Game Play Thursday : The Pocket

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Let’s talk about what it means for a quarterback to be “in the pocket.” Which, like many phrases in football, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you understand what the theory behind it is. So let’s dive in!

The quarterback plays behind the offensive line.

Who is the offensive line, you ask?

All of you training camp pros already know the answer! But just as a refresher, the offensive line is a five man wall. The offensive line is NOT everyone on the offense who is on the line of scrimmage. There will be seven players lined up there, five linemen and two skill players, usually wide receivers. The offensive line consists of the Center, who is, understandably, in the center of the line. He’s the one who snaps the ball to the QB. On both sides of the Center are the two Guards, the Right Guard and Left Guard, respectively. The Right and Left Tackles play outside of the Guards. So your offensive line looks like this from left to right: LT LG C RG RT. Got it?

The offensive line is generally stocked with huge guys, 300 lbs and above, and their sole initiative is to block the defensive players in front of them. Not only does this allow the quarterback time to read the defense and decide where to go with the ball, it also gives him protection from defensive players whose sole initiative is to knock him flat on the ground. Thus, on most occassions, it’s best if the QB stays in the pocket, the area behind the line of scrimmage that spans the offensive line from Left Tackle to Right Tackle.

So, quick review: when a quarterback is “inside the pocket” he is behind the wall of protection formed by his five offensive lineman. You’ll also hear that a quarterback is “stepping up into the pocket,” which means he is stepping up to throw the ball from within the protection of the pocket. When a quarterback leaves the pocket, not only is he in open danger of getting sacked by a defensive player, he also needs to be sure not to throw an illegal forward pass by throwing the ball while standing in front of the line of scrimmage, which is where the offensive line originally lined up.

Now that you know a few things about the pocket, let’s look at this illustration. What’s wrong with it?


photo credit : football for dummies

The Tight End! I know you got it right!

Technically, the pocket is defined as the wall built by the offensive line, from the left tackle to the right tackle. So even though tight ends (TE) can and often do block as part of the offensive line, he’s not really part of the classic pocket. If his assignment is to block: great. He’ll help protect the QB and be part of the pocket for all intents and purposes on that play. But if his assignment is to run a slant route to the sideline or block a linebacker further up the field, he won’t be anywhere near the offensive line once the ball is snapped and therefore won’t be used as part of the pocket.

Don’t you feel so much smarter already?!

If there is ever a topic you’d like to discuss on Game Play Thursday (or any time!) please just leave a comment or send me an email through the contact form! I’ll be happy to learn more about it and help us all get a better understanding!