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53-man roster
The most players a National Football League team can carry on its active roster at the start of the regular season. To reach the deadline, teams can cut players, add players to their practice squad, and, if injured, move players to the physically unable to perform list.



  • A pass attempt

  • A rush attempt; a carry

  • A kick

A play called by the quarterback at the line of scrimmage to make a change from the play that was called in the huddle.

automatic first down
For several fouls against the defensive team, a first down is awarded to the offensive team even if the result of the penalty does not advance the ball beyond the line to gain. In the NFL and NCAA, the fouls include pass interference and all personal fouls. Under NFHS (high school) rules only roughing the snapper, holder, kicker, and passer are penalized with an automatic first down.


Any position not typically aligned on the line of scrimmage (exception: defensive linemen are off the line in Canadian rules, but are not backs). Offensively: running back, tailback, quarterback, halfback, flankerback, fullback and wingback. defensively: linebacker, cornerback, rover, defensive halfback and safety.

The area of an American football field behind the line of scrimmage. The backfield or offensive backfield can also refer to members of the offense who begin plays behind the line, typically including any backs on the field, such as the quarterback, running back and fullback.

backward pass
A pass thrown backward. Also called an "onside pass" in Canadian football. There is no limit to the number of backward passes or where they may be thrown from. Sometimes referred to as a "lateral", which specifically refers to a pass thrown with no motion toward either end zone. If the pass is not completed, it is automatically ruled a fumble, which can be recovered by either team.


ball carrier
The player currently in possession of the football. If the ball is "loose", meaning neither team has possession, there is no ball carrier.

ball control
A strategy that is based on low-risk plays in an effort to avoid losing possession of the ball; examples of when a ball-control strategy would be used include when a team is in the red zone and when a team is protecting a lead late in a game.

Black Monday
The day following the final Sunday of the National Football League season (week 17) in which coaches and administration are fired or resign their position.The term is also attributed to the day following the annual NFL Draft where players' contracts may be terminated once new players are added to a roster.



When several defensive players are sent to try to tackle the quarterback, to prevent him from passing the ball to another player.

The act of one player obstructing another player with their body, either to push the opponent back or to prevent them moving beyond the blocker. Some types of blocks include: a run block, where the blocker pushes a defensive player back and away from the ball carrier; a pass block, where a blocker protects the thrower by moving laterally and backwards to slow or halt an incoming pass rusher; a cut block; a zone block, which is any block executed in a zone blocking scheme; a trap block; a pull block; a screen block; and a double-team block, where two blockers simultaneously block one player.

The act of executing a block; the collective play of those players performing blocks; the performance of a blocker or blockers during a game.

blocking sled
A heavy piece of practice equipment, usually a padded angular frame on metal skids, used for developing strength and blocking techniques.


An offensive play predicated upon misdirection in which the quarterback pretends to hand the ball to another player, and then carries the ball in the opposite direction of the supposed ball carrier with the intent of either passing or running (sometimes the quarterback has the option of doing either).


carry or carries
A statistic referring to the number of times a rushing player attempts to advance the ball. A ball carrier can be any player that attempts to advance the ball during an offensive play, regardless of position.

center (C)
A player position on offense. The center usually snaps the ball.

The 10-yard long chain that is used by the chain crew (aka "chain gang") to measure for a new series of downs


chop block
Similar to a cut block in which one offensive player blocks a defensive player below the knees and another blocks them above the waist. It is illegal to block low if a team mate is already engaged with the defensive player blocking high, to prevent knee and ankle injuries.

A penalty called for an illegal block in which the blocked player is hit from behind at or below the waist; the penalty is 15 yards. Originally, clipping was defined as any block to the back, but is now restricted to blocks at or below the waist. Other blocks from the back are now punished with 10-yard penalties.


comeback route
A receiver or tight end route where a player runs straight upfield a specified number of yards, plants hard, turns and runs back towards the sideline at a 45 degree angle. Despite the name, a wide receiver does not come back towards the quarterback; instead they try to catch the ball and guarantee getting out of bounds.

completion percentage
The percentage of passes completed from passes attempted


cornerback (CB)
A defensive back who lines up near the line of scrimmage across from a wide receiver. Their primary job is to disrupt passing routes and to defend against short and medium passes, and to contain the rusher on rushing plays.

An attempt to prevent a receiver from catching a pass. There are two general schemes for defending against the pass:
Man-to-man – each eligible receiver is covered by a defensive back or a linebacker
Zone – certain players (usually defensive backs and linebackers, though occasionally linemen) are assigned an area on the field that they are to cover.

A running play in which the running back takes a step in the apparent direction of the play, only to get the handoff in the other direction. Weak side linemen will sometimes pull and lead the back downfield (sometimes called a "counter trap"). The play is designed to get the defense to flow away from the action for a few steps as they follow the linemen, allowing more room for the running back.


