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Coaching Blog

Coaching the Center Snap
By Coach Wade

It's third and goal from the six yard line. You've got one down left to blow, but with four seconds on the clock you're not likely to be able to use it. Everything you've built for a season is coming down to this one play. Down by four, a field goal won't win it. Besides, you picked your kicker for his kickoffs, not his field goals. 

You've made the call-- the Sam linebacker is creeping forward, anticipating the off tackle. He's been a thorn in your side all day. When he hasn't been tackling your tailback for a loss, he's been picking off your flat route and scoring the go ahead touchdown. Frankly, he's starting to get annoying, and you're about to put paid to the account, because as he blitzes your quarterback rolls outside him, firing a strike to the tight end who, miracle of miracles, somehow got off the line clear.

The end goes to one knee, looking the ball into the pocket the way you've taught him. As the last second ticks from the scoreboard you see the line judge's hands go up.

Touchdown! You've just won the State Championship. The cheerleaders are yelling. The parents think you're a genius. The athletic director offers you a lifetime position. You're automatically taller and better looking. Your car just morphed from a 1991 Honda Accord to a 2003 Dodge Viper-- and there's a bunch of Budweiser Girls in it for some reason.

That's the dream every football coach shares, somewhere deep inside. Sure, it's nice to know we're building the men and women of tomorrow, the leaders of the future, but there's nothing wrong with a Gatorade shower in front of a TV audience!

Let me show you the flip side of that coin. This is the situation that gives a coach ulcers. These are the bad dreams; the ones that keep you up at three am, wondering what the heck you ate.

You've made the call-- the Sam linebacker is creeping forward, anticipating the off tackle. He's been a thorn in your side all day. When he hasn't been tackling your tailback for a loss, he's been picking off your flat route and scoring the go ahead touchdown. Frankly, he's starting to get annoying, and you're about to put paid to the account. 

As he blitzes, in that crazy lifetime-long instant before the ball is snapped, you notice that your quarterback's wrists are separated. You've got about a billionth of a second to think, "Oh NO!" before the ball is snapped and squirts up towards his chest. He grabs at it, determined to make a play, but that bad snap has cost him crucial time. He's no longer paying attention to his footwork, just trying to get his hands on the ball-- and it's at that second that the Sam linebacker buries him, and your dreams of that Dodge Viper, in a bruising tackle. 

Relax, Coach, that doesn't have to be. You still have a shot at those Bud Girls. I'm going to show you how to avoid botched center/quarterback exchanges. I'll warn you right off the bat, though, that I've been told I put too much effort into this aspect of my offense. Be that as it may, in the four years since I have returned to coaching, in three of them I have been responsible for teaching the center snap, and in that time we have fumbled the snap only five times, and only lost two of them to the opponent. 

I won't make excuses, but three of those bad snaps came in 1999 in Kodiak Alaska, during a game in which the referee decided not to spot the ball because it kept floating away. Ankle deep mud will play havoc with anyone's center snap. Last year we had no bad snaps at all. Let it not be said that my anal-retentive attention to detail never reaped a positive dividend.

There are a number of different types of exchanges. I'll show the most common to you and give you some tips on how to teach them, but here's the first rule of coaching the center snap:

Rule 1: Don't over-coach it. Remember: nobody taught you how to kiss your girlfriend.

While you should be concerned with some important aspects of the snap, like making sure your quarterback's wrists are together, don't waste time with every niggling detail of the exchange. In fact, I demonstrate every snap to my centers and my quarterbacks, and then I let them decide what type of snap they want to use. I figure, if I make them do something that's not comfortable to them, odds are they're not going to do it right. As long as the snap gets there and the center can make his block, I don't much care how it happens.

Through this discussion I'm going to assume that you're using a standard offensive system that places a quarterback under center in what has become the 'traditional' way. The actual term for this kind of exchange is an 'indirect' snap. If the ball were snapped straight to a running back the snap would be referred to as a 'direct' snap. If you're running a system like the Single Wing, popularized by Jack Reed, then you're probably using a direct snap, and this article isn't going to be much help. 

Okay, there are three types of snaps I want to discuss with you. The first is the traditional T-Formation snap. I doubt you'll see this very much at higher levels, but if you're coaching kids under the age of eight you might consider it. 

The T-Formation Snap 

T1T2T3

Figure 1: T-Formation Snap 

The picture above shows our handsome model performing a T-Formation snap. Notice the blocking step I've taken with my right foot. Your center should be conditioned to always move forward at the snap. Even on our passing plays I want my center to deliver a blow. Bear in mind that your quarterback must also be trained to step forward or the center will pull out of reach. I call this a riding step. The quarterback must 'ride' the center forward.

One of the advantages to this snap is that it provides more security because both hands are on the ball. Younger players may have some trouble with the next two snaps, if for no other reason than because their hands are small. You also might find this a useful snap if your team plays in weather such as we endured in Kodiak in 1999. Had I more experience in coaching football I would definitely have used this snap to help secure the ball.

Another advantage is that it can allow a center to be a more effective blocker. If you get into a position as if you have just finished handing the ball to the quarterback through your legs, you'll note that your hands are in a perfect position to strike an upward blow into the chest of a hapless defender. Don't overlook the ability of the T-Snap to help your center out. 

