A route in football is a specific path that a receiver will follow in order to get open for a pass from the quarterback. Routes have the purpose of creating separation from defenders. Wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs can all be given the assignment of running a route on a passing play.
At almost all levels of football, the routes offensive players run will be determined before the play is started. Each player will already know where they are running and how many steps they need to make before making their cut.
The quarterback is responsible for knowing the routes of all receivers so that he can throw to them accurately.
How routes work in football
Routes in football are only run on plays in which the quarterback is going to attempt a forward pass. On plays in which the offense rushes the ball the players who usually run routes will be given blocking responsibilities.
On offensive plays routes will be planned according to one another. Two players will never run a route to the same location on the field. The routes of the receivers will usually be based on the intended receiver.
On passing plays, there will be one player who the quarterback is planning on throwing to. If the receiver is covered then the quarterback will look to the other routes on the field.
For this reason, the routes of the non-intended receivers will be made with the intended receiver’s route in mind.
Oftentimes this means routes will be run on the same side of the field but at different depths.
This way if the intended receiver is covered the quarterback can see other receiving options without turning to the other side of the field.
Sending multiple players to one side of the field can also make it more difficult for the defense to keep them covered.
Running the route itself
Now that you have an understanding of what routes look like in football you may want to know more about running routes.
To start a route there is often going to be a defender near the line of scrimmage. Typically the receiver will have to work their way past the defender to get their route started this is referred to as a release.
Once the receiver gets his route started he will travel with speed to the area where he will cut.
A cut is one of the most important aspects of a route as this is where you will change direction.
The cut on a route allows the receiver to achieve separation from the defender. On many routes, the quarterback will throw the ball immediately after the receiver cuts as this is often when they have the most separation.
Almost every route in football has a cut and some longer developing routes have two cuts.
After making the cut the receive will accelerate in their new direction. Against man coverage, this can create separation by catching the corner off guard or simply beat them via speed and agility.
In zone coverage cuts allow receivers to move unpredictably across the field in hopes of finding themselves open between two zones.