A sharp change of direction by a running player. Also called a "cutback".


cut blocking
A blocking technique in which offensive linemen, and sometimes other blockers, block legally below the waist (i.e., from the front of the defensive player) in an attempt to bring the defenders to the ground, making them unable to pursue a running back.


dead ball

When the ball is not playable. This usually occurs between the end of one play and the start of another. No advancement or possession change can take place during this time.


defensive back

A cornerback or safety position on the defensive team; commonly defends against wide receivers. Generally there are four defensive backs playing at a time; but see nickel back and dime back.


defensive end (DE)
A player position on defense who lines up on the outside of the defensive line and which principal function is to deliver pressure to the quarterback.


defensive tackle (DT)
A player position on defense on the inside of the defensive line and which principal function is to contain the run. A defensive tackle who lines up directly across from the center is known as a "nose tackle", often the heaviest player on the defense. A defensive tackle who lines up between an offensive guard and offensive tackle is known as a "three-gap technique tackle".


defensive team
The team that begins a play from scrimmage not in possession of the ball


delay of game
A five-yard foul which occurs when the offensive team does not put the ball in play before the play clock runs out. There are also less common occurrences which result in a delay of game foul, such as a defensive player holding an offensive player on the ground to prevent them from lining up during a two-minute drill.


direct snap
A play in which the ball is passed directly to a player other than the quarterback by the center. Contrast with an indirect snap play in which the ball is first handed to the quarterback, who then passes or hands it of to the eventual ball carrier. Also used to refer to formations that use a direct snap, such as the single wing.


A play in which the ball is handed off to the running back, who attacks the middle of the offensive formation (between the OG). This play is part of the triple option strategy


double reverse
A play in which the ball reverses direction twice behind the line of scrimmage; this is usually accomplished by means of two or three hand-offs, each hand-off going in an opposite direction as the previous one. Such a play is extremely infrequent in football. Some people confuse the double reverse with a reverse, which is a play with two hand-offs instead of three.


A unit of the game that starts with a legal snap or legal free kick after the ball is ready for play and ends when the ball next becomes dead. First down is the first of the plays; fourth is the last down in American (third in Canadian) football. A first down occurs after a change of possession of the ball, after advancing the ball 10 yards following a previous first down and after certain penalties.


down box
The post used by the chain gang to mark the line of scrimmage and designate the current down


down by contact
When the player carrying the ball touches the ground with any part of his body other than the feet, hands, or arms as a direct result of contact with a player of the opposing team. In professional football a player must be down by contact in order for play to stop; if they trip and fall without being touched by an opposing player they are free to get up and continue advancing the ball. Exceptions to this rule that result in play stopping include when the player carrying the ball is on the ground but not downed by contact (e.g., after tripping and falling) and is touched by a member of the opposing team while still on the ground; or when the player with the ball intentionally kneels down on the ground and stops advancing—e.g., a quarterback kneel or touchback. This rule does not apply in collegiate and high school football where a player need not be downed by contact at these levels in order for play to stop.


down lineman
A player stationed in front of his line of scrimmage and who has either one (three-point stance) or two (four-point stance) hands on the ground.


draw play
A play in which the quarterback drops back as if to pass, then hands off to a running back or runs with the ball themself. See scramble



  • A continuous set of offensive plays gaining substantial yardage and several first downs, usually leading to a scoring opportunity.

  • A blocking technique – "drive block" – in which an offensive player through an advantaged angle or with assistance drive a defensive player out of position creating a hole for the ball carrier.


drop kick
A kick in which the ball is dropped and kicked once it hits the ground and before it hits it again; a half-volley kick. A drop kick is one of the types of kick which can score a field goal. Drop kicks are extremely rare due to the pointed nature of the ball.


dual-threat quarterback
A quarterback who is skilled at both passing and rushing the ball. These quarterbacks may be difficult to defend against since the defensive team cannot focus on one threat to the exclusion of the other.


eligible receiver
A player who may legally touch a forward pass. On the offense, these are: the ends, backs, and (except in the NFL) one player in position to take a hand-to-hand snap; provided the player's jersey displays a number in the ranges allowed for


eligible receivers

All players of the opposing team are eligible receivers, and once the ball is touched by a player of the opposing team (anywhere in American, or beyond the lines of scrimmage in Canadian, football), all players become eligible.


An illegal action by a defensive player crossing the line of scrimmage and making contact with an opponent before the ball is snapped.


end around
A play, often confused with a reverse, where the quarterback hands the ball off to a wide receiver. The receiver motions into the backfield as the ball is snapped to take the handoff and runs around the opposite end from where they lined up.

end zone
The area between the end line (or deadline in Canadian amateur football) and the goal line, bounded by the sidelines.


extra point
A single point scored in a conversion attempt by making what would be a field goal during general play. See try


face mask
The protective grill that forms part of the football helmet


face mask
A foul in which a player grabs the face mask or helmet opening of another player's helmet, usually in the process of making a tackle. It results in a 15-yard penalty.


false start
A foul (resulting in a five-yard penalty) in which an offensive player moves before the ball is snapped, potentially drawing defensive players offside.


