June 23, 2009
I remember watching a story on the local news about four years ago, wherein the totally wacky sports reporter went out to a youth football clinic for what looked like 11 and 12-year-olds, or thereabouts. Obviously, they were working on the fundamentals -- in this case, taking a shotgun snap and sticking the ball in the running back's belly to run the zone read. You know, the basics.
Right then, I should have seen this story coming:
Ten years ago, a college quarterback running the spread offense looked really uncomfortable. Today, "it's like second nature to them," said former Hoover High School coach Rush Propst, who sent John Parker Wilson from the spread in high school to a pro style at Alabama.
"The spread has become so prevalent that some other areas are tough for a quarterback," said Propst, who now coaches in Georgia. "We go in the goal-line offense and go under center in the I, and we fumble it two out of three snaps."
[Arkansas coach Bobby] Petrino said he often gushes over Tyler Wilson's vision and throwing ability, sometimes asking himself how Wilson saw a certain throw to make.
"But Tyler is behind in being able to execute from under center, being able to take the snap, execute the run game, simply because since eighth grade he was no-huddle shotgun," Petrino said.
It's a little odd to be getting this sort of complaint from college coaches, since we've heard the same sort of thing for years out of the pros, who regularly lament the ubiquity of the shotgun in some college offenses (and lately have endured the scorn of Mike Leach for their rigidity). Even if you take away the scrambly transcendence of athletes like Pat White, Dennis Dixon and Brad Smith in space, you'd think the passing success of almost complete shotgun-bound slingers like Chase Daniel, Colt McCoy, the Tebow Child and everyone who lines up for Texas Tech -- like, for a while, almost everyone who lined up for Kentucky and Purdue -- would leave college coaches wide open to athletes most comfortable in that system. If the pros are so stuck in their ways that they need to see a quarterback in the I-formation before they'll take a shot on him -- which, as one well-connected scout tells the Birmingham News, is a highly debatable argument where it concerns a player like Tebow -- that's their problem.
What this article really speaks to, though, is just how limited "the spread" really is as a full-fledged system. Everyone has integrated the spread as a package, a handful of formations that open things up and give the defense a different look to prepare for. But only a handful of teams -- Florida, Oregon, Missouri, Texas Tech, now Michigan and maybe Auburn, for example, along with many more smaller programs -- have truly made it their raison d'etre to the extent that the quarterback can get away without knowing how to open up for a handoff, sell a traditional play-action fake or be able to reorient himself if he turns his back on the defense. Actually, the vast majority of teams are still doing these things, a lot of them within three and four-receiver sets that would qualify as a "spread" formation. If the pendulum is currently at its highest point when it comes to the various methods of spreading the field, its destiny all along was mainly as a complement, just another arrow in the quiver of increasingly versatile playbooks -- "versatility" being the key there, incorporating a few more pieces rather than opening an entirely new puzzle.
Just a reminder amid the revolution (or maybe just after it?) that some things haven't changed.
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Hat tip: Blutarsky.