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What is the Pocket in Football? (Full Explanation)

By Coach Martin | Football Basics

what-is-the-pocket-in-football

The pocket is a term that's thrown around a lot when you watch football games.

It's a way to describe an area of the field that forms around the quarterback on passing plays.

The pocket isn't a set space on the field, as it is something that changes and molds based on the specific play.

But while it is a term that is used to describe a non-linear space, it has a direct effect on how quarterbacks are taught, how they play, how they react, and also on some rules of the game.

Let's take a closer look at what the pocket in football is and what effects it has on the game.

What is the Pocket on Football?

The pocket is something that may be hard for the untrained eye to spot live as a game is going on, but if you were able to pause video of the game and draw on the TV screen, it would be clear to see.

On passing plays following the snap of the ball, the offensive line will create what will look like an upside-down U to protect him from rushing defenders.

This U-shape that is formed not only protects the quarterback from defenders, but it gives him a protected area on the field from which to find an open receiver and make a throw.

The most effective way of pass blocking for offensive linemen is for them to drop back into the backfield instead of just holding ground in a straight line down the line of scrimmage.

This gives them more time and space to successfully execute their blocks and more leeway should a defender start to make a move past them.

The way it happens is the linemen will bend along a U-shaped curve.

The offensive tackles -- who are the outter-most linemen in a traditional five-man line -- will slide back and form the outside of the pocket.

They will often slide back about four to seven yards into the backfield, depending on the play and their style.

They will form what's known as the “tackle box”.

The offensive guards will follow suit, but they'll drop back roughly about half the distance that the tackles do.

Many times, the guards will be responsible for not only blocking any defensive tackles rushing directly opposite them, but also picking up additional rushers such as linebackers who try to force their way through the interior of the line.

The center, meanwhile, will drop back only slightly, keeping his head up to see where his help is needed.

His primary responsibility is often the middle linebacker (Mike).

If the Mike doesn't rush, the center will help the guards block.

This is how the U-shaped pocket is formed around the quarterback.

Again, the offensive tackles are responsible for creating the outside of the pocket.

How deep they drop will depend on the particular play that is called.

Longer passing plays often require the quarterback to drop back further, which will then call for the offensive tackles to set a deeper pocket.

football tackle

How the Pocket Relates to Football Rules

While the pocket isn't a defined area on the field in terms of a set number of yards or certain yard markers, it still has a direct effect on certain rules of the game.

For instance, the intentional grounding rule is related directly to the pocket.

This rule states that if a quarterback stands within the area of an established pocket, he's not allowed to throw a pass that doesn't have a realistic shot of being caught.

This prevents the quarterback from simply throwing the ball out of bounds to avoid being sacked, for example, as long as he's in this pocket.

This rule requires the referee to see the established tackle box and pocket, and then determine whether the quarterback is still within that pocket if he throws the ball away.

If he is, the referee will throw a flag and call an intentional grounding infraction.

That infraction will result in a loss of yardage and a loss of down, or will result in a safety if it is done inside the quarterback's own end zone.

A quarterback can throw the ball away to avoid a sack, though, if he is outside of the tackle box and, therefore, outside the pocket.

Terms Related to the Pocket

When you are watching a game of football, you may hear a few terms that are related to the pocket.

First…

“Pocket Collapse”

This refers to if the offensive line protection doesn't hold up, with defenders getting inside the pocket.

When this happens, a quarterback will be forced to improvise, in most cases, to either get outside the pocket and make a throw, or to run with the football.

Once the quarterback leaves this zone, he'll be considered outside the pocket, which, again, is when the intentional grounding rule won't apply.

“Stepping up in the Pocket"

This is what happens when the quarterback either slides straight forward to give himself more room in the pocket, or simply steps up to make a throw.

The pocket can actually narrow from the outside offensive tackles if defenders are making their way inside, so the quarterback may simply step up in the pocket where there is more room.

"Pocket Presence"

This refers to the awareness and instincts a quarterback has while he is within the pocket.

A quarterback with good pocket presence can sense when defenders are getting closer to him without having to move his head to actually see it happening.

Quarterbacks with good pocket presence will be able to make adjustments on the fly to complete passes as defenders rush in.

Conclusion

The pocket in football may seem like an imaginary area on the field, but it has a huge effect on how the game is played.

Offensive linemen will be taught to create a pocket around the quarterback to protect him on passing plays, and quarterbacks will be taught how to operate within that pocket to give himself a better chance of completing throws.

In addition, the intentional grounding rule is based completely around this pocket, with restraints in place as to what a quarterback can and can't do with the football when he's deemed inside the pocket.

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