fair catch
In American football, an unhindered catch of an opponent's kick. The player wanting to make one must signal for a fair catch by waving an arm overhead while the ball is in the air. After that signal, once the ball is possessed, it is dead immediately and opponents will receive a fifteen-yard penalty for any contact with the receiver.


fair catch kick
A free kickoff that takes point at the spot of a fair catch, if the catching team so chooses to execute it. It is very rare (in fact, college football does not even allow it), and most teams pass on the opportunity and take possession of the ball instead.


fantasy football
A game in which the participants (called "owners") each draft on their own or with the aid of software[9] a team of real-life NFL players and then score points based on those players' statistical performance on the field.


field judge
The official traditionally in charge of timekeeping


field of play
The area between both the goal lines and the sidelines, and in some contexts the space vertically above it.


field goal
A score of three points made by place- or drop-kicking the ball through the opponent's goal other than via a kickoff or free kick following a safety; formerly, "goal from the field". A missed field goal can be returned as a punt, if recovered in-bounds by the defending team. In some leagues, four-point field goals can be scored under special circumstances.


field position
A relative measure of how many yards a team must travel in order to score.


first down
The first of a set of four downs. Usually, a team which has a first down needs to advance the ball 10 yards to receive another first down, but penalties or field position (i.e. less than 10 yards from the opposing end zone) can affect this.


A weighted yellow cloth thrown by a field official to indicate that a foul has been committed. Also the weighted red flag that an NFL head coach throws onto the field to alert officials that they are challenging a call on the field.


A player position on offense. A wide receiver who lines up in the backfield outside of another receiver. The term is used infrequently in American football, having been long since replaced by the "Z" wide receiver.


An area on the field between the line of scrimmage and 10 yards into the defensive backfield, and within 15 yards of the sideline. Running backs often run pass routes to the flat when they are the safety valve receiver.


flea flicker
A trick play in which a running back throws a backward pass back to the quarterback, who then throws a pass to a wide receiver or tight end.


A formation involving three running backs where a fullback is lined up behind the quarterback and two slotbacks are lined up behind the line of scrimmage at both ends of the offensive line.


An arrangement of the offensive skill players. A formation usually is described in terms of how the running backs line up or how the wide receivers line up. There are rules limiting what is legal in a formation. 

forward pass

Throwing a ball in the direction that the offensive team is trying to advance down the field toward the goal line.


forward pass
A pass that touches a person, object, or the ground closer to the opponent's end line than where it was released from, or is accidentally lost during a forward throwing motion.


forward progress
The location to which a ball carrier's forward momentum carries him before they are tackled. At the end of a play, the football is spotted at the point where the ball carrier's forward progress is stopped, even if they are pushed backward by the defenders.


fourth down
The final of a set of four downs. Unless a first down is achieved or a penalty forces a replay of the down, the team will lose control of the ball after this play. If a team does not think they can get a first down, they often punt on fourth down or attempt a field goal if they are close enough to do so.


fourth down conversion
The act of using a fourth down play to make a first down (also known as "going for it" [on fourth down]). If a team is close enough to the goal posts, they will generally attempt a field goal on fourth down. Otherwise, they will usually punt. However, the coach may elect to try to get a new first down. This is more likely if the amount of yardage needed for the conversion is small, typically a yard or less.


free kick
A kick made to put the ball in play as a kickoff or following a safety (the score; "safety touch" in Canadian football) or fair catch.


free safety (FS)
A player position on defense. Free safeties typically play deep, or "center field", and often have the pass defense responsibility of assisting other defensive backs in deep coverage (compared to strong safeties, who usually have an assigned receiver and run support responsibilities).


fullback (FB)
A player position on offense. Originally, lined up deep behind the quarterback in the T formation. In modern formations this position may be varied, and this player has more blocking responsibilities in comparison to the halfback or tailback.


A ball that a player accidentally lost possession of; in Canadian football the term includes muffs.



A surface in space marked by a structure of two upright posts 18 feet 6 inches apart extending above a horizontal crossbar the top edge of which is 10 feet off the ground. The goal is the surface above the bar and between the lines of the inner edges of the posts, extending infinitely upward, centered above each end line in American, and each goal line in Canadian football.


goal area
Alternate term for end zone, used primarily in Canadian football


goal line
The front of the end zone


goal line stand
When a team's defense stops another team's offense from scoring a touchdown when the opposition's offense is near the goal line


The field of play; a football field


guard (OG)
Two of the five offensive line positions. See lineman


The widest player on the line in a punting formation. The gunner is often one of the fastest players on the team, usually a cornerback or wide receiver.



Hail Mary
A long pass play, thrown towards a group of receivers near or in the end zone in hope of a touchdown. Used by a team as a last resort as time is running out in either of two halves (usually by a team trailing in the second half). Refers to the Catholic prayer. The term was first used during Roger Staubach's comeback victory in which he threw such a pass to Drew Pearson to defeat the Minnesota Vikings in a divisional round playoff game in 1975.


halfback (HB)
A player position on offense. In American football, it is a type of running back; in Canadian football, it is a type of defensive back. Also known as a tailback.

