Football 101: The Evolution of the Center Position

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Football 101: The Evolution of the Center Position
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Quarterback. Left Tackle. Wide Receiver. Running Back.

A list of offensive NFL positions that are sometimes viewed as glamorous positions by the media and fans because of their statistics or significance as a piece to the puzzle of a winning team, but what about the Center position?

Center?

Yes, Center.

Image courtesy of blitzology.blogspot.com.

The Center position has become one of the most valued positions in all of football because of how defense's play football. NFL defenses are utilizing the Fire Zone Blitz concepts, popularized by Dick LeBeau of the Pittsburgh Steelers, more than ever before, and what it does is create A gap (area between Center and Guards) pressure.

Because of this, Centers have seen an increase of responsibilities on plays, such as making protection calls, identifying potential blitzing defenders and understanding all possibilities of "games" (i.e. stunts, twists) executed by the defense—all of which can be a very difficult task to accomplish, especially if the defense is constantly in motion before the snap. 

NFL teams have changed their views of the Center position in recent times as the blocking schemes continue to go from the old school man blocking to zone (or "area") blocking.

The reason for this is because Centers are the key to a quality zone blocking scheme due to their aforementioned abundance of responsibilities. 

However, they also have to be able to get to the second level on a running play, for example, and block linebackers once a play-side or back-side teammate has picked up the defender that would usually come over the Center. 

It wasn't always like this though because decades ago, teams were mainly blocking with man schemes which had the Center block the defender who aligned across from him unless the nearby Guard to either side had no one to block which freed him up to help the Center.

In this sense, the game is somewhat similar to what it is today where it's primarily zone blocking, but it's a different kind of world for the Center position.

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In today's game, Centers don't necessarily have to be able to block mammoth "2-gap" nose tackles all on their own, although it is great if they can, but what's more important, in terms of physical skills, is that they have the athleticism to make blocks down the line of scrimmage with their agility and as previously mentioned, at the second level.

Moreover, they can also be of different sizes which is not always the case along the offensive line.

For over dozens of years, NFL teams have preferred shorter Centers because of their low center of gravity, but as of late, teams have taken in taller Centers and long as well as short armed athletes.

The Center position has seen the likes of small and short armed athletes such as Dan Koppen of the New England Patriots, to the taller and longer athletes like Andre Gurode of the Baltimore Ravens, while also having the tall and very athletic athletes like Mike Pouncey of the Miami Dolphins. 

The biggest reason for this is because teams are focusing in on the football intelligence of the player as they have to be able to identify all potential pressure packages a defense can present and adjust accordingly, such as the previously mentioned Fire Zone pressures that are commonly being used in the NFL.

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