Sunday, June 28, 2009

Copy 'Cats: 'Wildcats' to run in packs in '09

by: Vinnie Iyer
Sunday, Jun. 28, 2009 - 12:48 p.m. ET
In Dallas, they call it the "Razorback." In Jacksonville, they're toying with the "WildJag." In San Diego, it's dubbed the "Wild Frog," in honor of a certain running back's alma mater.

It might be coming to your city with a different name, but the idea is the same: Copying Miami's "Wildcat" offense.

There are several wrinkles involved with who takes the snap and whether the play is a run or pass, but it all involves a simple concept used on every level of every sport: Misdirection.

Every NFL snap is a guessing game, and the "Wildcat" amplifies that and tries to buy a split second or two by creating defensive indecisiveness. It also creates an emotional boost to the offense.

"Offensive football is all about energy and providing a spark that creates some momentum and confidence," Dolphins QB Chad Pennington said of how the "Wildcat" helped the team rebound from a 0-2 start to win the AFC East last season. "When you try something that's that off the wall, that new, a lot of times not everyone believes in it, so it doesn't work.

"Our guys just took it and ran with it and made it work."

There's no question Miami had some of the right talent to pull it off, including Pennington, running back Ronnie Brown, tight end Anthony Fasano and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. The team also had the benefit of surprise for a few games in '08, something no team running a version of the "Wildcat" will have this season.

As defenses adjust and learn how to react to it in a disciplined manner, the key is having a more versatile player at the controls: The ultimate wild card.

Here is a look at the top five "Wildcat" wild cards for '09:

1. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders. McFadden's rookie season was marred by injuries, and he never got going. Oakland coach Tom Cable has big plans for McFadden in Year 2 as a runner and receiver. Of course, McFadden also is well versed in "Wildcat" from his days at Arkansas in the "Wildhog" under its creator, David Lee, now a Dolphins assistant. Like those Razorbacks, the Raiders have a loaded backfield and will take chances. McFadden looks ready for a breakout season, and he will be dangerous on direct snaps.

2. Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys. Jones made a big splash as a big-play back and kickoff returner as a rookie, until he tore his left hamstring in Week 6. With his speed and having been McFadden's college running mate, Jones will get chances in the "Razorback." Dallas has practiced the formation with wide receiver Patrick Crayton at quarterback, also handing off to another quick second-year back, Tashard Choice.

3. Percy Harvin, RB/WR, Vikings. Harvin is Reggie Bush Lite. That is, he was a key playmaker for a national powerhouse in college. The difference is he is more of a true 'tweener, neither durable enough to handle too many carries nor big enough to handle too many routes as a wide receiver. Harvin was a luxury first-round pick, and the Vikings' goal is to get him and All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson in the same formation in the ideal situation, allowing one to shoot into the open field.

4. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers. San Diego has a potent, balanced offense without using trick plays, so don't expect to see the "Frog" much. Last season was the first time in six seasons where Tomlinson didn't attempt a pass, however, and that's an oversight. Tomlinson has completed 8-of-11 career attempts with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a ridiculous 154.4 passer rating. With skill players as versatile as Tomlinson, Legedu Naanee, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers, a "Wildcat"-like look would drive opponents batty.

5. (tie) Troy Smith, QB, Ravens. Former Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron displayed his creativity often in Baltimore last season. A standout moment came when the Ravens unleashed their "Suggs Package" on the Raiders. With Smith as the single wing, he ran, handed off and threw successfully. His 43-yard pass to starting QB Joe Flacco, who is 6-6, was especially dazzling. A key part of the formation is making the defense play 11 men, and it can't be done if the quarterback who lines up wide isn't a capable receiver.

5. (tie) Michael Vick, QB, free agent. Remember how he tormented defensive coordinators as a traditional quarterback for the Falcons? If the players above keep the "Wildcat" alive against the expected defensive countermeasures, the super-athletic Vick could use the formation as a perfect avenue in which to ease back into the NFL.

Ten more "Wildcats" to watch

1. Dolphins (RB Ronnie Brown, QB Pat White)

2. Jaguars (RB Maurice Jones-Drew, TE Zach Miller)

3. Jets (RB Leon Washington, WR Brad Smith)

4. Browns (WR Joshua Cribbs)

5. Titans (QB Vince Young)

6. Seahawks (QB Seneca Wallace)

7. Cardinals (WR Anquan Boldin)

8. Panthers (RB DeAngelo Williams)

9. Bengals (WR Andre Caldwell)

10. Bears (WR Devin Hester)

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