NFL offensive play calls are known for being very, very wordy. Players know it, coaches aknowledge it, and year after year no huddle quarterbacks are being highly criticized for not having to relay a paragraph of a play call to guys gathered around them in a huddle like they’ll be expected to in the NFL.
That reminds me of a story from for Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray from his rookie season with the Chiefs. Murray told KansasCity.com back in 2014 that during his first quarterbacks meeting, he heard other quarterbacks rattling off a long playcall in Andy Reid’s offense and he honestly thought they were playing a prank on him.
“They’re all talking about plays and it sounded like (a foreign language). I mean, they’re speaking and they’re calling these plays and I’m like, ‘I think they’re like messing with me right now, trying to scare me.’”
“There’s times I’m in the huddle and I might go, ‘Alright, listen up for the call here fellas,’ and they know it’s gonna be a doozy. We’ve got ‘shift to halfback twin right open, swap 72 all-go special halfback shallow cross wide open.”
Give that same play to a veteran no-huddle offensive coordinator at the college level and he’ll find a way to compress the formation, motion, pass protection, routes or run scheme into a word or two like a magician turning water to wine in the blink of an eye.
The video below of Andrew Luck calling a play in the huddle may be a bit of an exaggeration (and it very well could be two or three plays so they can check to something else at the line), but it drives home the point; play calls in the NFL are notorious for being ridiculously long.
That, along with this video from NFL Network, gives you a good idea of what NFL players are dealing with in the huddle, and then processing at the line of scrimmage while guys like JJ Watt line up across from them just itching for the snap of the ball. It can be a lot for guys, particularly quarterbacks and offensive lineman, to digest.
When Chip Kelly was rewriting the offensive record book at Oregon and stacking up the wins, he became renowned in the coaching profession for using play calls that utilized play cards being held up from the sidelines, while other plays and formations could be communicated in just a word or two. All of those pieces of efficient communication allowed Oregon to develop an identity as one of the fastest paced offenses in the country.
Kelly brought that philosophy with him to the NFL, first with the Philadelphia Eagles with varying degrees of success, and now he starts a new chapter with the San Francisco 49ers.
In a recent piece in CSN Bay Area, Niners players talked about Chip Kelly’s system and how much different it is from the traditional ways of the NFL. One player, tight end Garrett Celek, explained why it’s making such an impact early on with the Niners.
“In the past we had a lot of delay-of-games because either we’re not getting the play in time from upstairs or it’s just taking the quarterback too long to read the whole play out,” Celek noted before adding: “If you have to think a lot, you’re going to slow down. So once you figure everything out, everyone can move faster and make plays.”
“Where now, it’s a lot quicker. We have hand signals, so you can’t have 15 words through hand signals, stuff like that. It’s got to be boom, boom, boom. So when you got less verbiage, it’s easier to remember. It’s kind of genius.”
Going back to that 2014 story on Andy Reid and Aaron Murray, Reid told the paper that his system “starts with the quarterback, that’s the important part. If the quarterback can spit it out, normally the rest of (the play) goes OK.”
Why you would want to cross your fingers when sending in a play call, hoping the quarterback remembers to relay all of the details is a foreign concept for a lot of coaches (including myself). Next time you’re trying to trim the fat from your playbook, it might be wise to start with your verbiage.