Arguably the most important position in American Football, the quarterback is also the most recognisable to even the casual observer. The pivotal part of the offensive team, the quarterback is responsible for dictating the plays on the field, acting both as a direct vehicle for the coach’s plans and an innovator in his own right, adjusting for the needs of the moment.
As such, any list of the greatest American Football players will necessarily contain a proliferation of famous quarterbacks, from Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers to Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins and, more recently, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. It is also unsurprising that quarterbacks over history have won more Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards than any other position.
The basics of the position
The quarterback naturally takes on a far greater tactical role than any other player on the team. Once his team has the ball, the quarterback must evaluate the opposition’s defensive line and look for a way to penetrate it – either as a means to gain yardage or, if particularly successful, bring about a touchdown with a pass to one of the runners.
This inherently requires a great deal of initiative and, more importantly, improvisation, as there are no guarantees on what the defensive team will or will not do. However, the quarterback will have the benefit of a foundation of pre-planned and practiced plays to choose from, as well as the assistance of the coach.
Indeed, it is the latter’s role that is often central to the success of the quarterback and has been used as a stick to beat a successful quarterback with. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, for example, has had his status as a great disputed by critics who claim he is merely proficient in actualising the plays of coach Bill Belichick. This has certainly been a modern development in connection with the rise of offensive coordinators who, along with the coach, can actually communicate with the quarterback via a headpiece up until 15 seconds remaining on the play clock.
As such, the aforementioned attribute of improvisation is key to elevating a quarterback’s status from good to great. The play can be changed right at the last moment and it is the quarterback’s job to interpret the defensive team’s movements, signal to his team and put the superior play into practice. For example, if the defensive side appears to have accounted for the offensive team’s runners in their set-up, the quarterback may opt for a running game. In order to give the quarterback time to make changes, the quarterback will remind his team of the play via audible signals immediately prior to the snap – hence the rather confusing set of codes such as ‘Blue 35’.
Other important attributes
Because of the quarterback’s importance to the offensive game, the defensive line’s tactics revolve around restricting his options. This can mean simply cutting off the runners or, more emphatically, a quarterback blitz, where defenders break the line of scrimmage and take down the quarterback or at the very least distract him.
While the quarterback’s team are obliged to give him time and space to select the right option, the quarterback’s role has expanded somewhat to take account of more effective defensive tactics. Indeed, it is now extremely important for the quarterback, although still relying on accurate, strong throwing, to be mobile and able to elude tackles.