A move in which a player transfers the ball to another player, and the receiving player takes possession of the ball before it leaves the hands of the giver (thus the ball is never in flight). A handoff can occur in any direction. Sometimes called a "switch" in touch football. Alternately spelled "handoff".

hash marks
Lines between which the ball begins each play. The lines are parallel to and a distance in from the side lines and marked as broken lines. If a play is blown dead while the ball is between the hash marks, the ball is spotted where it is blown dead for the following play. If the play ends outside the hash marks, the ball is spotted at the nearer hash mark.


Synonym of "snap" – the handoff or pass from the center that begins a play from scrimmage


A player who holds the ball upright for a place kick. Often backup quarterbacks are used for their superior ball-handling ability and in the event of a bad snap requiring a pass play, or punters for their ability to catch long snaps.


There are two kinds of holding:

  • Offensive holding, illegally blocking a player from the opposing team by grabbing and holding their uniform or body

  • Defensive holding, called against defensive players who hold offensive players, but who are not actively making an attempt to catch the ball

A horse-collar is a type of tackle made by grabbing the back-inside of an opponent's shoulder pads or jersey. This type of tackle was banned in the NFL in 2005 and in college football in 2008.

An on-field meeting of team members to communicate instructions for the upcoming play
hurry-up offense
An offensive strategy designed to gain yardage while running as little time off the clock as possible. Often involves making plays without a huddle. This technique can also be used to keep the defensive team off-balance.


A loud, repeated command by quarterbacks for the other players to move ("Hut! Hut! Hut!"). 



icing the kicker
When a team calls time out just before the kicker has the ball snapped. A team is limited to calling one time-out on any given play (thus a team cannot repeatedly call all of its time-outs to prevent the game from continuing, or else a delay of game penalty or, more rarely, a palpably unfair act penalty is imposed).

illegal formation
On offense, there must be exactly seven players lined up on the line of scrimmage for at least one count before the ball is snapped. If not, then it is an illegal formation.


illegal motion
On offense, a player may be in motion but cannot be going forward at the time of the snap (except in arena and Canadian football where one player is allowed to do so), and a lineman must be set for one second before the snap. Otherwise, it is an illegal motion.


illegal shift
On offense, only one person is allowed to be in pre-snap motion after the formation is set. A second person may go in motion after the first has come to a set position for one second. If these conditions are not met when sending people into motion, an illegal shift has occurred.


incomplete pass
A forward pass of the ball which no player caught


indirect snap
A play in which the ball is handed to the quarterback rather than thrown directly to the ball carrier by the center as in a direct snap play. So named because the quarterback acts as an intermediary in relaying the ball to the ball carrier. 


ineligible receiver
Certain players on the offense are not allowed to catch passes. For example, in most situations offensive interior linemen cannot be receivers and they may cause their team to be penalized if they catch the ball. An exception is if the ball has already been tipped by a different player. In six-man football all players are eligible receivers.


intentional grounding
A type of illegal forward pass; thrown without an intended receiver and no chance of completion to any offensive player, for the sole purpose of conserving time or avoiding loss of yardage. This foul costs the offense a loss of down and 10 yards. If it occurs 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage, then the 10 yards is taken from the spot of the foul. If the foul is committed in the end zone the penalty is a safety. Intentional grounding is not called in the case of a spike after a hand to hand snap or if under NFL or NCAA rules, the quarterback was outside the tackle box, (the area between each tackle) at the time of the pass, provided that the ball travels at least to the line of scrimmage. The tackle box is also known as the "pocket". nfl rules


The legal catching of a forward pass thrown by an opposing player


An older term not to be confused with pass interference; to lead block for a player with the ball, usually in the open field.


A punt, place kick, or drop kick


kicker or placekicker (K)
Player who specializes in placekicking (i.e. field goals and kick offs). In rare cases, the placekicker solely handles field goals while a kickoff specialist handles kickoffs.


A free kick which starts each half, or restarts the game following a touchdown or field goal. The kickoff may be a place kick in American or Canadian football, or a drop kick in American football.


kick returner
A player on the receiving team who specializes in fielding kicks and running them back.

A low risk play in which the player in possession of the ball kneels down after receiving the snap, ending the play while keeping the clock running. This is done to end the game sooner without needing to run a riskier play. The player kneeling is said to "take a knee", and thus is "taking a knee" or "taking the knee". The quarterback of the team in the lead will often take a knee on the first snap following the two-minute warning.


line of scrimmage/scrimmage line
One of two vertical planes parallel to the goal line when the ball is to be put in play by scrimmage.

linebacker (LB)
A player position on defense. The linebackers typically play one to six yards behind the DLs and are the most versatile players on defense because they can defend both run and pass plays or be called to blitz. There are two types of LBs: middle linebacker (MLB) and outside linebacker (OLB). In a 3-4 formation, OLB may be designated as a "rush linebacker", rushing the passer on almost every play.


