As the term "quarterback" gained acceptance in the 1930s, it originally referred to the player's position relative to other members of the offensive backfield. Before the emergence of the T-formation in the 1940s, all members of the offensive backfield were legitimate threats to run or pass the ball, and most teams used four offensive backs on every play: a quarterback, two halfbacks, and a fullback. The quarterback began each play a quarter of the way back, the halfbacks began each play side by side and halfway back, and the fullback began each play the farthest back. Now that most offensive formations have only one or two running backs, the original designations do not mean as much, as the fullback is now usually a lead blocker (technically a halfback), while the halfback or tailback (called such because he stands at the "tail" of the I) lines up behind the fullback.
Traditionally, quarterbacks have been responsible for calling the team's offensive plays based on the defense's formation, or game situation. To choose the proper play, quarterbacks often spend time rehearsing and studying prearranged plays during their team's practice sessions.
In recent years, the rise of offensive coordinators has led partiality toward a scripted game plan. The offensive coordinators and coaches usually give the quarterback information via a built-in headphone in the helmet as to what to do before the play. Quarterbacks are allowed to hear, but not talk to, their coaches until there are fifteen seconds left on the play clock. The quarterback then relays the information to teammates and executes the plays. When the players are set in a formation, the quarterback starts the play by calling out a code word, a number, or a combination of the two.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry was an early advocate of taking play calling out of the quarterback's hands. Although this remained a common practice in the NFL through the 1970s, fewer QBs were doing it by the 1980s and even Hall-of-Famers like Joe Montana did not call their own plays. Buffalo Bills QB Jim Kelly was one of the last to regularly call plays. Among current NFL QBs, Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos has been known to call all, or nearly all, of his team's plays using a no-huddle offense.
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