The center makes the line calls for his fellow blockers before each snap, and for the Carolina Panthers that responsibility belongs to Jeff Mitchell, who made his 83rd NFL start on Sunday. What follows is Mitchell's account of his thought process as he surveys the defense before setting the Carolina offense in motion.
"Once we break the huddle, I'm visualizing the play that has been called. Then I'm breaking down our protection: I'm thinking about whether the running back is to my left or if the tight end is to my right, making sure I know which side of the formation is overloaded. If we're in our base offense, I'm counting the people in front of me, looking for the positioning of the middle linebacker and then finding the strong-and weakside backers. If we're in a three-receiver formation, I'm looking for the nickelback as well. The big thing I want to determine is who we are going to run at. Once I find the linebackers, I know where we have to go.
"That job gets hard when people start moving around, and any defense worth its salt isn't going to just stand there. Once those guys start jumping around, that's when I have to point out to my guys who they are going to block. One of the hardest things to do is to point people out when they're moving at the last moment. You'll see a safety walking toward the line of scrimmage, and you have to account for him. If you see a center pointing emphatically all over the place, that means the protection has changed completely. You have to start worrying about whether the quarterback is going to pause in his cadence so you can make the adjustment. That's when all hell can break loose.
"The hard part about the NFL is getting used to making all those adjustments. When I was in college [at Florida], it was real basic. There are two philosophies to pass protection: You can have a scheme with a lot of protections, or you can have one with a few protections that have a lot of detailed adjustments. In college it was easy because all I had to do was memorize the protections. We didn't have many adjustments, and if we did have to change something at the line, [quarterback] Danny Wuerffel took care of it. But I'm in my fifth NFL offense now, and it's tough to play football aggressively when you're thinking about all these things. In fact, sometimes things happen so fast that the coaches have to go back and look at the film before they can tell what really happened in there."