A quarterback, along with the rest of the offense, gets the play signaled in from the sideline.
The quarterback oversees the defense, makes the proper play adjustment if necessary, delivers the cadence, be it verbal or otherwise, and then takes the shotgun snap and wings it if it’s a designed pass play.
Not that complicated, right?
Well, there’s another aspect of the process, and it’s part of the play signaled in from the sideline that can change along with the play. It’s the specific pass protection that will be used against the defense’s pass rush, and if there’s one thing that absolutely, positively must be tended to, it’s making sure it’s blocked properly, otherwise…
“If you can’t protect yourself, you can’t play, so that’s first and the most important thing -- being able to protect myself and going from there,” said Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire.
In Brian Kelly’s spread offense, it’s the quarterback that is responsible for adjusting the pass-protection scheme from the original protection signaled in. In some offenses, it’s the center, but that’s not the best way to handle it due to the style of offense Kelly prefers.
“The protections come in and we’re quarterback driven with our protection checks,” Kelly said. “Some offenses put it on the center to make those checks. We put a lot on the quarterback to answer that question.
“(The quarterback) can see the (defensive) rotation. He can see things that are a little more difficult. In a spread offense, it’s a lot more difficult for the center to see a corner firing or a safety tipping it off.
“If we were more of a pro style and we weren’t as spread, you could put a lot more of that on the center. But because we’re sideline to sideline, it makes it a little more difficult for the center to see that.”
The center still has protection-communication responsibilities.
“I give the fronts and calls, but I get it from the quarterback and relay it (to the offensive line),” said Irish center Nick Martin. “It’s on Malik with the protections. In a hurry-up situation, it’s a different front call. I can call it. But for the most part, it’s on the quarterback.”
Behind a combination of the coaching staff’s original front call, Zaire’s proper adjustments and an offensive line that formed a barrier around Zaire, Notre Dame had little trouble with the Texas pass rush. Zaire was sacked just once when Longhorn linebacker Peter Jinkens came of Notre Dame’s right edge (the left-handed Zaire’s blindside) and dumped the Irish quarterback for a 12-yard loss late in the first half. (Several of Texas’ nine tackles for loss came on Texas run blitzes.)
With a mobile quarterback at the helm, his feet can extricate him from bad decisions within the protection scheme or physical breakdowns up front. But no quarterback will have consistent success throwing the football if he can’t get his offensive line to shift from one protection to another when the defense has altered its pass rush.
“If they can’t protect themselves, they can’t get on the field,” said Kelly, obviously the originator of the phrase that Zaire so readily quotes. “That’s why it’s so crucial that the quarterback understands the protection first and foremost. Once they do, they can accelerate in the program.”
If a quarterback waits until game day and the heat of the battle to prepare his decision-making, it’s too late. There’s a lot of studying that goes on during the week.
“You’ve got to do your homework,” Zaire said. “You have to know what the defense is giving you. You’ve got to know what they want to do against you.
“When it comes to protections, you’ve got to be clean. Not everyone is going to be perfect. But if you can get them right most of the time, you have a chance to get the play off, go through your progressions and make plays.”