What He Said : 50’s the Mike

football, basics, mike

Here’s yet another new feature for the 2013 season: What He Said, an explanation of something that is routinely said during game broadcasts either by announcers or players. Today we’re talking about something that is said prior to every snap of the football, either by the center or the quarterback.

You’ve probably seen this situation: The offense lines up at the line of scrimmage, and right before the ball is snapped someone is pointing to defenders and yelling out, “50’s the Mike! 50’s the Mike!”(Note: The number of the player isn’t always 50; that’s just a common example.) That’s an important part of every offensive play, and our good friend Brian Billick is back to help us learn why that is.

There’s a whole bunch of football jargon in here, but don’t worry; we’re going to break it down completely afterward! Let’s get started!

For starters, the player being identified (in most cases) is the Mike, or middle linebacker, and the point of calling him out is to call out protection assignments for the play.

First we start with a simplified version of how this works: In a 4-3 front, each of the offensive lineman except the center are usually assigned to block the defender directly in front of them. Calling out the Mike on defense tells the center and the other offensive blockers (running backs, tight ends) who they are responsible for picking up.

But defenses are rarely that simple. In the video, Coach Billick talked about a situation in which the strong safety sneaks down into the box. That changes things, because now the safety is going to rush the quarterback like a linebacker. So instead of picking up the middle linebacker, the center will shift to the right and pick up the right side of the defense and the strong safety with help from the other linemen on the right side. The running backs (or other offensive blockers) will also shift their protections on the other side (or “back side” – the side opposite of where the action is coming from) of the play based on his film study and what he reads from the cornerback and linebackers.

All of the shifts in protection are based on two factors: a) what the offense reads on the field, and b) film study of how the defense usually acts in any particular look. Both sources of information are equally important in making protection calls at the line of scrimmage.

So next time you hear that someone is the Mike, you’ll know that he’s not involved in any sort of announcing or karaoke endeavor or just the guy on the other team named Mike; he’s the key to how to offense is going to shift their protection.

Got it?

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