ITP Glossary: Cadence

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From bird dogging to robber technique, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.


Cadence refers to all of the verbal signals delivered by the quarterback before the start of the play. Cadence is not to be confused with snap count, which is the signal for the football to be snapped by the center. The snap count is merely one component of the quarterback’s cadence. Teams use cadence to adjust protection, shift, motion, call audibles, make play calls and even identify the coverage, which ends with the snap count and the snap of the ball.

This is a page from Gus Malhzan’s Tulsa playbook, outlining their cadence:


Malzhan builds in a color scheme to identify the playside and even the play style. The quarterback can also use a color, identified here as “red” to change the play at the line of scrimmage.

This is a page from the 2003 Arizona Wildcats’ offensive playbook, detailing their cadence:


The team uses a count, followed by two calls, and then the snap count. The “count” is built in for pre-snap shifts or motions. The color and number signals are used for their audible structure, and the snap count is delivered by the quarterback. As you can see, even the flow and rhythm of the calls and snap count are determined in the playbook.

Finally, here is the cadence and snap count procedure from Steve Spurrier and the 1995 Florida Gators:



This system builds in options for audibles and shifts, with color indicators for the audibles based on the new play type. Red means run, blue means pass. Spurrier also has four basic snap counts for the Gators: First sound, on 2, on 3 and on 4, and outlines the rules for each snap count. For example, the Gators would run plays “on 4” when the offense shifts into the shotgun formation. “On 3” was the snap count used to try and draw the defense offsides.

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Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

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