What Does Calling An Audible Mean In Football?

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If you’re not quite brushed up on your American football terms, it’s easy to feel somewhat confused when someone says the word ‘audible. Indeed, I’ve seen this so often throughout the course of my career, accidentally catching people when referring to the audible protocol, without even meaning to!

Like pretty much any special term in football, NFL audible calls can be hard to nail down. Given the precise nature of the game, it can often sound as if we enlightened minds (well, those who think they are enlightened) are talking in a different language entirely. 

So, What Is An Audible?

An audible football play is a specific verbal code in which the quarterback relays his desire for the team to change the play from the line of scrimmage. They are mostly called when the quarterback has seen the defensive team have slipped into a position from which they can instigate a counter. 

Clearly, it’s not quite that simple (hence why you’re reading this article, I suppose), and American football is nothing without nuances of terms. 

How would someone call an audible play?

Given the frantic nature of the scrimmage with lots of bodies flying everywhere, quarterbacks are usually paid top dollar because of their ability to see things not wholly apparent to the untrained eye. 

Indeed, it is vitally important to remember that football is just as much a mental battle as a physical fight

With that in mind, hand signals you’ve crafted through hours and hours on the coaching field go out of the window. In order to get the point across, the quarterback must rely on something far more rustic. 

So, they will be expected to SHOUT an audible football play in order to capitalize on the opposing team’s defensive mishap.

What do they shout?

Here’s where it gets really interesting. 

Obviously, the key part to quarterback audible calls is how they disguise the play they have in their mind. If they were to belt out what they were going to do, that would risk giving the entire game away and affording the opponents time to reconfigure their shape, so there has to be a code-like element to their instruction

So they rely on how well a team has been coached. Needing to get a point across quickly, there might be a codename for a specific play, with the mere mention of that particular word enough to get their team’s collective ducks in a row. 

Examples of football audible calls:

  • Jared Goff shouting Elvis or Rick Flair
  • Peyton Manning screaming Omaha 
  • Quick Ace, Scat, Zoom, and Buzz have all been used too (individually, of course) 

Who would call them?

It’s pretty much down to your resident quarterback to call an audible

As they are fairly dramatic circumstances, with an eagle-eyed player catching teams out, there isn’t really another chance for someone to call an audible, even if coaches and coordinators are screaming all manner of other instructions. 

Boasting the knowledge of deciding what audible to call when at the drop of a coin is exactly why they are usually so highly paid. They have the killer instinct, so trust your quarterback here; it is of the utmost importance. 

When would they call them?

A quarterback audible would usually be called when they notice something in the defensive team’s up that they can exploit

Should the opponent fail to carry out their game-plan, gaps may emerge in the traffic of the scrimmage, leading to an audible play. 

Elsewhere, there might be a situation where the defending team would try and catch the attacking team out. Indeed, if they opt to take a different approach to what they usually do and try to spring a surprise, an audible might be called in order to get the quarterback’s team back on track, switching from one play to another. 

The Benefits of an audible

So, as you can see, audibles are made in quick moments when a tactical development might lead to marginal gains

Certainly, the benefits are numerous. They disguise what the attacking team are doing and lead to exciting switches in plays, delighting spectators and sending commentators into meltdown. 

Along with that, there are other reasons to call audibles. Though the main point of them being to exploit problems, don’t feel as if that’s the only reason to SHOUT AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS. 

They can prevent your quarterback from being sacked due to the fact the player holding the ball will now be able to aim for a specific runner the defending team may not have picked up so well; you can avoid that happening. 

Basically, they allow the quarterback to make split-second decisions to do what they do best. Treat them as a quarterback’s best friend.

NFL audible rules

Much like any football term, it’s worth looking towards what the official line from the NFL is on audibles. 

Well, the beauty of these is that there aren’t any official rules. You can pretty much shout anything, within reason, of course. You basically need to come up with the terms on the practice field, getting your players to understand what is required of them as soon as the word leaves your quarterback’s mouth. 


Coach’s tip: Use short words. This sounds a little obvious, granted, but you need something short and snappy while memorable enough to have your whole team on the same page within milliseconds. 

‘Elvis’ and ‘Rick Flair’ are great examples. In my experience, I like to use place names such as ‘Canada’ or ‘Detroit,’ something lacking in my syllables but being clear enough to resonate. 

It’s essential they are clear and concise.  

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Defensive Audibles

If you’ve been paying attention to the article so far, you’ll have gleaned that audibles are usually connected to attacking plays. 

However, they aren’t limited to only that phase of the game. 

Indeed, these are largely reaction-based, however. Any coach worth their salt would have prepared their defensive players for all manner of outcomes and, while the practice is pretty much the same, the situations are entirely different. 

If the offensive team is trying to throw you, a good defensive audible will get those blockers into a specific shape designed to counter what they are doing. So, should the opposing quarterback shout an audible, it’s up to the defensive team to SHOUT their own term to get their ducks in a row accordingly. 

Like with the other set of audibles, the most effective terms are clear and concise. Ideally, one syllable, the relevant players will know EXACTLY what to do when it is called, and the defensive will get organized within milli-seconds. 

Somewhat like an archaic battle cry, they’re amazing to watch and when done correctly. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the defense yell ‘hut’?

Sadly (if you’re in the defensive team, of course), the initiative is against you here. 

When the quarterback is going to shout ‘hut’ on the snap, the defensive team cannot get involved. It’s just bad sportsmanship. 

What is the base word for audible?

If you’re a history buff (like me), you’ll probably be interested to know that the base word for an audible comes from the Latin word ‘audire.’ 

Basically, that means to hear. Go on, impress your friends with that kind of knowledge.

What does ‘make an audible’ mean?

This is the crux of it, isn’t it? 

Effectively, to call an audible is to relay a change in strategy as quickly as possible. 

What is an example of when an audible is called?

Imagine a quarterback has planned to start to instigate a running play, but, at the last second, they notice that the opposing defense is starting to blitz, effectively rushing the quarterback and closing down passing lanes. 

In that event, they might want to call audible to quickly change tactic and give them another option from which to choose. 

Football Audible - Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Phew, we got there in the end. 

It’s vitally important to remember that audibles are used as a last resort to quickly change an approach when the quarterback notices something that might benefit their team

They are made on a split-second basis and used to try and catch the opposition out. While they can be used in defensive set-ups, audibles are largely a quarterback’s remit, hence why their salaries are usually so ridiculously high!

The best football audibles will be short and sharp, with the work put in on the training field quickly coming into practice as soon as they are mentioned. 

Clearly, audibles are useless without intense coaching. Throughout the week before a game and during the entirety of the off-season, good coaches will be drilling their sides in all sorts of tactics and preparing for multiple different outcomes, looking to give the quarterback options. 

From there, they can call an audible when the situation dictates. 

Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Brad Smith has been coaching high school Football for 6 years in Florida. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children who he hopes will become the first Jaguars to win a Superbowl. Other than Football, Brad loves American litterature, parenting, gardening, and home remodeling.