Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Dolphins using Wildcat formation to great success
USA TODAY and The Associated Press
DAVIE, Fla. - Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano's season-saving huddle at 39,000 feet ignited his sputtering team and the season's wildfire, Wildcat craze.
The impetus for Sparano's eureka moment? A desire to get running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on the field at the same time.
Since Sparano sanctioned the direct-snap-to-a-running back, sleight-of-hand Wildcat formation, Miami has transformed from a 1-15 disaster in 2007 to an 8-5 team in a three-way tie for the AFC East lead with New England and the New York Jets.
The division title could come down to Miami's Dec. 28 regular-season finale at the Jets. If they win their final three games, the Dolphins would tie the biggest one-season turnaround in league history of 10 wins, equaling the 1999 Indianapolis Colts, who leaped to 13-3 after a 3-13 season.
Flying above the clouds on his 0-2 team's charter flight after a Sept. 14 loss at the Arizona Cardinals, Sparano got a clear sense of what was needed. That's when the first-year head coach summoned quarterbacks coach David Lee, the ex-Arkansas offensive coordinator who had orchestrated the Wild Hog, featuring direct snaps to tailbacks Darren McFadden (now an Oakland Raider) and Felix Jones (now a Dallas Cowboy).
"We were all miserable at that point," Sparano says. "I didn't feel like we had an identity in the run game. I also felt it was getting harder to put Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the game at the same time and get them touches.
"I called David to the front of the plane and said, 'Here's what I want: Tomorrow when we get back, I want three runs, maybe a pass out of this Wildcat package. We need to find something we can put our arms around as an offense that can create space."
In a league brimming with Kurt Warner-type passing offenses, leave it to a former offensive line coach, Sparano, to revive coach Glenn "Pop" Warner's 1907 single-wing formation designed for his multitalented future Hall of Fame halfback Jim Thorpe.
Lee dubbed it the Wildcat, and Miami's single-wing takeoff caused double- and triple-threat trouble for the Patriots in a 38-13 turnaround win Sept. 21. Six Wildcat snaps yielded four TDs. Brown ran for 69 yards and three touchdowns in the formation. He also hit tight end Anthony Fasano on a 19-yard TD pass.
"It goes to show the fundamentals of football never change, that the importance of blocking, tackling and executing never changes," Miami quarterback Chad Pennington says.
The last single-wing tailback to win the Heisman Trophy was Princeton's Dick Kazmaier in 1951. Kazmaier watched highlights of the Patriots befuddled by galloping ghosts.
"My reaction was one of amusement that something from 57 years ago would be resurrected and create a spark," Kazmaier, 78, says. "The single wing is a timeless treasure."
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