ESPN’s Tom Luginbill looks at the spread offense and likes what he sees for college recruiting, on the one hand…
It is becoming easier and easier to find spread offense quarterbacks, because teams are putting their best players at QB and running the spread. Prospects who once would have been placed at wide receiver, cornerback or running back in high school now are being put in the shotgun or Wildcat formation and given the reins to make things happen. If that prospect develops any skills in the passing game, he is going to get a long look from college recruiters. After all, it seems like everyone is running the spread these days, and everyone is looking for the next great QB to run it.
… but is not so thrilled with the impact it’s having on basic quarterbacking mechanics, on the other.
As far back as I can remember, the foundation for quality quarterback play has been fundamental footwork and ballhandling in the three, five and seven-step passing games and the play-action scheme. It all started with these skills in terms of dropping from center, reading progressions and developing timing and anticipation.
I’m not so sure that is necessarily the case any longer. The spread offense, particularly the shotgun, has changed everything, from a fundamental standpoint, to such a degree that it is hurting the development of QBs at every level, from high school to college, and even at the professional level.
Over the last five years, I have likely written evaluations on over 700 high school quarterbacks from tape and in-person study and as each year has gone by, fewer and fewer kids are capable of dropping from center and being efficient with their footwork because they are not required to work from under center at their respective high school.
Is that such a big deal, if these kids are simply going from one spread scheme to another? Well, it is for those want to go play on the next level, Luginbill says.
… The thing is, if a player has hopes of eventually playing in the NFL, it is not going to be beneficial for the prospect to be 21 years old and having to learn footwork and progression reads from under center that he should have started developing at 14. The shotgun is the easy part. Working from under center is the hard part, and should always be the foundation by which QB prospects learn and blossom.
Now, this is not a call for the shotgun to be abolished. In fact, I would have begged to be in the shotgun on every play when I played, but since not all programs run the spread offense, particularly teams in the NFL, prospects need to drill footwork from center. What if there’s a college coaching change and the spread is scrapped? A player with sound fundamentals can play in just about any system.
Sounds pretty logical to me. But then again, I’m not HeismanPundit, who thinks the solution to the problem lies elsewhere.
On the other hand, coaches need to learn to fit their system to the talents of the players they have. Earth to the NFL: If 90 percent of college quarterbacks are running variations of the spread, it’s time you get off your high horse and follow suit. Some teams, like Miami, seem to get this.
That almost sounds like the Dolphins are a candidate for HP’s infamous “Gang of Six” club, but let’s not go there right now. Instead, let’s see if we can unpack that quote a bit.
First off, Miami ran its version of the Wildcat last year with some success, particularly early on. But the Dolphins ran it with Ronnie Brown, who’s not a quarterback, taking the direct snap. What they propose to do this season is run it with the additional passing threat posed by Pat White. Of course, we have no clue if it’ll work, since it hasn’t seen the field of play yet, but even the Dolphins aren’t proposing to run their Wildcat as the base offense.
Now I’m certainly no fan of the NFL, but it’s unrealistic not to acknowledge that in many ways it’s a different world there from that of college football. And there are a number of those differences that suggest that it would be difficult to implement HP’s solution on a widespread scale there.
- Economics. Look at what the top quarterbacks get paid. Hell, look at what most starting quarterbacks get paid. Is it realistic to subject the most highly paid group of players to the increased risk of injury that the spread would entail, particularly in a salary-capped environment? Bill Walsh thought he could only play Joe Montana in a version of the single wing if he had another Joe Montana behind him. That’s simply not financially practical in this day and age. Note that Pat White was a sixth second round draft pick – if you’re gonna use these guys as cannon fodder, you’re going to have to pay them accordingly.
- Parity. The 0-16 Detroit Lions notwithstanding, there is not the difference in the level of talent in the NFL that exists in college football. That’s just a matter of simple math – a quarter of the teams with rosters that are almost 40% smaller means that there’s a much greater concentration of talent playing on Sundays. The Tim Tebow who plays an SEC schedule doesn’t have to worry about getting his brains beaten out against Charleston Southern. The NFL Tebow won’t have it so easy.
- Practice. There are limits as to how much time a college team can spend preparing for a game each week. “The hardest thing for your kids is to adjust every week,” Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. In the pros, it’s your job to prepare. Yeah, Miami ripped New England up with the Wildcat in their first meeting. How did the rematch go?
Besides, I think HP overstates his case with that “90 percent” comment. Pro-style offenses aren’t quite the dinosaurs on the college level that he makes them out to be. But I’ll admit that there’s something of a self-fulfilling prophecy to his argument if the high schools continue to neglect fundamentals. Just ask Bobby Petrino.
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino thinks some changes need to be made in the way high school coaches are preparing quarterbacks for the next level. With more programs employing spread offenses, Petrino said many young quarterbacks aren’t getting the necessary experience playing under center, and it’s making the job of recruiting pocket passers a tough one for college coaches.
Petrino pointed to one of his own quarterbacks, Tyler Wilson, as a prime example of the problems of playing too much out of the shotgun. Wilson took every snap of his high school career in a no-huddle shotgun formation, and he has struggled since arriving at Arkansas with things as simple as the quarterback-center exchange or handoff placement on running plays.
Petrino’s proposal to solve his problem is unlikely to see the light.
… The solution, Petrino said, might be mandating how high school coaches use their quarterbacks.
“I’m really happy that high schools are throwing the ball,” Petrino said. “I just wish they would maybe put a rule in that they have to have at least 25, 40 percent from underneath center.”
But I’m not sure it should be necessary, anyway, if the NFL continues along its current path. As long as there’s a market for drop-back passers, there should be high schools and colleges that accommodate that style of play, because there are going to be gifted QBs that want to play in it. Plus, if those of us who see the college game as cyclical in nature when it comes to offensive and defensive strategies (and I believe HP counts himself among that bunch) are right, shouldn’t that bode well for the prospects of pro-style offenses in an era when college defenses are gearing up to stop the spread more and more?