What is an Audible in Football?

What is an Audible in Football

An audible in football is a change in play from what the offensive or defense team originally planned to run. For example, on offense, the coach may call a running play. However, when the QB scans the field, they notice a defensive blitz formation, so they instead call a screen. By calling a screen play, the QB made an audible.


So, what is an audible in football in more detail? How do audibles work on offense and defense during a game? How can you tell when an audible is taking place during a match?


Here is the complete breakdown to what an audible is during a college football and NFL game.


What is an Audible in American Football in More Detail?

What is an Audible in American Football in More Detail

Before two football teams set up at the line of scrimmage, the offense and defense squads huddle up to prepare for the next play. The offensive and defensive coordinators will communicate the play to players through radios in their helmets. Only the quarterback relays the play from the offensive coordinator to the offensive team, and one defensive player relays the message to the defensive team. Check out the why NFL coaches were headsets post to learn more.


If you watch football regularly, you may notice the quarterback or a defensive player make last-minute calls and adjustments to the play before the start of the play. These adjustments made at the line of scrimmage are called audibles. They’re made after the huddle and before the snap of the ball, which starts the play. 


The offense and defensive teams can make countless adjustments as long as the center snaps the ball before the play clock runs out. If the play clock expires, the offense may get a five-yard delay of game penalty.


How Do Offensive Audibles Work in Football?

How Do Offensive Audibles Work in Football

In most plays, the offense has to set before the snap. If they don’t settle in their positions, they may get a false start penalty. The only time the offense can have a player moving before the snap of the ball is if it’s a wide receiver or tight end moving parallel to the line of scrimmage as part of a motion play.


After breaking the huddle, both teams will meet at the line of scrimmage. When each team lines up, the play-caller will review the opposing team’s formation and adjust the play call as needed. For example, if the quarterback sees the defense lined up for a blitz, they can adapt their formation to set up a new play at the last second. 


How Do Defensive Audibles Work in Football?

How Do Defensive Audibles Work in Football

However, on the defense, the play-caller can vary. Usually, a linebacker or safety serving as the defensive captain will have a radio in their helmet connected to the defensive coordinator. The radio sequence between the player and coach then becomes relayed to the rest of the squad.


When calling audibles, the defense has the benefit of not needing to set before the snap, as the offense does. Head coaches and coordinators can also make changes and will usually communicate with players using hand signals or signs from the sidelines.


What Do NFL Quarterbacks Say Before the Snap?

What Do NFL Quarterbacks Say Before the Snap

NFL quarterbacks will say several different things before the snap. For most people, it’s impossible to know what these last-minute calls mean. Sometimes, these calls can indicate a change to the play. Other times, they can be decoy calls intended to make the other team react to reveal information about the play. 


One of the most well-known audibles is “Omaha.” Peyton Manning made this play call famous since so many fans heard it while playing for the Indiana Colts and Denver Broncos. Manning himself even admitted that “Omaha” was often meaningless depending on the context. In 2014, he joked that “Omaha is a run play, but it could be a pass play or a play-action pass depending on a couple of things: the wind, which way we’re going, the quarter, and the jerseys that we’re wearing.” 


If you listen to teams before the snap, you may hear some silly calls. For example, the Las Vegas Raiders’s Derek Carr has said “Purple Walrus LA,” “Kim Kardashian,” and “James Harden” before the snap. Jonathan Goff had a few calls named after famous musicians during his time in LA, including “Elvis” and “Tupac.”


How Can you tell if a Quarterback is Calling an Audible?

How Can you tell if a Quarterback is Calling an Audible

While listening for keywords from the quarterback is an excellent way to see if they’re calling an audible, it’s better to watch the action around the line of scrimmage. As mentioned above, sometimes the play-caller will use a decoy word to make the other team nervous or encourage them to move out of position. 


If a bogus audible call causes one of the defensive blockers to jump over the line of scrimmage before the snap, it can cause a five-yard offside penalty. In addition to distance, the punishment also extends how much time the offense has the ball. Since even a decoy audible can cause this kind of gain, it’s precious for quarterbacks when used effectively. 


If you want to see how a quarterback or defensive captain changes the play in real-time, pay attention to how the positions change in reaction to what they say. While you may not know if an audible has changed what routes wide receivers run, you may see offensive linemen shift or reposition themselves to protect the play better. Similarly, if the defense anticipates a passing play, you may see the defensive formation develop to cover more of the field. Watching evolutions along the line of scrimmage is a great way to see how players use audibles to improve the outcomes of their plays. 


Conclusion: What is an Audible in Football?

Simply put, an audible is any change made by either the offensive team or defensive team after the huddle and before the snap. The quarterback calls audibles for the offense most of the time, and the defensive captain calls them for the defense. These changes allow players to adapt the original play to better react to what they see at the line of scrimmage. These constant adjustments make the team better prepared for the play once the ball is snapped, and it also makes the game incredibly entertaining.


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