Gadget plays are all about execution, surprise

Teresa M. Walker
Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. — The instant a running back stops, turns and tosses the ball back to a quarterback, someone yells: “Flea flicker!”

It’s that moment of trickery when a coach tries to catch an opponent by surprise, whether it’s the quarterback suddenly turned wide receiver or a running back turned passer. Or even a left tackle scoring a touchdown.

For every unplanned play that earns a name like the Immaculate Reception, there’s a gimmick cooked up by coaches to catch a defense by surprise.

Not all gadget plays go down in NFL history like Home Run Throw Back, best known as the Music City Miracle.

And all any coach ever wants is a trick play picking up a big chunk of yards.

Better yet?

Points on the scoreboard, of course.

“It’s fun to know that you’ve designed it this way, they’ve reacted the way you would have anticipated, and it’s just rewarding,” said Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who has notebooks filled with trick plays dating back to his days as offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “That’s any play. We put a lot of time in on every one of these plays.

“No different for gadgets and specials. There’s a lot of them, and we’re expecting them to hit.”

With the NFL at the halfway point, plenty of teams have dipped into the playbooks for something special.

Johnny Hekker threw a 28-yard pass for a first down on a fake punt by the Rams in Week 2. Aaron Rodgers converted a flea flicker into a 41-yard pass to Davante Adams in Week 3.

Jaguars running back Corey Grant took a direct snap 58 yards on a fake punt in a big win over Baltimore in London.

In the NFL, lots of players were quarterbacks or running backs in high school.

Mularkey puts a star next to a player’s name during draft evaluations if someone also has skills that make him an option for a trick play.

He even pulled out some of his notebooks and showed the Titans some of gadget plays he ran as coordinator in Pittsburgh starting in 2001.

In 2002, Mularkey said the Steelers ran nine 2-point plays and scored on eight.

Mularkey, whose Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray threw a touchdown pass last season , still has a batch of exotic 2-point plays ready and waiting.

“And we practice them every week,” Mularkey said.