Football Pro Tips: Practicing the Play-Action Pass

Use these football training tips to brush up on your fake outs. Dupe your opponents and create wide-open scoring opportunities downfield by selling each fake and deception.

Sleight of hand doesn’t have to be just for magicians.

Designed to force the opposing defense into a run-stop position, the play-action pass can help open a throwing lane for you to connect with your receiver down the field. A successful play-action scheme can also lead to more successful running plays over the course of a game, when defenses become so confused that they can’t determine whether you’re running or passing the ball.

A play-action pass can be valuable to add to your offensive scheme, and it all starts with a crisp and convincing fake. High school coaching veteran and founding member of Heads Up Football Chris Merritt says that the play-action fake relies on hand placement and selling the deception. His team practices play-action fakes in every training session in order to perfect the movements.

“We want to make sure that our quarterback and our running backs give the best play-action fake they can possibly give in order to hold the defense,” Merritt says. “That makes our run game stronger, as well as our [overall] passing game stronger.”


Before putting a poker face on your offensive play-calling, you should get your feet going in the right direction — meaning you need to understand the different types of play-action plays at your disposal. According to Merritt, there are three different types of play-action fakes that a quarterback can use to fool the defense and find an untouched receiver in the open field:

  • INTERIOR RUN: The quarterback fakes a handoff to the running back simulating an inside run. This forces linebackers to swarm up front, leaving the middle of the field open for a deep ball attempt.
  • BOOTLEG: The quarterback fakes a handoff to the running back, rushing laterally in one direction. With the ball still in hand, the quarterback will tail off in the opposite direction, or “bootleg,” finding an open receiver in the flat or downfield.
  • PERIMETER SCREEN: The quarterback fakes a quick handoff to the running back rushing inside. This forces the defense to commit to the run, leaving a screening receiver enough time on the edge to make the catch and get upfield.

Merritt says that, naturally, these fakes are only effective if you plan to run them in your offensive scheme come game time. “We want to influence the defense in order to get them to flow one way while you’re getting ready to throw the ball the other direction.”


Once you’ve studied the various types of play-action fakes and narrowed down which movements to use in your offensive scheme, practicing the play-action fake is simple. To train these fake handoffs and passing plays, you can briskly walk through each setup from snap to pass completion, progressing in speed as you become more comfortable with each step. Merritt says it’s important for the quarterback and running back to exaggerate through each handoff and fake. “Because when we get into a live game situation, we want this fake to be so effective that the defense that we’re playing against does not know who has the football or where it’s going.”

Merritt notes that each position should have a key focus when walking through these play-action plays.

For quarterbacks, the primary focus should be on hand placement. According to Merritt, you should extend and show the football when receiving the snap, and when you go to make the handoff, your hands are either both on the ball or a free hand is tucked closely into your stomach. “We don’t want a hand to be off to the side that shows any defenders from behind that you do not have or do have the football,” Merritt says.

For running backs, the focus should be on following through each run, even when you don’t have the ball in your possession. “Make sure that when we don’t have the ball that we simulate the hand action that we do have the ball,” Merritt says. “We don’t want to break that hand action until we’ve taken a good three-, four-, five-yard sprint simulating that we have the football in order to execute a great fake.”

Learning how to execute a play-action pass can help strengthen your team’s offense and give better shots at the end zone through crisp fakes and open passing lanes. Use these tips and tricks on practicing the play-action fake this football season and add a little smoke and mirrors to your playbook.

If ran properly, a good fake should be one football shy of a good handoff. Be sure to practice your football transfer skills with these gridiron Pro Tips on Executing the Handoff and Receiving the Handoff.