Joey Harrington learned to read music at age five, and he's thinking about taking a Latin class this spring at Michigan, but right now he's fully immersed in the language of the West Coast offense. Here, courtesy of Lions quarterbacks coach Kevin Higgins, is what has to happen inside Harrington's head during the execution of a single play:
"As soon as the previous play ends, the clock starts in Joey's mind. The first thing we want him to do is to start anticipating the play he thinks Marty [Mornhinweg, the coach] will call. At the same time, his eyes are getting a feel for the personnel group we're sending in. Let's say it's second-and-five, and Marty calls Pass 317 X Slant. He gives the call to [third-string quarterback] Ty Detmer, who relays it to Joey over the communication system in his helmet. The call tells Joey this: We're faking a run, 17-power, to the halfback and then trying to throw a slant to the split end. He should notice that our base personnel group [two wideouts, two backs and a tight end] is in the game and figure out that we'd only run that play out of a 'red left' formation. He's at liberty to choose the snap count. Now he's ready to relay the call in the huddle: 'Red Left Pass 317 X Slant, hard count on three.' He also might give a reminder to someone in the huddle: Say he tells the split end, 'Make sure the DB has outside leverage so you can beat him inside.'
"Now we break the huddle, and he comes to the line. He surveys the defense with what we call 'first wide vision.' He checks that our formation is aligned correctly and gets a feel for the coverage and front he's facing. His eyes are staring down the middle of the field so he won't give away anything to the defense, and he's watching to see how the linebackers are playing—will they bite on the play fake so that the receiver will be open when he breaks inside? Then he goes to 'second wide vision': Will any other defender be in the area to screw up the route? Now he's ready to take the snap. He fakes to the running back as he's dropping back. On his third step he's ready to throw to the X [split end]. If the X is covered, now he has to reset his feet and look for the Z [flanker] on a post. The third read is the halfback. Hopefully, though, he gets the ball to the X, we get the first down, and then the clock in Joey's head starts again."