Understanding Urban: Anatomy of the Audible
By Ken Pryor
(Editor’s Note: Ken Pryor is an offensive coordinator who works with the wide receivers at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md. He has been a long-time contributor to The-Ozone, and has been asked to help us better understand Ohio State’s new offense since Urban Meyer was hired back in November.)
Last week we began a new series on what it means for Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to recognize and call out opposing defensive fronts once he steps under center, or just before the ball is snapped.
While the intention is to continue with the topic of defensive fronts, last week’s piece sparked some really good feedback from readers. More than a few had questions about the quarterback and what he can do when the defense presents problems for the play that was called from the sideline.
The simple answer would be to call an audible – which is to change the play at the line of scrimmage – but the art of calling the audible is not simple.
Recounting the fact Braxton admitted he was not taught how to recognize opposing defensive fronts last year, it’s a safe assumption he had no license to call an audible at the line of scrimmage. This caused many to wonder what was going on at Ohio State when it comes to the playcalling and quarterback development.
Remember seeing repeated use of the same power run play (nicknamed Dave) even when it seemed to be to the detriment of the team? Later we learned that former quarterback Terrelle Pryor was not given license to change plays at the line…at least not until his final season in Columbus.
Then there was the Joe Bauserman experiment followed by Miller’s untimely insertion into the offense, which ultimately led to his comments regarding learning the fronts.
So what gives at Ohio State? Why are quarterbacks being given a red light when it comes to call audibles, and what can they do to turn it green? Hopefully, what follows will shed some light on what it is to call an audible and the intangibles a quarterback must possess in order to be given the freedom to do so.
What is an Audible?
The audible occurs when the quarterback changes a play at the line of scrimmage by using a set of predetermined signals – verbal or otherwise – which identify a new play to his teammates.
Most coaches are stingy with the use of the audible system. They have rules or keys that a quarterback must follow before he decides to change a play. Very few quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning are allowed to strut to the line of scrimmage and change the play that was called in the huddle at will.
Many have license to do it on occasion, but Manning has made it into an art form over the years.
General Rules Quarterbacks Must Follow
- Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton must have the playbook mastered. They need to know the entire playbook inside and out until they have it committed to memory.
- In addition, they need study how different plays work during practice. Film study and practice can go a long way towards helping young quarterbacks in game time situations. Often times, coaches will pre-select the best offensive play to which to which they can audible.
- Not only must Miller and Guiton have the offense mastered, they also need a masterful recognition of the defenses they will face. They need to recognize impending blitzes, defensive fronts and secondary coverage’s, which will enable a quarterback to recognize if he should audible in the first place. Undoubtedly, Meyer and Tom Herman will present their quarterbacks with different defensive scenarios during practice, thereby equipping them with the ability to recognize various defensive fronts.
- Assuming quarterbacks coach Tom Herman will be on the sidelines and not in the booth – I presume he will – there will be times, no doubt, when Braxton Miller will check with Meyer or Herman before deciding on a play. Most coaches have a “check with me” system implemented in their offense. The check system means the quarterback will approach the line of scrimmage then look to the sideline as the coach will signal what he wants to run based on what the defense is showing. The coach does the thinking for the quarterback in this scenario. Typically, this can be seen with younger quarterbacks, and it is quite common at the high school level.
What Types of Audibles are there?
The no-huddle offense is usually employed as part of a hurry-up attack. Many sports fans mistakenly think it is an attempt to snap the ball – or begin the play – quicker. What no huddle really does is it allows the offense to threaten to snap the ball quickly, thereby denying the defense time to substitute players or make any necessary adjustments.
The no-huddle offense typically lines up in a formation at the line of scrimmage with a predetermined play in mind. The quarterback may then alter the play call (or audible) based on a perceived weakness in the defense. Some teams use this methodology specifically to keep the defense off-balance. They will run this particular scheme for a considerable time providing a stream of actual and counterfeit play changes.
When Miller or Guiton come to the line, upon surveying the field and analyzing the defensive front, they may believe the defense is going to blitz. In an attempt to get rid of the ball before being sacked, they will designate one of their receivers as the hot read or hot receiver.
The designation is executed with a code of signals barked at the line of scrimmage. The code could consist of any word the team has predetermined as the new (hot) route designed to defeat the particular defensive scheme. The route the receiver runs is also predetermined in the code and is based on the secondary alignment.
Because the receiver will have the pass directed his way almost immediately after the snap, the route will not be one that is long developing. Rather it will be something like a slant or go route. In some instances in past Ohio State games, we saw slot receivers lined uncovered by the defense. In this instance, a simple check to a bubble screen can be an absolute game-breaker, and it forces the defense to honor every man on the field.
Switching from Run to Pass, or Vice Versa
Changing the play from run to pass can be one of the more elemental functions of an audible. If a running play is called and the defense is bunched at the line, Miller or Guiton might take advantage of a defense that is most likely playing man-coverage on the back end. This could call for deep ball to a receiver like Devin Smith, Michael Thomas or Verlon Reed. If the receiver can defeat his defender off the line, and get a step or two beyond, a quick strike on the go route could devastate the defense.
In retrospect, one can understand why Braxton Miller didn’t have the green light to do much audibling at the line of scrimmage last season. He was young and lacked mastery of the Ohio State offense, let alone the defenses he was up against.
The good news is, Miller wants to learn. There is an old Egyptian quote that states: ‘When the student is ready to learn the master will appear.’ The ‘master’ has arrived in the form of Urban Meyer, and his offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
Herman is a member of Mensa, and an offensive “guru” with a real knack for teaching quarterbacks. Meyer is an extremely intense and demanding coach who takes a backseat to no one when it comes to understanding the game, especially on offense.
All of those smarts will wash onto Miller and Guiton and all indications lead us to believe they are both much better quarterbacks for it.
Related Understanding Urban Articles by Ken Pryor:
Reading Defensive Fronts
The Vertical Game
Smash & Grab, A Sticky Situation
The Bubble Screen
Teaching QBs Where to Throw the Ball