A defensive or offensive position on the line of scrimmage. On offense, the player snapping the ball is the center. The players to their sides are the guards, and the players to the outside of the guards are the tackles. The players on the end of the line are the ends. This may be varied in an unbalanced line. On defense, the outside linemen are ends and those inside are tackles. If there are five or six linemen, the innermost linemen are known as guards. This is rare in professional football except for goal-line defenses, but is sometimes seen in high school and college.


live ball
Any ball that is in play, whether it is in a player's possession or not. The ball is live during plays from scrimmage and free kicks, including kickoffs.


long snapper
A center who specializes in the long, accurate snaps required for punts and field goal attempts. Most teams employ a specialist long snapper instead of requiring the normal center to perform this duty.



man-to-man coverage
A defense in which all players in pass coverage, typically linebackers and defensive backs, cover a specific player. Pure man coverage is very rare; defenses typically mix man and zone coverages.


The ordered movement of eligible receivers prior to the snap. Motion can be used to cause mismatches. Another use for motion is to enhance the pre-snap read of the defensive coverage. 

muffed punt
Occurs when there is an "uncontrolled touch" of the football after it is punted. May be recovered but not advanced by the kicking team.



National Football League (NFL)
The largest professional American football league, with 32 teams split into two conferences (National and American) and four divisions each (North, West, East and South).


National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
Principal governing body of college sports, including college football


National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)
Another governing body of college sports, including college football, whose member schools tend to be smaller than those of the NCAA


National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)
Principal governing body of U.S. high school football and other high school sports. The NFHS football rules are used throughout the country, except in Texas and Massachusetts, where the base rules are those of the NCAA.


National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
The governing body for community college athletics, including junior college (or "juco") football. California's community colleges are not subject to the NJCAA's jurisdiction.


neutral zone
The region between the lines of scrimmage or between the free kick restraining lines


NFL Europa
The NFL's former six-team European spring league, which folded after its 2007 season. It was originally intended to introduce Europe to the NFL culture, but it ended up being a secondary league for failed NFL players. Only a select few have successfully transitioned from Europa to NFL, most notably Kurt Warner (Amsterdam Admirals).


nickel back
An extra, or fifth, defensive back. Named after the five-cent coin. Popularized by the Miami Dolphins in the 1970s, now common. Used in situations where a forward pass is expected.


no-huddle offense
A tactic wherein the offense quickly forms near the line of scrimmage without huddling before the next play.


nose tackle
A tackle in a three-man defensive line who lines up opposite the center. Contrary to a regular defensive tackle, a nose tackle is often much larger and considered the 'anchor' of the line, effective at disrupting blocking schemes and stopping runs.



offensive team
The team with possession of the ball


An infraction of the rule that requires both teams to be on their own side of their restraining line as or before the ball is put in play. Offside is normally called on the defensive team during a scrimmage down and on the kicking team during free kick downs.

onside kick
A play in which the kicking team tries to recover the kicked ball

option run or option
Usually, a type of play in which the quarterback has the option of handing off, keeping, or laterally passing to one or more backs. Often described by a type of formation or play action, such as "triple option", "veer option", or "counter option". Teams running option plays often specialize in them. Less often, a play in which a running back may either pass or run.


Pocket Passing

When a passing play occurs, the offensive line forms a wall of protection around the quarterback to allow him time to find an open and eligible receiver to either pass the ball to or to run the play himself. Some quarterbacks are known as good “pocket passers”.

Pick 6

When an interception (also known as a “pick”) is thrown by the offense and is returned for a touchdown by the defense.  This results in the defensive team scoring six points.

An action performed by a player, using their arm to transfer the ball to another player by throwing the ball through the air between them. Every pass is classified as either a forward pass or a lateral pass, depending on the direction the ball travels.

pass interference
Also "passing interference" or "PI"; when a player illegally hinders an eligible receiver's, or a defender's opportunity to catch a forward pass.

pass protection
The use of pass blocking by the offensive line, tight ends and various backs to protect the quarterback from being sacked, and to allow the QB time and space to throw the ball.


passer rating or quarterback rating
A numeric value used to measure of the performance of quarterbacks. It was formulated in 1973 and it uses the player's completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions.


passing down
A down in which a pass is likely to be attempted.


passing play
A play in which a pass is attempted.


passing yards
the distance in total yards from scrimmage that a passer has thrown the football plus the distance any receivers have run after catching the ball. 

An interception of a pass


An interception ("pick") that is returned to the passing team's end zone for a touchdown ("six").

place kick
Kicking the ball from where it has been placed stationary on the ground or on a tee.



The plan of action the offensive team has for each snap, for example a running play or pass play


play action
A tactic in which the quarterback fakes either a handoff or a throw in order to draw the defense away from the intended offensive method


play clock
A timer used to increase the pace of the game between plays. The offensive team must snap the ball before the time expires, or receive a five yard delay of game foul. Currently, the NFL uses 40 seconds (25 seconds after a time out or other administrative stoppage).


