses utilize once in a blue moon.

Option: What it sounds like, the “option” is under the quarterback’s discretion to tuck and keep the ball or pitch it off to a nearby running back located behind him. If you played in High School, say my alma mater Bethesda-Chevy Chase, you may have played under a triple option in which the quarterback can hand the ball off to the fullback, keep it, or pitch it to a running back.

Read man: The defender who the quarterback “reads” in order to determine if he should keep or pitch the ball when running the option. This defender is usually a defensive end or outside linebacker. If this player crashes on the quarterback then the read is a pitch to the running back. If this player flows out to cover the running back then the read is a quarterback keeper.

Empty formation: An offensive formation in which there are five wide receivers and no one in the backfield, leaving the quarterback with an “empty” backfield. However, some teams with valuable pass-catching tailbacks will line up in a receiver stance in place of a fifth wide receiver. This formation almost always tells the defense that a complex passing play is up next. Having said that, the empty formation also works well on the goal line because it spreads the defense out, leaving a more open path for a quarterback draw.

football terms

I-formation: The most simplified and traditional football offensive formation. There are five lineman, a quarterback behind the center, a fullback behind the quarterback, and a running back behind the fullback. There is a tight end next to either one of the tackles and two wide receivers spread out, one on each side. When every player is lined up as such, the formation looks like the letter “I” from a bird’s eye view.

Omaha: Something that Peyton Manning used to yell 30-40 times a game before every snap.


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