What does it mean for a football coach to "script" his plays?

If he’s not lined up under center, he’s in the shotgun. Well, unless he lines up as a running back or wide receiver and somebody else takes the snap.

…back to the OP.

Without getting into too much detail, the scripting of the first plays is %50 to warm-up and 50% to test the opposition.
The former, to get your team into a rhythym and the latter, to prod the defense for weaknesses to potentially exploit later in the game.
It’s pretty simple, much like the first couple chess moves which may determine how the game develops later.

The way I understand it, a shotgun formation is one where the QB starts far enough back so that he is already in the pocket without having to drop back. If he starts only one yard off the line, I don’t think that’s deep enough to be in the pocket, so I wouldn’t call it a shotgun.

Nah. Shotgun just means the snap has to be thrown from the center and isn’t handed to the quarterback. You could be two feet behind the center and be in the shotgun.

Football semantics; which is to say it depends on who you ask. The formations listed in the NFL rule (Shotgun, Single Wing, Double Wing, Box or Spread Formation) all have the player taking the snap positioned out of range for a hand-to-hand snap, but adherents of the Wing and Box formations would likely be adamant that is it not a shotgun snap. But no pro team, probably no college team, and very few high schools still use those formations.

Many people would consider a shotgun snap to be any snap that is not hand-to-hand. Purists will require a shotgun snap to be one where the player receiving the snap does not need to drop back to get into passing position (approx 5-7 yards deep) and is deeper or as deep as all other backs.

Did anyone here happen to catch the Oklahoma State - University of Georgia game two weeks ago? Georgia’s first drive was the perfect example of scripting - a well rehearsed, well played set of maneuvers designed to do two things: 1) Get UGA down the field for the score, and 2) Feel out various aspects of the OKState defense and get UGA comfortable dealing with them. It was really a work of art, and UGA’s poise during the first drive was almost palpable.

That’s what can come of scripting: like well-known chess openers, scripted opening drives can probe various parts of the opposing team and help the offense understand what they’re up against in practice. Not that it ultimately worked in this case, mind you - Georgia fell apart after the first drive offensively.

No, it’s closer to 90% testing the opponent and 10% everything else.

To get back to the OP, the reason coaches script their first handful of plays is because that script is specifically designed to test what the defense will be doing in a given situation against a given formation and with a given play. They have a game plan they think will work based on their pregame analysis and many of those plays depend on the defense being in a man-to-man coverage or to be blitzing etc. So, the OC will put together a series of plays and formations that are designed to uncover the defense’s tendencies and their gameplan for that specific game. There are some formations and plays that will create an automatic audible from the defense. Once the script reveals that the coach makes a note and starts calling plays that will exploit that.

They don’t usually stick to the script at all costs. If they are in a 3rd down situation and they need to deviate from the script to maintain possession they will every time. Then they’ll pick up the script next time and start the exploration. The last thing a OC wants to risk is that a DC will make a mistake in his game planning and they not notice a gaping hole until the 4th quarter. Scripts prevent this.

There’s a marginal benefit for the Offense in that they can drill those scripted plays and prepare for them meaning they might be executed more crisply and reliably but on average those scripted plays are going to be on the vanilla side because their purpose isn’t to break a game open. Pro teams expect their players to be crisp with a play regardless of if it’s scripted or not, so I think this benefit is almost negligible.

Scripting isn’t a game plan. It’s an investigation which dictates which aspects of the game plan will be more effective later.

I think my favorite part of football is the strategy. It’s a complicated form of human chess.

Thanks to all for the insight.