Making The Right Calls

When a quarterback steps up to the line of scrimmage and scans the defense, the decision to either audible or continue with the set play falls upon his shoulders. At BYU, that responsibility doesn't just fall upon the shoulders of the quarterback.

In a program that utilizes the passing game as much as BYU does, the quarterback has to have a few things going for him. For starters, he has to be smart in order to understand the intricacies of each player's role within each and ever single offensive play.

He has to be able to gauge the intent of various defensive formations and calculate how their offensive play calls will succeed against it in less than 25 seconds.

He has to be able to make split-second decisions among the blur of speedy athletes, and calculate within a fraction of a second which option within the play will result in the most success.

On top of these mental capacities, a quarterback has to have the unique physical abilities that, through the rigors of tough competition, grant him the right to be the starting quarterback. These unique combinations are why so few are given the job. It's a high risk, high reward combination.

However at BYU, the quarterbacks can rest assured they're not alone in their unique abilities and responsibilities.

"First of all, if you know our offense you will know that the center makes the calls according to the defense," said senior Sete Aulai. "Usually at other colleges the quarterbacks make the call, but here it's me."

According to Aulai, this specific check down was given to the centers after Coach Grimes entered the program.

"First of all it started with Grimes, I guess," Aulai said. "Coach Grimes wanted to put it on us [offensive linemen] or us as centers. We are the ones that assess what is going on up front and it places more responsibilities on us to protect the quarterbacks."

When Coach Crowton was the head coach at BYU, the added responsibility of accounting for the offensive line blocking scheme fell upon the shoulders of the quarterback. Recently, this responsibility has been delegated over to the center position, making it easier for the quarterbacks.

"When Coach Crowton was here John [Beck] was making all the o-line audibles," said Aulai. "Back then the o-line wouldn't do anything, but last year I started making all the calls, which puts the responsibility on me and helps the quarterbacks."

At BYU the center has to possess much of the same intellectual attributes as the quarterbacks. They have to be able to recognize defensive formations and evaluate what they're objective is.

The center also has to understand their own offensive objective based on their play call, and evaluate how it will or will not succeed based on the defensive formation. Then, they must make the right call.

"There are things that give away what the defense is doing," said Aulai. "You just have to recognize those things and make the right calls. Usually when I change the call it comes after I look at the safeties. Sometimes the two safeties give it away."

An example of how the safeties can give away the intentions of the defense is when a strong safety steps up closer behind a linebacker while the free safety covers over the top. This simple action by the strong safety can signal that a linebacker is going to blitz, and the encroaching safety has stepped up to cover the middle in his place.

"I'll make the calls to let everyone know what I see and for them to make sure they cover that side based on what the potential of the defense is," Aulai said. "Usually the safeties give it away."

The audible the center calls does have its limitations, however. The audible doesn't change the entire play call, but rather just the blocking assignments of the offensive line to provide maximum protection for the quarterback during passing plays.

"The calls come on passing plays," Aulai said. "That's usually when I'll change the pass protection calls. I'll also do it on runs when I see certain things to let the o-line know what's going on. We have a call for everything that happens, but usually the audible calls come on passing plays after I see what the defense is doing."

During a full contact scrimmage session, Sete Aulai scanned BYU's "swarm" defense and called out to the other linemen the blocking scheme. The alarm raised his fellow o-linemen's attention and when the defense responded as suspected, they were ready.

While watching the event unfold from the sideline, the action of the o-line caught Coach Weber pleasantly off-guard.

"Yeah, it caught Coach Weber by surprise," said Aulai, chuckling. "He's had a center that's done that before but he said he hasn't seen a center change the calls like I do. It caught him by surprise and he complemented me on that. He said he liked it and likes having that responsibility be on the center, especially since we have a veteran offensive line and some young quarterbacks.

"It's better this way for me as a center because I learn and grow as a player, and it's better for the offense as a whole. It's better for the quarterbacks because now they have one less thing they have to worry about, and can be more focused on other things that's going on. Now that I know this offense better, it's much easier for me and I can do these things much better."

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