A reverse in football is a play in which the ball is run in one direction before being given to another player running in the opposite direction. The play is designed to fool the defense and get them to move the wrong way in order to go back the other way into hopefully open space.
Below is a diagram to help illustrate how a reverse works. The quarterback (QB) hands the ball off to the running back (red) who is moving from right to left. Next the running back tosses the ball backwards to the wide receiver (blue) as they go in the opposite direction.
When talking about reverses, a common misconception exists in football. Plays like an end around and a jet sweep are wrongly thought to be reverses. Those plays involve misdirection, but there is no reversing the direction of the play.
Reverses can be run differently, and one way to distinguish them are how many times the ball is changed hands.
A one hand off reverse involves the quarterback bootlegging one direction as if they were going to run the ball, only to hand the ball off to a player headed in the opposite direction.
A double reverse has the ball changing hands twice. The most common double reverse involves a handoff to the running back who runs outside and then flips it to a wide receiver headed back the other way.
A triple reverse is the least common, and must have the ball transferred three separate occasions. These plays require a lot of time in the backfield and if executed properly can go for long gains.
Reverses can be used at any point in the game and at any place on the field, but their timing is important. A reverse is only successful if the defense goes in the wrong direction. In order to accomplish that offenses will set up a reverse by running several simple handoff plays before adding the second handoff. That way defenses start to key in on the formation and will jump towards that direction, leaving them vulnerable to the reverse.