Pre-Snap: The 25 Inputs a Quarterback Processes in 25 Seconds

Pre-Snap: The 25 Inputs a Quarterback Processes in 25 Seconds

There are less than 100 people in the world every year that play quarterback in the NFL. Within that 100, some of the elite quarterbacks command a $40 million+ salary. How can they command this massive amount? The simple answer is the supply is low, the demand is high and the NFL, as a business, has taken off. Why is the supply low then? Simply put, you need elite skill both physically and mentally.

Physically, you have to execute a complex biomechanical movement similar to a golf swing, while simultaneously avoiding 300 lb. giants and throwing to a wideout whose running 20 mph with a cornerback on his tail at the same speed.

Mentally, pre-snap, you process 25 inputs in 25 seconds and post snap, you are essentially are an F1 driver making a hard turn at Monaco, processing 22 moving parts in under three seconds. This post will solely focus on pre-snap and if interested in post snap you can read that here.

Caveat for Rules Experts: The NFL play-clock is 40 seconds after a play is completed and 25 seconds after a stoppage. The reason I disregard the 40 seconds and say 25 for every play is the following: when a player is tackled, the new play clock starts and it takes about 10-15 seconds for everyone to dust themselves off and get in the huddle.

The First Eight Things: Situational Awareness

  1. Process the Previous Play: You briefly mull on the outcome of the previous play, noting the coverage the defense ran and the blitz they brought.
  2. Checking Play Clock: You enter the huddle, peek the play clock and are constantly aware of this in the recesses of your mind, glancing at it when necessary, in order to avoid a delay of game.
  3. Down and Distance: You take note of whether it is 1st and 10 or 4th and 3, as you use this information to anticipate the coverage and make sure the offense is in the right play.
  4. Field Position: You recognize if you are inside your own 5 yard line so you do not take a safety or, in contrast, if in the normal field of play and can hold onto the ball longer because a sack is not as detrimental.
  5. Game Situation: You process in the recesses of your mind what the score of the game is and what quarter you are in so you know how urgent you need to operate.
  6. Crowd Noise: You listen to the crowd noise and adjust how loud you have to yell both the play call in the huddle and the cadence at the line of scrimmage so your teammates can hear you.
  7. Weather Conditions: You process in the back of your mind, how wet your hand is from weather or sweat, how dry the ball felt the previous snap from the cold or wind, etc.
  8. Pain: You notice the throbbing in your hand from smashing it on a helmet or the crack on your ribs from the previous week. You usually disregard this but if hit a certain way this can enter your mind pre-snap.

The Next 3 Things: The Huddle

  1. Understand the Play Call: You hear your coach via radio, communicating the play call. Sometimes there are multiple plays call for one play, so you can audible as needed. You visualize the call and step into the huddle.
  2. Communicating the Play Call: You look the players in the eyes as you recite what was just communicated in your helmet. You communicate the formation, any motions, the play and the snap count.
  3. Breaking the Huddle: The last two steps are rushed and you yell "ready break", you are still juggling in your mind all that was previously discussed in this article and starting to shift your attention to the defense.

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The Next 8 Things: Defensive Analysis

  1. Identify the Defensive Personnel: Are they in base, nickel, dime? This article explains these.
  2. Identify the Defensive Front: Are they in a Over Front? Under Front? Jam front? Knowing this, paired with your film study, helps you to anticipate the coverage and blitz.
  3. Identify the Linebacker's Alignment: Are they aligned in their normal gaps? Is a linebacker on the line of scrimmage? Are the bossed toward the safety? Again, this helps you anticipate coverage and blitz.
  4. Identify the Secondary's Alignment: Are they in two high, one high? Is a safety on my tight end? All of these things help you predict the coverage.
  5. Safety Depth: Are the safeties wide and deep? Are they pre-rotated down? Paired with film study, this helps you to predict the coverage.
  6. Identify the Corner's technique: Are they pressed? Are they off? Are they inside leverage or outside leverage?
  7. Identify Potential Blitzers: Is the nickel pressed with a safety behind him? Is a linebacker leaning on his toes? All this helps you get the pass protection right and audible to a better play against the blitz.
  8. 12 Men on the Field: It's rare, but sometimes you'll notice the defense has made a substitution error and have one extra player on the field. You get a free play to throw it deep if you snap it (a la Aaron Rodgers) as you use a code word to snap it early.

The Next 4 Things: Using Cadence and Audibles

  1. Cadence: You use your first cadence and are observing the defense simultaneously. A nickel flinches on your hard count so you know you need to make an adjustment.
  2. Audibles: You called two plays in the huddle and when that nickel flinches, the first play is bad. You audible to the second play, alerting everyone both verbally and with a visual signal.
  3. Offensive Line Adjustments: You change the Mike ID for the run protection or pass protection as needed.
  4. Motions: This step could have occurred before your first cadence, but you send the wideout in motion with your hand or foot. You use the motion to gather information about the defense and potentially give your wideout better leverage.

The Final 2 Things

  1. Final Coverage Assessment: Your nearing the end of your cadence and you have made all the adjustments, the defense may have fooled you and disguised something. You take a final snapshot of the defensive picture and prepare to react accordingly.
  2. Final Cadence: You roll through the last part of your cadence. The ball is snapped and now you are an F1 driver with two to three seconds before you get hit by Aaron Donald.


In summary, the quarterback's pre-snap responsibilities unfold at a rapid pace. While we've detailed 25 considerations, I'm likely leaving some out—there's always more being processed, often on auto-pilot. This blend of active decision-making and passive, instinctual reactions is honed through thousands of repetitions. With experience, what starts as a deliberate analysis becomes second nature, a testament to the mental agility and adaptability required of those who play the position. This intricate dance of processing ability and physical skill is what makes the position so hard and why the few that are elite at both, are lauded with praise.

If you're interested in learning how to train, develop, and perform like an NFL Quarterback, join the waitlist at If you're interested in reading more posts on all things quarterbacking and throwing biomechanics, subscribe to the blog.