What is Illegal Use of Hands in Football?

You might think by watching how tough and aggressive football players are that they can hit, tackle, and otherwise touch each other anyway they want. However, you could not be further from the truth. This particular penalty, illegal use of the hands, occurs on both the offense and the defense. It generally happens when an offensive lineman gets his hands into the face of a defender when protecting against the pass rush. Both the offense and the defense can be called for illegal use of the hands when the player uses his hands or arms in the opposing players face, neck or head.

It can also happen the same way on defense but generally happens when a defender (corner back or safety) is trying to get a quick bump to a receiver within those first 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. If done outside of the first 5 yards or into the face of the receiver, you will hear this penalty called.

What is the football referee signal for ‘Illegal Use of Hands’ in Football?

The football referee signal is shown in this image where a referee (who generally looks a lot better in black and white stripes than we do. Going off on a tangent, have you noticed how fit the referees are these days. Wowser!) extends one arm with hand out and holds his wrist with the other hand. This signal is the same for several illegal use of hands offenses.

football penalty illegal use of hands

What is the penalty for Illegal Use of Hands in Football?

In the NFL, the penalty for illegal use of hands depends on who committed the penalty. If on the offense (generally a lineman shoving his hands into the defenders face), then it is 10 yards. If on the defense (generally by someone trying to defend a receiver), it is only a 5 yard penalty but results in an automatic first down.

In NCAA football, the penalty for illegal use of hands is 10 yards. If the defense commits the penalty against an eligible receiver, then it also results in a first down.

Other Penalties Explained

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