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Wednesday, August 29, 2007
QBs, O-linemen have the most to learn

By Elizabeth Merrill
ESPN.com

"Remember, don't panic."

The line comes at about the midway point of the 2004 Arizona Cardinals offensive playbook, in a section of two-minute drill coaching points. It says the quarterback needs to be aware of his situation, avoid being a hero, and go to a referee standing behind him if the team needs a timeout.

To the layman, this may be the only decipherable page in 300 turns.

NFL X's and O's

•  Want to know what's included in an NFL playbook? Here are 10 pages from the Arizona Cardinals' 2004 offensive and defensive playbooks obtained by ESPN.com. PDF large file

The 34 pinch, the 62 gap, the pinto triple. Base protections, scat protections, the naked right. Hey, Cardinals fans, wanna hear about the hound/fox? It's a seven-man play-action slide protection, and it has 18 diagrams that resemble Chinese.

So much for the stereotype that football players are dumb jocks.

"The intellectual ability of a player is only a fraction of what will ultimately determine his success," Redskins offensive coordinator Al Saunders said, "but it is a part of it. Obviously, the brighter somebody is, the better chance they have to go farther."

The first thing a rookie on the 2004 Cardinals team would see in his playbook, after the schedule, is a description of how to line up in the huddle. Seems basic enough. The center forms the huddle 7 yards from the ball, hands on knees. Ball, T, G, C, G, T and so on.

Next come the audible packages and colors and terms. A few pages along, it gets far more complex.

Block O on or off the LOS. Alert for NUDGE vs. Mike strong. If "1" technique to playside, make "GAP" call. Vs. Triple, drive block the NT. Center plus 3 alert for audible.

The good news is that the rookie isn't expected to memorize everything or know all 11 positions on the field. But a quarterback better have a good grasp of them. Offensive linemen, coaches say, have the second-hardest playbook cramming sessions. On defense, Chiefs coach Herm Edwards says, the linebackers must be quick studies.

Some offensive coordinators, such as Saunders, like to describe plays and formations with a decent chunk of text. The more information and explanation, the better.

The Cardinals' 2004 book, at least the version obtained by ESPN.com, is heavy on sketches and limited on words. But that's what classrooms are for. By the end of camp, veterans say, a rookie who wants to play should have a decent handle on his playbook. Sounds like a reason to panic.

Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.