An illegal shift in football is one of those obscure penalties that gets called every now and again in the NFL. The trouble is, it is so infrequently called that fans usually don’t know what this infraction is called for.
An illegal shift in football can be called for three different reasons
- Two players go in motion and fail to be set for a full second before the ball is snapped.
- An eligible backfield player goes in motion before the other player(s) in motion come to a full stop, and fails to get set for a full second before the ball is snapped.
- A player behind or under center goes in motion and fails to get set for a full second before snapping the ball.
An illegal shift penalty is a dead ball foul and carries and a five-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage.
Understanding Shifts In Football And What Makes Them Illegal
The key to understanding illegal shifts in football is to first understand what a shift is. A shift in football occurs when two players go in motion at the same time.
In the NFL teams are allowed to shift multiple times prior to the snap on any play. The key is that the players involved in the shift need to get set for a full second prior to the ball being snapped.
If this weren’t the case it would incredibly difficult for defenders to adjust to the movements of the offense.
Giving the defense a full second to prepare helps to level the playing field for the offense and the defense.
Additionally, an illegal shift can be called against a team if the player under center goes in motion and fails to get set for a full second before snapping the ball. This play is determined an illegal shift because of the nature of who is in motion.
The player behind or under center is going to be the one that receives the snap to start the play.
If this player is in motion then receives the snap without being set it is going to be very hard on the defense to determine when the play is going to start.
For this reason, players under center must be set for a full second before the snap in order to avoid an illegal shift call.
Why Coaches Hate Illegal Shift Penalties
One of the reasons that coaches hate to get called for illegal shift penalties is because they are unforced errors.
These penalties are not a result of anything the defense did it is simply an error committed by the offense as they try to run their own play.
These plays are practised over and over again throughout each week. Teams are well aware of how illegal shift penalties work which means they will make sure they are not committing them in practice.
This makes this penalty especially frustrating to coaches because it is a simple error that can easily be avoided by the players.