Taking 'unguardable' concepts from college offenses, Bears join the NFL's offensive evolution

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Taking 'unguardable' concepts from college offenses, Bears join the NFL's offensive evolution
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Chase Daniel was a prototypical spread quarterback during his college days at Mizzou, expertly operating a fast-paced offense that racked up over 1,100 points in 2007 and 2008. At 6 feet tall, he was undersized for the NFL, but not for a college scheme that split receivers and tight ends all over the field and operated exclusively out of the shotgun. 

Daniel's savviness and talent fit the offense perfectly, and he earned a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist as a result. But the prevailing thought when Daniel finished his college career in 2008 was that the kind of offense he - and plenty others - ran in college wasn't remotely transferrable to the NFL. 

Fast-forward a decade later, and the spread hasn't taken over the NFL, but some aspects of it have become part of a new wave of offensive ingenuity. Matt Nagy's offense draws from it, with plenty of read-pass option plays and other concepts that were considered unworkable in the NFL 10 years ago. 

"Man, when I came out of college, in '09, everyone was like ‘spread offense, that'll never work in the NFL,'" Daniel said. "It was just starting to maybe make its way in with Alex Smith out in (San Francisco). Now it's just, it seems like everyone's got an athletic quarterback that can zone read this, zone read that, RPOs. You saw in Philadelphia, they were this offense, they morphed into their own, a lot of RPOs, a lot of what Nick Foles felt comfortable with. And it's hard to defend the entire field as a defensive coordinator."

That Eagles offense won the Super Bowl by playing to the strengths of their quarterbacks, with plenty of those spread elements incorporated in a scheme that came from the same Andy Reid coaching tree as Nagy. Trey Burton caught five touchdowns - and then threw one of the more memorable touchdowns in Super Bowl history - as a part of it, and saw just how well the option concepts taken from a spread offense can work in the NFL. 

"They're unguaradable," Burton said. "The RPOs, when we get to the line of scrimmage and are able to check to certain plays based on coverages, man, you make it unguardable. The old way of NFL, you line up and you run this play no matter how many guys are in the box, no matter what coverage it is. So we're kind of evolving the game and the defensive guys can never be right no matter what they do." 

Of course, and NFL offense that incorporates spread concepts needs its quarterback to be able to handle far more responsibilities than put on college signal-callers. Nagy's offense is quarterback-driven, and while he's tailoring it to Mitch Trubisky - who ran a version of the spread offense at North Carolina - there's still plenty of responsibility put on the former No. 2 overall pick. And the process the Bears are in to teach it to Trubisky is, and will be, lengthy.

"What I always tell guys and what Matt has told the team is, let's take baby steps," Daniel said. "We're not going to try to run before we walk. We need the details of every little thing we do, and then we can add from there, we can build off that. We have to set a foundation, we have to set something that all guys are comfortable with, and we're going to rep the crap out of all those plays, all those protections, everything like that because if we don't, we'll never really have a solid foundation to build off. 

"When we get into Week 1, preseason, then we can start adding some more flavor. But it's been fun because you've seen some of Oregon's stuff that Mark (Helfrich) has brought, you obviously see some of the Kansas City stuff Matt has brought, and then you pull things from around the league that fits our style of play, fits our personnel, and you sort of mold it into your own."