Friday, August 22, 2008

The Spread Offense-College's new trend

It has been said for a long time that the NFL is a copycat league. The 46 Defense of Buddy Ryan that led the Bears to a Super Bowl was copied until offenses figured out how to beat it regularly and it went away. Tony Dungy's (Monte Kiffin's) Tampa 2 has dominated the league for more than a decade and many have tried to produce similar results with it far away from Tampa, Florida. The Tampa 2 will be around for much longer, because it is a more sound way to play defense, but the same trend happened on the offensive side of the ball with the West Coast Offense--so called because Bill Walsh put it together in San Fransisco. It has taken on many forms as time has moved forward, so much that if a coach that passed by Bill Walsh at some time in the past, he is branded as running a WCO. Jon Gruden's offense is far from what Joe Montana was doing with Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Roger Craig in the 80's, but he supposedly is running the WCO.
In the college game, the spread option is the new West Coast Offense. When Urban Meyer took the University of Utah to an undefeated season a few years ago and it made Alex Smith the #1 pick in the NFL draft, it got plenty of attention. Others had been running completely shotgun offenses for some time (Jim Leavitt has had something similar as the University of South Florida has made its rise to national prominence since the program began in 1997). With Tim Tebow running Meyer's show and winning the Heisman as a sophomore, Dennis Dixon's success at Oregon and West Virginia's stay in the national title hunt, the spread continues to grow in popularity. The reason for this is the multiple dimensions that the defense has to defend. Colleges have been able to dominate other schools as only a few teams gathered the biggest recruits, but as we have seen a diversification of talent across the nation, physical size domination isn't always guaranteed and the spread gives more teams a chance to make big plays by created space on the field with different options for the football. Tim Tebow carried the load for the Gators on the ground in 2007, but they have improved their skill positions to have more options for him and may not need to pound their superstar so much this year, lest he end up on injured reserve. His threat to run the ball from the QB position gives the offense one more blocker to help up front, but also makes defenders commit to stopping the running QB, while opening bigger passing lanes when the runner stops and can toss accurate passes down the field. So, as usual, the critical player is the QB and to be sure, the spread offense won't be going anywhere anytime soon in college football, nor will it be coming to the NFL ever. Those spread QB's will still need to learn how to take a snap from center, drop back with good footwork and learn pocket presence if they want to make it in the NFL.

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