An area on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage, where the pass blockers attempt to prevent the defensive players from reaching the quarterback during passing plays.

Physical control of the ball after a pass or fumble

pump fake
When the quarterback fakes a pass and keeps the ball in their hand in an attempt to fool the defensive team.


A kick in which the ball is dropped and kicked before it reaches the ground. Used to give up the ball to the opposition after offensive downs have been used, as far down the field as possible.


punt return
When a punt is fielded by the receiving team and advanced for better field position. The punt returner generally attempts to move the ball as far up the field as possible. Alternatively, they can signal for a fair catch or allow the ball to go into the end zone for a touchback. A receiver can also immediately punt the ball back, though this option is not used in modern football.


punter (P)
A kicker who specializes in punting as opposed to place kicking.


One of four periods of play in a standard American football game. A quarter lasts for fifteen game clock minutes in most adaptations of American football but may take longer in elapsed time, since the clock does not run continuously. A tie at the end of four quarters results in overtime.


quarterback (QB)
An offensive player who lines up behind the center, and takes the snap.


quarterback sneak
A play most commonly used in very short yardage or goal line situations. The quarterback quickly takes the snap and runs right behind or beside the center.

quick kick
An unexpected punt


When a player catches (receives) the ball past the line of scrimmage. If a reception is made behind the line of scrimmage, it is a lateral.


red flag
A weighted red marker thrown onto the field by a coach to tell the officials that they want a certain play reviewed; sometimes referred to as a "challenge flag".


red shirt
A college player who is forgoing a season to retain a year of eligibility. Student athletes have five years to play four after they enroll. A sixth year is occasionally granted to a player to play his or her four years under extenuating circumstances.


referee (R)
The official who directs the other officials on the field: one of seven officials.


regular season
In college football, it is the portion of the season that is scheduled ahead-of-time by the schools. It excludes any bowl game, conference championship, or playoff games. In NFL football, the regular season is defined as weeks 1–16. 

The act of progressing the ball down the field after a change of possession, such as a kick or interception


return yards
Yards gained advancing the ball during play after a change of possession such as a punt or a kickoff or a turnover such as a fumble or an interception


An offensive play in which a running back carries the ball toward one side of the field but hands or tosses the ball to a teammate (almost exclusively a wide receiver) who is running in the opposite direction. 


running back (RB)
A player position on offense. Although the term usually refers to a halfback or tailback, fullbacks are also considered running backs.


running out the clock
A game strategy that involves repeatedly executing simple plays that allow the game clock to continue running in an effort to bring the game to a quicker end. This strategy is almost always employed by the leading team at the end of the game, and may involve one or more kneels.


running play
A play where the offense attempts to advance the ball without a forward pass.


running up the score
A generally discouraged practice in which a team, despite leading by several touchdowns (to the point that it is obvious that the team is going to win), continues to score as many points as possible in an effort to create as wide of a margin of victory as possible.



  • An attempt to tackle or hurry a player before they can throw a pass or make a kick

  • A running play

Red Zone

The area of the field between the 20 yard line and the goal line. There is no official meaning and it is not marked on the field. The term is mostly used when a team is close enough to score.



When the quarterback (or another offensive player acting as a passer) is tackled behind the line of scrimmage before he can throw a forward pass.


The passing of the ball at the start of a play from the line of scrimmage. It is usually a backwards pass from the center to the quarterback.


  • A player position on defense. See free safety and strong safety.

  • A method of scoring (worth two points) by downing an opposing ball carrier in his own end zone, forcing the opposing ball carrier out of his own end zone and out of bounds, or forcing the offensive team to fumble the ball so that it exits the end zone. A safety is also awarded if the offensive team commits a foul within its own end zone. After a safety, the team that was scored upon must kick the ball to the scoring team from its own 20-yard line.

scoop and score
A fumble recovered by the defense that results in a touchdown


scramble or quarterback scramble
On a called passing play, when the quarterback runs from the pocket in an attempt to avoid being sacked, giving the receivers more time to get open or attempting to gain positive yards by running.


screen pass
A short forward pass to a receiver who has blockers in front. The receiver in this play is usually a running back, although wide receiver and tight end screens are also used. Although they are both called screen passes, the wide receiver screen and the running back screen are used for very different reasons. In the case of a running back screen, the play is designed to allow the pass rushers by the offensive linemen, leaving the defender out of position to make a play. The play is usually employed to defuse the pass rush in the case of a running back screen. The wide receiver screen is a much faster developing play, designed to catch the defense off guard.



  • An informal practice matchup, either between two teams or between different units of the same team. 

  • Line of scrimmage


Refers to the defensive "backfield", specifically the safeties and cornerbacks. Primarily responsible for pass coverage defense.


A sequence of downs, beginning with a first down and including all subsequent downs until a new first down, score, or change of possession. A typical drive consists of multiple series.

