Sports 101

Welcome to Sports 101. It's a new column for you who appreciate the wonder of sports, but want to learn more about the plays, the rules, the terminology.

Ready for today's topic? It's football, of course. Super Bowl XXXII is just hours away, so here are some questions to help prepare for The Big Game.

What is the role of the quarterback?

As the offensive leader, his job is to take the snap from the center and do one of three things: hand the ball to a running back, pass it to a receiver, or run with it himself. He also communicates each play to his teammates.

When a quarterback calls an "audible," what has he done?

He has shouted coded commands (numbers, colors, or letters) to his teammates to change the play. This happens at the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped.

During last month's NFL playoffs, the New England Patriots broke the Miami Dolphins' check-off codes. What does this mean?

Before each play, the quarterback scans the defense. If he doesn't like what he sees, he calls an audible. New England's defense managed to figure out Miami's audible changes before the ball was even snapped. That may have been critical. New England thrashed Miami 17-3.

What is a first down?

It's the first chance out of four that the offensive team has to advance 10 yards down the field. As soon as it gains those yards, it earns a new first down. Also known as first-and-10.

What is a linebacker's job?

He is one of several defensive players positioned about a yard behind the defensive line. He's responsible for backing up the defensive linemen on running plays. He also helps cover pass receivers downfield.

What is a nickel defense?

There are usually four defensive backs to protect against passes. In the nickel defense, a fifth defensive back replaces one of the linebackers.

Then what is a dime defense? A dime defense uses two extra defensive backs, for a total of six.

If an offensive player leaps into the air to catch a pass from his teammate and is thrown out of bounds by a defensive player before he hits the ground, would this be considered a complete pass?

It depends on whether you are talking about professional or college football. According to the NFL rulebook, a forward pass is complete when a receiver clearly possesses the pass and touches the ground with both feet inbounds while in possession of the ball. In cases where a receiver would have landed inbounds with both feet, but is pushed out of bounds while still in the air by a defensive player, the pass is still complete. In college ball, only one foot must be in bounds for a complete pass. It is ruled incomplete, however, when a player leaves his feet and receives the pass but lands on or outside the boundary line - even if he is pushed.

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