How to Play Center in Football
Playing center is one of the most important positions on the offensive line in football. The center starts every play by snapping the ball to the quarterback. This may seem simple when watching on television because the quarterback is lined up directly behind the center, but it is anything but since the snap must be delivered with the correct amount of pressure and to the right spot. He must also block powerful defensive linemen and linebackers and alert the other linemen if he believes the defense is going to blitz the quarterback.
Learn the correct position while maintaining balance and an athletic position--one hand on the ground, one hand on the ball with knees bent and the body poised to go forward as soon as you snap it. Your head must be held up and you must be able to look at the entire defensive line and the linebackers so you can let your fellow linemen know what is going on. These "line calls" are quite vital when it comes to protecting the quarterback.
Snap the ball to the quarterback. He will either be directly behind you with his hands underneath your buttocks or he will be about 5 yards behind in the shotgun position. When he is lined up behind you, you must snap the ball quick and hard to the palm of his right hand (for a right-handed passer). This is where most quarterbacks prefer to receive the ball. You must work on this regularly in practice because a failed snap attempt results in either a fumble or a botched play.
Snap or pass the ball to the quarterback when he is lined up in shotgun position. This formation is designed to give the quarterback a better perspective when looking at or "reading" the opponent's defense. It also gives him a bit of a head start when he sets up in the pocket. Instead of merely lifting the ball to the quarterback's hands, you must now send him the ball via an accurate backwards pass. You will still have the same position as described in Step 1, but at the last instant you may lower your head so you can look between your legs and find the quarterback. This will help you snap the ball to him accurately. It is best if you can do this without looking, but many centers prefer to take that last glimpse before starting the play.
Attack the nose tackle or defensive tackle on a running play. You also have significant blocking responsibilities when blocking for the run. You need to position yourself and thrust your shoulder and forearms into his body with enough force to alter his position and help create a hole for the running back. This is very difficult since the defensive lineman is probably a bit bigger than you are and may be more athletic. Your advantage is that you know when the play will start and where you want to block him.
Block all oncoming pass rushers that you can neutralize. You must give ground after snapping the ball, taking two or three steps back before holding your position and setting up along with the other offensive linemen to protect the quarterback. As pass rushers come storming in to try to sack the quarterback or deflect a pass, you must block them and keep them out of the area the quarterback needs to throw from. This area is called the pocket.
Watch game films of your opponents so you know their tendencies when trying to get to the quarterback or when they try to stop the run.
Keep your head up when you block or you could suffer a serious neck injury.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.