When two or more offensive players move at the same time before the snap. All players who move in a shift must come to a complete stop prior to the snap.

shotgun formation
Formation in which offensive team may line up at the start of a play. In this formation, the quarterback receives the snap 5-8 yards behind the center.


One of the lines marking each side of the field

A receiver route. In the slant route, a receiver runs straight upfield a few yards, plants his outside foot hard while in full stride, and turns 45 degrees towards the quarterback.

The handoff or pass from the center that begins a play from scrimmage.


snap count
The "hut" sound the quarterback will use to signal for the snap to be made.


An offensive play in which the quarterback, immediately on receiving the snap dives forward with the ball. The play is used when a team needs a very short gain to reach either the goal line or the line to gain.


special teams
The units that handle kickoffs, punts, free kicks and field goal attempts. Often manned by second and third team players.


A play in which the quarterback throws the ball at the ground immediately after the snap. Technically an incomplete pass, it stops the clock. Note that a spike is not considered intentional grounding if it is done with the quarterback under center and immediately after the snap; the only "penalty" is that one down is sacrificed. Running a spike play presumes there will be at least one play by the same team immediately afterward, so it would not be done on 4th down or if it would run the clock out.

The continuous lateral rotation of the football following its release from the hand of a passer or punter.


The location determined by the official where the ball was downed or blown dead

A player who is the first to play his position within a given game or season. Depending on the position and the game situation, this player may be replaced or share time with one or more players later in the game. 

stiff-arm or straight-arm
A ball carrier warding off a would-be tackler by pushing them away with a straight arm.

To remove the football from the player carrying it

strong safety (SS)
A kind of safety on defense, as opposed to a free safety. This is a central defensive back; originally, the term indicated the lining up on the strong side of the field and covering the tight end. However, the modern usage of the term now indicates a central defensive back with responsibility for run and pass support, slightly favoring run support.


strong side
The side of the field (left or right) that has the most players, but depends on the formations of the teams. When a team uses one tight end, the strong side is the side of the field where the tight end lines up. If the offensive package uses no tight end, or more than one tight end, the strong side is the side of the field with the most offensive players on or just behind the line of scrimmage, assuming a balanced line. If the offense uses an unbalanced line, the strong side is the side with the most linemen.

A tactic used by defensive linemen in which they switch roles in an attempt to get past the blockers. Both defenders will start with power rushes, with the stunting defender getting more of a push. The other lineman will then go around, ideally using the player as a pick to get free from blockers.


A running play in which several blockers lead a running back on a designed play to the outside. Depending on the number of blockers and the design of the play this is sometimes referred to as a "power sweep" or "student-body-right" (or left).

E - F
Q - R
K - L
M - N
O - P



A turnover is when the team with the ball loses possession of the ball unintentionally.  The loss of the ball is gained by the opposing team. There are two main types of turnovers:

  • A fumble which occurs when there is unintentional physical loss of the ball that a player had possession of

  • An interception when a pass that is intended for a member of the passing team (the offense) but is caught by a member of the opposing team (the defense).



  • The act of forcing a ball carrier to the ground

  • A player position on the line, either an offensive tackle (T) or a defensive tackle (DT)


tailback (TB)
Player position on offense farthest back, except in kicking formations. Also often referred to as the running back, particularly in a one-back offense.

When an offensive team fails to gain a first down on the first three plays of a drive, and thus is forced to punt on fourth down.

three-point stance
A down lineman's stance with three points on the ground, in other words, his two feet and one of his hands.


A pass intentionally thrown out of bounds by the quarterback while he is outside the pocket with no chance of the pass being caught by any eligible receiver or defender. This is done when the quarterback is about to get tackled by a defender and has no open receivers so that the team avoids a loss of yardage that would have happened if the quarterback was sacked.


tight end (TE)
A player position on offense, often known as Y receiver, lines up on the line of scrimmage, next to the offensive tackle. Tight ends are used as blockers during running plays, and either run a route or stay in to block during passing plays.


time of possession (TOP)
The amount of time one team has the ball in its possession relative to the other team. Since there are 60 minutes in a non-overtime game, and one team or another always has possession of the ball, the two teams divide up the time with which they have the ball out of the 60 minutes. If one team has it 40 minutes the other will have it 20 and so forth. A time of possession advantage is seen as a positive thing and is highly correlative with a win or loss as it usually means the opponent's defense becomes fatigued and easier to gain yardage on late in games.


total offense
A statistic that combines yards rushing and yards passing.


The act of downing the ball behind one's own goal line on a kickoff or punt after the ball had been propelled over the goal by the opposing team. This can be accomplished by one of several ways: the receiving team player catching the ball in the end zone and dropping down to one knee; by the ball touching any part of the end zone; the ball carrying out of the end zone in any way without being possessed by either team. After a touchback, the team that downed it gets the ball at their own 20-yard line.


