Why Do Quarterbacks Lift Their Leg In Football? Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Before the quarterback receives the snap, he can often be seen lifting his leg up and down on the ground.

Quarterbacks will lift their legs in the air to signal to their center to snap the football. This is often called a leg cadence, as no verbal words are spoken. This type of cadence is typically used in loud stadiums where verbal cadences can’t be heard.

In this article, we will break down the 3 instances a quarterback will lift his leg.

Why Quarterbacks Lift Their Leg Before The Play Starts

Below are the reasons why the quarterback lifts his leg before the play starts.

Cadence To Snap The Ball

The most obvious use case is the quarterback lifting his leg before the snap is to signal to the center that he wants the football. The quarterback can often be seen lifting his front foot and then putting it back on the ground.

Looking between his legs, the center will see the foot go up and down and snap the football.

The leg lift is a great indicator for spread teams, especially in 10 personnel playing in a loud stadium.

Verbal cadences do not travel well; sometimes, they can hardly be heard by the offensive lineman 2-3 feet away from the quarterback. Using a simple leg lift will activate the center to snap the football.

If it’s a pass rush move, the lineman will react to the ball snap or the players rushing at them.

Wide receivers and running backs will react off the ball snap when the leg lift cadence is used.

It’s not the best solution, as verbal is more efficient, but improvisation in loud environments is best.

Fake Cadence

The leg lift is often used as a dummy cadence or a “fake” cadence. It essentially means that the quarterback is trying to fake the snap of the ball and forces the defense to show their coverage or blitz (if there is one).

The innovation of the spread game has forced defenses to cover the entire field. Teams will often show one look, then roll to another look.

For the quarterback to expose the defensive coverage, they must fake a snap count, let the defense disguise what they’re in, and then make the proper adjustments.

The quarterbacks to watch on Sundays who use the dummy cadence from time to time are Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

Teams may use one leg lift as a dummy cadence or even two leg lifts. Aaron Rodgers can be seen lifting his leg up and down multiple times before the play.

This may be the case if a team is changing the play once or twice before the snap of the football.

Hurry-up teams, or teams who move up-tempo, can be seen using multiple leg-lifts to put their offense in the perfect position to counteract the defense.

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Sending A Player In Motion

The final reason quarterbacks will lift their leg in the air and put it back on the ground is to send a player in motion.

This is all based on the offensive coordinator’s preference. Some coordinators will elect for the point or some hand signal to trigger a motion call.

If the quarterback is under center or shotgun, they will lift their leg to send a player in motion.

As some call it, the leg lift, or a back tap, is a simple way to send players in motion across the formation before the ball is snapped.

It helps younger/newer players identify the motion and get in the correct position at the youth level.

This type of motion is typically seen at the lower levels (high school and youth), as higher levels would use the leg lift to undress the defensive coverage.

Snap The Football In Loud Stadiums

One of the main reasons the leg lift is used as a cadence is for loud stadiums. Teams in college especially have stadiums packed with over 100,000 people in them.

It’s nearly impossible to hear a verbal cadence if you’re the away team playing in a stadium with that many people.

Coaches wear headsets to block out the noise; players need an alternative to the verbal cadence to block out the noise.

Their alternative is to use the leg lift or the hand wave to tell the center to snap the football.

Communication from quarterback to the center is one of the, if not the most important, communication to happen on the field.

Negative and game-changing plays happen when the ball is snapped either too early or at the wrong time.

Keep Learning

Learn more about the quarterback position by reading the articles below.

How To Play Quarterback In Football

Why Quarterbacks Slide When They Run

Quarterback Drops: 3,5,7 Step and Quick Game

Quarterback Communication Before The Ball Is Snapped

Quarterbacks can be seen lifting their legs in the air to signal the center to snap the football. This leg lift can also be used to fool the defense and fake the snap.

Teams have also used the leg to move a receiver across the formation or any movement.

Teams who run shotgun spread offenses are more likely to use the leg lift in their offense than teams under center.

It’s highly recommended that you have some non-verbal communication for the center to snap the football to the quarterback if you’re a team running a spread offense.

The last thing you want is to be in an important game, and the center cannot hear the quarterback.

If a quarterback’s voice doesn’t travel well, which is common among high school athletes, it’s important to have some non-verbal cadence installed.

This can be installed by having your center look through his leg, and the second he sees movement snaps the football.

Another way is for the center to look through his leg when he sees movement, reposition his body to get set, then snap the ball.

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If you were to implement the leg lift cadence, what would it be for?

If you already have the leg lift cadence in your offense, why do you use the leg lift cadence? Let us know in the comment section below!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.