Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gators' Single- Wing spread offense catching on in the NFL

By Chris Harry
Sentinel staff writer
June 25, 2009

GAINESVILLE - Urban Meyer took a steno pad from the reporter sitting on his office couch and began scribbling away. With two diagrams, the University of Florida coach explained the concepts behind his base offensive formations: the spread and the single wing.

"I'm kind of giving you everything we do here," he said.

Hardly everything, but a brief lesson cracked open a window into Meyer's fascinating world of X's and O's. It's a place that's become a sought-after destination among his peers these days, but that's no revelation given Meyer's astonishing run of championships since arriving in Gainesville.

Some of the folks requesting offseason audiences, however, might come as a surprise.

"Right now, we've been contacted by a minimum of three NFL teams who want to implement a spread element," Meyer said last month. "They're going to do it."

Meyer, of course, wouldn't say which teams, but the general interest in the Gators' playbook has an ironic rub.

In April, one of the hot story lines heading into the NFL draft was how difficult it's become for pro scouts and personnel types to project players from a college spread scheme — with its wider linemen splits, flanked tight ends, bubble-screens and near-exclusive shotgun alignment — to more conventional NFL sets.

Apparently, one of the ways to make that transition smoother is to spread the spread to the NFL.

"It's already here," said Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, head coach at Boston College the last two seasons. "A lot of teams have it."

Not that many have used it.

Maybe more need to, given what the New England Patriots — be it with maestro Tom Brady or super-sub Matt Cassel — have done with the spread passing game since Bill Belichick began making annual offseason treks to Gainesville (and Meyer to Foxboro, Mass.) the last three years.

And it's probably safe to say more will use it, considering all the Sunday cameos of the so-called "Wildcat" formation — with the same base power off-tackle play Tim Tebow runs so magnificently — made around the league last season, especially with the Miami Dolphins.

"Everyone knows how I feel about Bill Belichick," Meyer said. "How is it that Tom Brady and this guy [Cassel] who never even started a game in college can make it work? Because Bill Belichick adapts. ... And the Miami Dolphins were 0-and-whatever [in '07] and they adapted to what they had. All of a sudden, the running back was taking snaps and they were winning games."

White puts Miami ahead of game
Look for the Dolphins to expand that facet of their offense this season after drafting West Virginia quarterback Pat White, a holy terror in the spread option for the Mountaineers. Tailback Ronnie Brown may have taken the bulk of Wildcat snaps at OTAs and minicamp, while White has struggled. But it's early.

"I think as we get on with this, he'll have some good days," Dolphins Coach Tony Sparano said.

Better than good. Don't be surprised if the Wildcat becomes the "Wild-Pat" once White, who unlike Brown or Ricky Williams brings a legitimate threat to throw the football, gets comfortable back there.

"Now you'd have real double jeopardy," Buccaneers defensive coordinator Jim Bates said.

The Bucs play the Dolphins in 2009. The Patriots, too. It's no coincidence that Bates has several days blocked off in the coming weeks to hole up with his staff and break down the league's latest trend.

Bates is no different than any other defensive coordinator in the NFL. It's no secret that rookies Percy Harvin in Minnesota and Knowshon Moreno in Denver, plus second-year man Felix Jones in Dallas and veteran pro bowler Larry Johnson, have made like Brown during offseason workouts.

Better be ready.

Orlando Sentinel


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