Trends and other roles
In addition to their main role, quarterbacks are occasionally used in other roles. Most teams utilize a backup quarterback as their on placekicks. A benefit of using quarterbacks as holders is that it would be easier to pull off a fake field goal attempt, but many coaches prefer to use as holders because a punter will have far more time in practice sessions to work with the kicker than any quarterback would. In the Wildcat, a formation where a halfback lines up behind the center and the quarterback lines up out wide, the quarterback can be used as a receiving target or a blocker. A more rare use for a quarterback is to punt the ball himself, a play known as a quick kick. Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway was known to perform quick kicks occasionally, typically when the Broncos were facing a third-and-long situation. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, an All-America punter in college, was also known to punt the ball occasionally, and was assigned as the team's default punter for certain situations, such as when the team was backed up inside their own five-yard line.
As Roger Staubach's back-up, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White was also the team's punter, opening strategic possibilities for coach Tom Landry. Ascending the starting role upon Staubach's retirement, White held his position as the team's punter for several seasons—a double duty he performed to All-American standard at Arizona State University. White also had two touchdown receptions as a Dallas Cowboy, both from the halfback option.
If quarterbacks are uncomfortable with the formation the defense is using, they may call an audible change to their play. For example, if a quarterback receives the call to execute a running play, but he notices that the defense is ready to —that is, to send additional defensive backs across the line of scrimmage in an attempt to tackle the quarterback or hurt his ability to pass—the quarterback may want to change the play. To do this, the quarterback yells a special code, like "Blue 42," or "Texas 29," which tells the offense to switch to a specific play or formation, but it all depends on the quarterback's judgment of the defense's alignment.
Quarterbacks can also "" (throw the football at the ground) to stop the official game clock. For example, if a team is down by a field goal with only seconds remaining, a quarterback may spike the ball to prevent the game clock from running out. This usually allows the field goal unit to come onto the field, or attempt a final "Hail Mary pass". However, if a team is winning, a quarterback can keep the clock running by kneeling after the snap. This is normally done when the opposing team has no timeouts and there is little time left in the game, as it allows a team to burn up the remaining time on the clock without risking a turnover or injury.
A dual-threat quarterback possesses the skills and physique to run with the ball if necessary. With the rise of several blitz-heavy defensive schemes and increasingly faster defensive players, the importance of a mobile quarterback has been redefined. While arm power, accuracy, and pocket presence – the ability to successfully operate from within the "pocket" formed by his blockers – are still the most important quarterback virtues, the ability to elude or run past defenders creates an additional threat that allows greater flexibility in a team's passing and running game.
Dual-threat quarterbacks have historically been more prolific at the college level. Typically, a quarterback with exceptional quickness is used in an option offense, which allows the quarterback to hand the ball off, run it himself, or pitch it to the running back following him at a distance of three yards outside and one yard behind. This type of offense forces defenders to commit to the running back up the middle, the quarterback around the end, or the running back trailing the quarterback. It is then that the quarterback has the "option" to identify which match-up is most favorable to the offense as the play unfolds and exploit that defensive weakness. In the college game, many schools employ several plays that are designed for the quarterback to run with the ball. This is much less common in professional football, except for a quarterback sneak, but there is still an emphasis on being mobile enough to escape a heavy . Historically, high-profile dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL were uncommon, Steve Young and John Elway being among the notable exceptions, leading their teams to three and five Super Bowl appearances respectively; and Michael Vick, whose rushing ability was a rarity in the early 2000s, although he never led his team to a Super Bowl. In recent years, quarterbacks with dual-threat capabilities have become more popular. Current NFL quarterbacks considered to be dual-threats include Russell Wilson and Josh Allen.
Some teams employ a strategy which involves the use of more than one quarterback during the course of a game. This is more common at lower levels of football, such as high school or small college, but rare in major college or professional football.
There are four circumstances in which a two-quarterback system may be used.
The first is when a team is in the process of determining which quarterback will eventually be the starter, and may choose to use each quarterback for part of the game in order to compare the performances. For instance, the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll used the pre-season games in 2012 to select Russell Wilson as the starting quarterback over Matt Flynn and Tarvaris Jackson.
The second is a starter–reliever system, in which the starting quarterback splits the regular season playing time with the backup quarterback, although the former will start playoff games. This strategy is rare, and was last seen in the NFL in the "WoodStrock" combination of Don Strock and David Woodley, which took the Miami Dolphins to the Epic in Miami in 1982 and Super Bowl XVII the following year. The starter-reliever system is distinct from a one-off situation in which a starter is benched in favor of the back-up because the switch is part of the game plan (usually if the starter is playing poorly for that game), and the expectation is that the two players will assume the same roles game after game.
The third is if a coach decides that the team has two quarterbacks who are equally effective and proceeds to rotate the quarterbacks at predetermined intervals, such as after each quarter or after each series. Southern California high school football team Corona Centennial operated this model during the 2014 football season, rotating quarterbacks after every series. In a game against the Chicago Bears in the seventh week of the 1971 season, Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry alternated Roger Staubach and Craig Morton on each play, sending in the quarterbacks with the play call from the sideline.
The fourth, still occasionally seen in major-college football, is the use of different quarterbacks in different game or down/distance situations. Generally this involves a running quarterback and a passing quarterback in an option or wishbone offense. In Canadian football, quarterback sneaks or other runs in short-yardage situations tend to be successful as a result of the distance between the offensive and defensive lines being one yard. Drew Tate, a quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders, was primarily used in short-yardage situations and led the CFL in rushing touchdowns during the 2014 season with ten scores as the backup to Bo Levi Mitchell. This strategy had all but disappeared from professional American football, but returned to some extent with the advent of the "wildcat" offense. There is a great debate within football circles as to the effectiveness of the so-called "two-quarterback system". Many coaches and media personnel remain skeptical of the model.
Teams such as USC (Southern California), OSU (Oklahoma State), Northwestern, and smaller West Georgia have utilized the two-quarterback system; West Georgia, for example, uses the system due to the skill sets of its quarterbacks. Teams like these use this situation because of the advantages it gives them against defenses of the other team, so that the defense is unable to adjust to their game plan.