• You're all caught up!

What Is an Illegal Shift in Football?

author image Timothy Onkst
Based in Harker Heights, Texas, Timothy Onkst has been writing about sports, fitness and health since 2003. His articles have appeared in a variety of publications including "Texas Roundball" magazine, Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports and other websites.
What Is an Illegal Shift in Football?
Two football teams head to head before the snap. Photo Credit Jim Lopes/iStock/Getty Images

Nothing frustrates a football coach more than penalties, especially when those penalties are unforced or mental errors. An illegal shift is an offensive penalty that is unforced, meaning the offense commits the violation before the play begins without the defense having an effect on the foul. Illegal shifts can happen in a couple of offensive scenarios, so understanding the rule is important to eliminate the mistakes.

What Is an Illegal Shift

Illegal shifts are a type of motion penalty that occur when more than one player on the offense is not set before the snap. A shift is a pre-snap movement where two or more offensive players change positions. The movement becomes illegal and results in a penalty when those players do not reset and establish position after the shift. According to NFL rules, illegal shifts result in a 5 yard penalty and a replay of the down.

Situations When Illegal Shifts Occur

Illegal shifts are common with teams that use pre-snap resetting to confuse the defense. The idea is that the defense will be based on the original lineup and will not be able to realign in time after the shift. In addition, shifts can occur when teams audible to change the original play at the line of scrimmage. After the play is audibled or changed, the offensive team often has to change its formation to run the new play. Snapping the ball too quickly before everyone has set and finished moving can result in an illegal shift penalty.

You Might Also Like

Preventing Illegal Shifts

The best way to prevent illegal shifts is to limit tricky pre-snap motions, which can throw off the offense almost as much as the defense in many cases. In addition, breaking the huddle earlier can eliminate penalties that are caused by running out of time to complete the shifts. Signaling in the plays faster from the sideline is often an issue with the shift and the slow huddle break.

Illegal Shift Vs. Illegal Motion

Illegal shifts are often confused with illegal motion penalties as the Team Speed Kills website calls them sister penalties. Shifts are a team foul with multiple players, while an illegal motion penalty is called on one player, usually for a player moving toward the line of scrimmage before the snap of the football. According to Team Speed Kills, a player moving toward the line must get set for one second before the snap.

Related Searches

LiveStrong Calorie Tracker
THE LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate Nutrition, Workouts & Tips
  • Gain 2 pounds per week
  • Gain 1.5 pounds per week
  • Gain 1 pound per week
  • Gain 0.5 pound per week
  • Maintain my current weight
  • Lose 0.5 pound per week
  • Lose 1 pound per week
  • Lose 1.5 pounds per week
  • Lose 2 pounds per week
  • Female
  • Male
ft. in.


Demand Media