The primary disadvantage of this snap is that it's slower than the other snaps, at least at first. For some reason this snap takes a little longer for centers and quarterbacks to grasp. They tend to hesitate, and that slows the snap down. Increasing the number of reps will assist in that regard.

The Standard Snap

I actually have no clue what the name of this snap really is. I call it the standard snap because it's the one you're most likely to see and use. It fits any offense, and will work with any age group. Think of it as the crescent wrench of snaps. 

It starts with a throwing grip by the center. Take the basic quarterback's grip with the fingertips on the laces and rotate the ball a half turn. This should put your center's thumb on the laces instead. 

Grip2Grip1

Figure 2: The Standard Snap Grip

The ball should be spotted at a comfortable distance from the center. He should have very little weight on the ball, but his balance should be slightly forward. Notice that my off hand is up. This is a personal choice of mine. I like my centers to have this hand in position to protect themselves. I leave it up to the player as much as possible, though.

Standard1Standard2Standard3

Figure 3: The Standard Snap

The standard snap was developed as teams began moving more and more towards the passing game. In order to be able to throw the ball immediately after the snap the laces had to be rotated and placed perfectly into the quarterback's throwing hand. In order to do this properly, your center must grip the ball with his thumb on the laces. By bringing it up quickly and turning the thumb down (from the center's perspective, which is laces and thumb up for the quarterback), the center will rotate the laces to place them on the quarterback's fingertips. 

Again, I've taken a small blocking step with my right foot. Ideally, your center should be able to block and step to either side while snapping. 

The Wyatt Snap

Wyatt1Wyatt2

Figure 4: The Wyatt Snap

Hugh Wyatt, of www.coachwyatt.com, has done more than simply create the best Double Wing offense coaching videos. He has also developed a snap that assists the running game. Instead of rotating the ball, which places the laces across the quarterback's fingertips in a ready-to-throw position, this snap brings the ball straight up from the ground. The quarterback can grip the back half of the football very easily, and it is already in prime position for handoffs, fakes, and pitches. 

In fact, if you notice, this snap presents the ball to the quarterback in the exact same position as the T-Formation snap, which was originally developed as the game shifted from rugby, to the direct snap of the single wing, to the man under center of the T-Formation.

Okay, so those are the three basic snaps. There's a lot more to things than just that, though. There's a whole second player you've got to teach. Taking a snap isn't as easy as it looks. I lost a quarterback position in seventh grade because I fumbled my first three snaps. (In my defense, nobody told me to keep my wrists together.)

So here we are at rule two: 

Rule two: If your quarterback doesn't keep his wrists together- tape them that way!

I'm semi-serious. There is probably no other single aspect of taking a snap that will affect things as much as this tiny little piece of advice. The quarterback needs to keep his wrists together and provide slight upward pressure on the center with his top hand. This tells the center exactly where to place the ball. 

I mentioned the ride step before. There should be no movement at all in the quarterback's top hand from the start of the step to the reception of the ball. What I mean is, if the center pulls slightly away from the quarterback, that snap is going to hit the fingertips instead of the palm. It won't be likely that your quarterback will be able to hang onto the ball under those circumstances.

The quarterback needs to use the same cadence each time. If your snap count is "Down! Set! Hut! Hut!" Don't let that turn into "Down! ..........Sethut!........HUT!" Odds are you might catch a defensive player off guard once in a while, but you're more likely to screw up your own center. If you go on first hut or second hut sometimes, that's fine, but you don't want any other variation in the cadence.

Finally, the number one most important part of teaching correct center snaps is reps. I require my centers and quarterbacks to snap at least fifty practice snaps every night. There are no excuses. They can dress out early and get their reps, or they can stay after practice and get them. Fifty-- with each player. This means my first and second string centers should snap to the first and second string quarterbacks respectively. 

These snaps are in addition to the snaps we get by running our plays. As the conditioning coach, I also set the sprints with the following diagram: 

Sprints

Figure 5: Wind Sprints Diagram

You'll notice the center and quarterback at each side of the line. I stand in the middle of the field and call a play such as "I Right 32 Dive". If we're using a variable snap count, I'll call the count as well. The left hand quarterback will call cadence, and at the correct point the center will snap the ball. All the circles will sprint the required distance (usually twenty yards.) The center and quarterback will also sprint. 

I then call another play and snap count. The second quarterback and center, and the squares will sprint for this play.

This drill gives me a number of things: 1) Practice snaps for the centers when they're tired. 2) Reinforcement of proper cadence. 3) Reinforcement of proper get-offs for the rest of the team, and  4) Conditioning. (Can't have too much of that!)

I don't run a lot of wind sprints as a general rule, since there are more effective methods for conditioning the players, but on the rare occasions when we do, we steal the opportunity to work on the center snaps, which brings us to rule three:

Rule three: Your center and quarterback cannot have too many practice snaps.

My goal is a minimum of seventy-five center snaps for each center and quarterback every night. If I can get ten days of preseason practice, that is 750 correct snaps. With reps like this, I have very little fear of fumbled snaps on game day. I think if you also put this much effort into the snap, you'll avoid losing that Viper.

Oh, and I better get a ride. My wife says no to the Budweiser girls.

Good luck.

~D.

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Copyright 2007 Derek A. "Coach" Wade. All rights reserved.