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What is the NFL’s rule about clap snaps? They’re vague

Kyler Murray twice earned false start penalties in the Arizona Cardinals’ second preseason game of the year, a loss on Thursday to the Oakland Raiders.

The problem stemmed from Arizona’s snapping procedures.

In head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, the quarterback hikes the ball with a clap, something adopted from and common in the college ranks. To get pass-rushers off the visual cues of the clapping, quarterbacks have added fake snaps to keep them from pinning their ears back.

That’s where the NFL rules might limit Kingsbury and Murray.

Section 4, Article 2 of the 2019 rulebook is vague when describing what qualifies as a false start.

“Any quick abrupt movement by a single offensive player, or by several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of the snap, is a false start,” it reads.

Item 4 of that article, regarding shotgun formation, speaks to Kingsbury’s offense and the quarterback specifically.

“A player who is in position to receive the snap in shotgun formation is permitted to shift his feet prior to the snap, but any quick and abrupt movement is a False Start,” it reads. “This includes thrusting his hands forward when there is not a simultaneous snap.”

Quick and abrupt, once again, reads vaguely. And the thrusting of hands forward — as if to receive a football — could be difficult to referee. It’s also difficult to avoid as a quarterback? What does he do with his hands after clapping?

Referees will be forced to make a judgment call on such plays. As has been the case in limited snaps for Murray this preseason, it hasn’t been consistent.

That said, it’s not hard to find extreme examples of clapping not drawing flags.

That Arizona has spoken with officials knowing the rulebook is vague says the team is doing due diligence.

Legality aside, the snap clap is bringing issues with it.

Throughout practices and the games, the Cardinals offensive line has victimized itself by Murray’s use of clapping.

The clapping has drawn false starts on the linemen at times. In other instances such as below, Arizona’s own line has been slow to react off the ball, listening to the sound while the opposing pass-rushers see the clap coming with their eyes.

The Cardinals said the sack by the Chargers in Week 1 of the preseason was a miscommunication.

But former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz wrote at SB Nation that he doesn’t think the snap claps are productive.

The noise of the clap is supposedly crisper than the voice or, clearly, louder than a silent count. I think it’s pointless in the NFL.

The offense has a supreme advantage of knowing when the play starts with a snap count. There’s that split second before the ball is snapped to get a jump on the defense and it’s most important in the trenches. When you’re facing Aaron Donald, getting that split second of advantage can be so useful.

With a clap snap count, that advantage is now gone. Everyone hears the snap at the exact same time, even when noise isn’t an issue like at home. I don’t like it.

The Cardinals have hurdles, both legally and logistically, to overcome.

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