Cowboys rolling with pared down calls

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
2:00
PM ET
OXNARD, Calif. -- When Wade Wilson left the Dallas Cowboys for the Oakland Raiders in 1998 he had 17 years of NFL experience as a quarterback.

When he got to Oakland he had a problem he never really had before -- he could not call a play. Jon Gruden’s system was so verbose that Wilson became tongue tied.

“That’s all West Coast terminology, which I had never had,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘What the heck are you talking about?’ I can visualize the concept but the hardest part of it was calling the play. I knew the play. I could run it 100 times but under different verbiage.”

Former Cowboys quarterback Brad Johnson once recalled a Gruden play that was 33 words long. Try relating that in the huddle without the benefit of a wrist band.

Wilson said one of changes new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan has brought was to pare down the words Tony Romo needs to relay in the huddle.

The Cowboys use a lot of code or buzz words that tell everybody what to do much in the same way the New England Patriots have done the last couple of seasons and what the Philadelphia Eagles will do with Chip Kelly as coach.

“The longer it is, the tougher it is to get it called at the line of scrimmage, but some plays we have some verbiage to it,” Linehan said. “But we try to keep it to a minimum so we can get to the huddle and get to the line of scrimmage; sometimes get to the line of scrimmage and run some plays right away. That’s one way of limiting terminology.”

The Cowboys have used a number system to call pass routes since Jason Garrett arrived in 2007. Bill Parcells’ offense used more words than numbers. Linehan said he has a blend of numbers and words.

But the hurry-up offense teams use on a more regular basis now means there could be a one-word play, similar to how basketball plays are run. A simple ‘thumbs up’ in basketball tells everybody what to do, whereas in football all of the moving parts required multiple words and phrases to make sure 11 players were on the same page.

“It’s making its way here,” Linehan said of the one-word play calls. “We’re doing it some. I think everybody in the league goes some. It enables teams to play with that tempo and pace.”

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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