An attempt at a backwards or perfectly sideways pitch of the ball from one player to another. A lateral can be done between any two players at any time during active play, whether on offense or defense.
A lateral has many different uses throughout play. The most common use is on a running play when the quarterback will lateral the ball to a running back in order to get the ball to the outside more quickly than a standard handoff. Laterals can also be used in trick plays, such as the flea-flicker and hook-and-ladder, in order to switch the player with the ball in an attempt to catch the defense off guard. Laterals can also be used by defensive or special teams players in return situations, as a player who is about to be tackled can lateral the ball to another player to keep the play alive and advance the ball further. Laterals that occur downfield during plays are considered quite risky because of the number of players who can make a play on the ball.