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Football Center

Football Center
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What is the Center Position in Football?

The center in football is an offensive lineman who snaps or hikes the ball to the quarterback to start every down. This position is usually considered the leader of the offensive line. The center lines up in the middle of the offensive line, on either side of the offensive guards and in front of the quarterback. The center is arguably one of the most important positions on the field, alongside the quarterback.

The center plays in the middle of the offensive line and is tasked with making and calling out reads to the quarterback, usually relating to linebackers and the defensive line. If the ball is being snapped to a holder for a field goal or a punter for a punt, the player snapping the ball is called the long snapper. Centers and long snappers must be very accurate when snapping the ball or risk a fumble on a bad snap. After the snap, the play begins and the center must block with the offensive line to protect the quarterback and running backs.

Center Roles and Responsibilities

Not only does the center block like the rest of the offensive line, the center has two primary tasks: snap the ball to the quarterback and call out possible defensive alignments. Before they snap the ball, the center, alongside the quarterback, examines the defense and calls out anything that appears to be a threat to the offense, such as possible blitzers or bluffing defenders. The center must also be very accurate with the snap, as when the ball moves, so do the defenders and the rest of the offense. Therefore, the snap must be quick and clean.

The quarterback can line up directly behind the center and simply take the ball from the center, or a few yards behind him wherein the center must throw the ball backward to the quarterback, quickly and accurately.

The center has five main jobs in football:

  • Hiking or snapping the ball to the quarterback
  • Communicating shifts and blocking adjustments to the offensive line
  • Countering the opposing team's defensive line players, specifically the nose tackle
  • Protecting the quarterback from being sacked
  • Creating gaps for the ball carrier

Snap (Hike)

The center always touches the ball first before any player at the start of a scrimmage down. A scrimmage down another term for a play at the line of scrimmage. Once other offensive players are in position, the center will snap, or “hike”, the ball to the quarterback through a backward pass between his legs.

Once the quarterback catches the snap, he has a few options of what he can do with it depending on the play design. He can pass the ball to a receiver, hand it off to a running back, or run with the ball himself for a quarterback-sneak, among other options.

Communication

The center is sometimes referred to as the leader of the offensive line. This is because they are responsible for making any blocking adjustments and pointing out rushers along with the quarterback. If a center sees an adjustment that needs to be made, they will alert the quarterback and other linemen.

The Nose Tackle (NT)

The center is a member of the offensive line, so one of his key roles is to counter players in the opposing team's defensive line. One of these players is called the nose tackle (NT).

The nose tackle positions himself opposite the center across the line of scrimmage. When the scrimmage down begins, the center will be in charge of slowing the progress of the nose tackle over the line of scrimmage.

Protecting The Quarterback

If defensive players on the opposing team are able to break through the offensive line, they have a direct path to the quarterback. If a defensive player tackles the quarterback from behind the line of scrimmage, it is called a sack. The center, along with other players in the offensive line, can form a circle (called the pocket) around the quarterback to block any attempts at a sack. This gives the quarterback enough time to scan down the field for an open receiver to throw a pass to.

Creating Gaps

The center will try to push players in the defensive line out of position in an attempt to create openings called gaps on the field for players like the running back to run through. Creating gaps can be the difference between a loss of yards and a huge gain of yards.

Notable NFL Centers

  • Jim Otto
  • Dwight Stephenson
  • Alex Mack
  • Chuck Bednarik
  • Mike Webster
  • Dermontti Dawson
  • Travis Frederick
  • Kevin Mawae

List of Football Positions

FAQ

Who are the best centers in NFL history?

Some of the top centers in the NFL’s history include Jim Otto of the Oakland Raiders, Dwight Stephenson of the Miami Dolphins, and Alex Mack, the most recent of these centers, of the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers. Otto and Stephenson are each Pro Football Hall of Famers, with Stephenson also included on the 1980’s All-Decade Team. Mack was one of the best centers in recent history and may accrue similar distinctions as time goes on. 

How much do centers get paid in the NFL?

As of 2021, the average salary for a center in the NFL is just over $2.3 million. That being said, the best centers in the league will often be paid more. For example, the top five highest centers in 2021 made an average of just under $12 million on the season. While other positions such as the quarterback will often receive a higher salary on any given team, there is certainly potential to be a high-paid player as a center in the NFL.

How big are NFL centers?

On average, a center in the NFL weighs over 300 pounds, and typically stands at taller than 6 feet. It is imperative that centers are both extremely strong and large in stature, as is the case with offensive linemen in general. This is due to the fact that they are defending the quarterback from defensive players who are also very heavy and tall. Nose tackles, for example, are typically quite large and powerful and are lined up directly opposite of the center.

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