Football Knowledge: Playcalling Nomenclature, Etymology And Other Big Words

Knowledge is power. - Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Stupid question...

[They ARE a core competency of mine after all...]

This has kinda been nagging at me and I've gotta' just bite the bullet and ask the question...

The football-knowledgeable around here throw around the terms: "X Receiver", "Y Receiver" and "Z Receiver"...

/slowly slinks under bed in anticipation of how embarrassing this question is about to be...

Did the game console controller button labels pattern themselves after that nomenclature, or did it just become common practice to refer to the receivers as a result of peoples familiarity with the controllers and the associated positions? Or is there no relationship whatsoever and I should shut up and chew on my favorite shoe?

Capt Ron answers:

Terrific question! XYZ has been around for decades to help with two key elements...

1. It designates the formation of the WRs so that the WRs and QB know exactly where they will be lined up.
2. It simplifies the play call order with respect to routes.

It has to do with basic receiver lettering. You have X, Y, Z, R, and H, although it can vary depending on the team. In a pro set with two receivers, tight end, two backs, the X is the split end and the Z is the flanker. This means that the X lines up on the line of scrimmage on the open side opposite the tight end (as a "split end"). He is not covering another receiver. The Z, or the flanker, lines up on the tight end side and has to be a yard off the line for the formation to be legal, otherwise the tight end is ineligible.

Once you go into a spread or single back formation, things change. The slot receiver becomes "R" where R was the fullback, it’s now the slot. You can also have Y tight end in a pro set become the slot or a WR as the Y slot. This helps with pass play calling as well. Some teams, mostly in collegiate and high school football, use route trees and route numbers for play calls. So you might hear a play such as "Spread right, Z zoom, 821 H-swing on two." Knowing what you know now, the play call should make a lot more sense. Spread right is the alignment, Z zoom is the motion, 821 are the pass routes in the order of "XYZ." So X runs an 8, Y runs a 2, and Z runs a 1. H-swing tells you what the H man runs – the running back or often the "H" back in two tight end sets out of the backfield.

NFL play calling is far more complex though, especially the Bill Walsh fashioned West Coast Offense variants like the Texans run. But the above example helps explain the simplicity and origin of X, Y, Z for receiver references.

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