A play worth six points, accomplished by gaining legal possession of the ball in the opponent's end zone or by the ball crossing the plane of the opponent's goal line with legal possession by a player. It also allows the team a chance for one extra point by kicking the ball or a two-point conversion; see try.

true freshman
A player who is one year out of high school. This contrasts with a redshirt freshman who has practiced with the team for one year but who has not played yet in any games.

In the NFL, a team staffer who is responsible for notifying players who will be cut from the roster, typically during the preseason, to meet with the head coach for an exit interview.


turn the ball over on downs (a.k.a. turnover on downs)
When a team uses all four of their downs without either scoring or making a first down, they must relinquish the ball to the other team.


The loss of the ball by one team to the other team. This is usually the result of a fumble or an interception.

two-minute warning
A free time out given to both teams when there is two minutes left on the game clock in each half. Certain leagues may use different times for this warning.


two-point conversion
A play worth two points accomplished by gaining legal possession of the ball in the opponent's end zone, either via a run or pass, after a touchdown has been made




under center
Refers to the quarterback lining up directly behind the center to take the snap. The person under center is considered ineligible in the NFL, but an eligible receiver in the NCAA and high school, though this distinction rarely manifests itself since the person under center usually is the passer.

A player who enters the NFL Draft but is not selected by any team in the draft's seven rounds. Undrafted players are free agents and can sign with whatever team they so choose if that team is willing to take them.


A player, in a scrimmage kick (punts and field goals) or kneel formations, who lines up behind the offensive line. An upback's primary duty is to block oncoming defensive players in a kick formation and to recover any fumbles in a kneel formation. They can receive direct snaps, and upbacks are eligible receivers.


utility player
A player capable of playing multiple positions



Before NFL rosters are reduced to 53 players for the regular season, any injured non-vested veteran (defined as a player with less than four years of experience) has to be placed on waivers before being placed on injured reserve. If the waived/injured player is not claimed by another team, then they are placed on the injured reserve of the team that waived them. Once rosters are reduced to 53-players, non-vested veterans can be placed on injured reserve without having to be placed on waivers


In college, a non-scholarship player. I.e., a player who is not receiving a scholarship to play football

weak side
When one tight end is used, the side of the field opposite the tight end. In other offensive packages, the side of the field with the fewest offensive players on or just behind the line of scrimmage.


West Coast offense
An offensive philosophy that uses short, high-percentage passes as the core of a ball-control offense. It was invented in Cincinnati under coach Paul Brown in the mid-1970s. It is now widely used in the NFL but originally made popular by San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh. The basis of Walsh's offense is to use short routes for receivers, delivering the ball on time and accurately and using short passes to replace runs. It relies heavily on yardage from running after the catch, using many eligible receivers on plays to maximize quarterback options, and spreading the ball to many targets to keep the defense confused.


Adjective meaning towards the sidelines. Example: A kick that is "wide right" has missed to the right side of the field from the perspective of the offense.

wide receiver (WR)
A player position on offense who is split wide (usually about 10 yards) from the formation and plays on the line of scrimmage as a split end (X) or one yard off as a flanker (Z). The offensive-formation rules regarding the number of backs and linemen are still used.

win–loss - tie
The ratio of wins to losses and ties, expressed as a pair or trio of numbers. For example, 6–1 means 6 wins and 1 loss and 5–3–1 means 5 wins, 3 losses and 1 tie.


winning percentage
A statistic used in league standings to compare and/or rank teams based on their win-loss (or win-loss-tie) records. Winning percentage is calculated by dividing the number of games won by the number of games played. A tie counts as one-half of a win and one-half of a loss. The winning percentage is not increased nor decreased by tied games. These values are expressed as a decimal (e.g.: .600 not 60.0%)


A formation involving three running backs lined up behind the quarterback in the shape of a Y, similar to the shape of a wishbone



Yards after Catch

The amount of yardage gained after initial catch. A quarterback's length of pass is the distance from where the line of scrimmage is, to where the receiver caught the ball. YAC is the distance the ball carrier ran after the initial catch.


Yards after Contact

The amount of yardage gained by an offensive player after the first defensive player makes contact

One yard of linear distance in the direction of one of the two goals. A field is 100 yards (120 when both end zones are included). Typically, a team is required to advance at least 10 yards in order to get a new set of downs. Identical in length to the standard unit of measurement (3 feet or 36 inches).


yard line
A marking on the field that indicates the distance (in yards) to the nearest goal line


The number of yards gained or lost during a play, game, season, or career

yards from scrimmage
The number of yards gained by the offensive team advancing the ball from the line of scrimmage



A colloquial term for an official, referring to their black-and-white striped uniforms


zone defense
A defense in which players are in pass-coverage zones of the field, instead of covering individual players. 

zone read
A type of option offense where the quarterback and the tailback line up approximately side-by-side. After the quarterback receives the snap, the two players cross paths and go through the motions of a hand-off. Based upon reading the defensive reaction, the quarterback either completes the handoff or pulls the ball out and runs with it.

U - Z
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