What Is an Audible in Football?

Football plays
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When a football team's offense is ready to run a play but decides at the last second to change what it's going to do, it calls an audible at the line of scrimmage. An audible (pronounced ô'de-bul) is a verbal instruction that can slightly change the predetermined play, or completely scrap it for something else. A quarterback often calls an audible when he doesn't like how the offensive play that was called matches up with the defensive formation.

When and Where to Audible

As the offensive and defensive lines get set at the line of scrimmage, where the ball rests after the last play was completed, the offense gets its first look at what a defense plans to do. If a defense is going to blitz or put extra pressure on the offense, a quarterback will often recognize this right as the teams line up, and if the called play leaves him or the running back vulnerable to the rushing defenders, he'll call an audible. If the quarterback sees a hole in the defensive formation he might be able to exploit, he might also call an audible to best take advantage of the way the defense is lined up.​

Who Is Involved in an Audible?

A quarterback might be the one to call an audible, but every member of an offense needs to be in on the action. The offensive linemen need to know what play they are blocking for, the running backs need to know if they are getting the ball or serving as extra blockers or possible receivers, and the receivers need to know what routes they are running. The only players not in on the audible play are the defenders -- unless they can tell what's about to happen.

How an Audible Is Called

Every team has its own language for calling plays, including audibles because teams don't want their opponents to be able to understand what plays are being called. Audibles, also called check offs, can start with the generic shout of "check" and then the play call, because it's pretty obvious that an audible is being called no matter what term is used to call it -- when a quarterback gets to the line of scrimmage and starts hollering at his teammates, everyone knows an audible is in play. What that play is, though, is hidden by the language the team uses to call it.

Audible Allowance

Not every quarterback is given the freedom to call audibles when he sees fit. Correctly changing an offensive play requires a superb ability to read defenses and anticipate movement, so quarterbacks must prove themselves before earning the allowance to audible. Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady all earned the trust of their coaches and used their field vision and knowledge of the game to master when to call an audible.