Pat White Will Usher the Spread-Option into the NFL

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Pat White Will Usher the Spread-Option into the NFL
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

When Miami’s implementation of the Wildcat series took the NFL by storm in 2008, I couldn’t help but chuckle.

Suddenly, NFL analysts had to explain why it worked, and they discovered some good reasons. The fakes and options built in to it ruined defenders’ reads. Having the person taking the snap be a running threat created a numerical advantage. If defenders didn’t stay completely disciplined, they could get gashed for big gains.

It’s funny to me that it took lots of serious analysis to realize that, because college football fans had seen mobile snap-takers give their teams these same advantages for years.

The one downside was that Ronnie Brown isn’t exactly a great passer. He had a nice throw against the Patriots, and there was always the flea flicker-type play the Dolphins ran against the Texans. Still, the series was almost exclusively a running formation.

Not that it was ineffective, as Miami averaged 6.1 yards per carry from the Wildcat. However, everyone seemed to agree that the package could become more effective with someone who’s a threat to pass. Enter the Dolphins’ second-round pick, Pat White, who was immediately labeled “the Wildcat who can throw.”

I would be surprised if Miami gave up on having Ronnie Brown do Wildcat, given how successful it was, but it’s pretty clear that White is the future of the formation down there. He is a legit threat both throwing and running, and the Dolphins can expand what they do with it.

Now that an actual quarterback will be doing the wildcat, can we still even call it the wildcat anymore? The thing that makes it specifically “the wildcat” is the presence of a running back behind center.

With White taking the snaps, it’s basically now a new flavor of spread-option offense. That very thing that many folks said would never be attempted in the NFL is going to be attempted in Miami this fall.

It should not be surprising at all that it’s going to happen. Spread offenses have been far too effective in college for them never to seep up into the pro league.

Most of the complaints about the spread—offensive linemen in two-point stances, wide splits between linemen, the quarterback too far deep in the shotgun—really only apply to a small set of teams like Missouri and Texas Tech. None of those apply to Florida’s offense, for instance. In actuality, there are almost as many different spread-offenses as there are teams that run them.

Kansas City ran a full-on passing spread offense last season. The result was that their points per game improved about 73 percent from 12.5 a game before implementation to 21.6 a game after, and that was with a team woefully lacking in talent. New England ran one in 2007 with top-shelf talent, and they destroyed nearly everything in their path on the way to an 18-1 record.

Now with the Dolphins, we will see what a more run-based spread will do. It’s obviously a more risky situation with the hits White will probably take, but the Dolphins will still have Chad Pennington taking the majority of the snaps and Brown to run the Wildcat if necessary. It’s a calculated risk, but one with multiple backup plans built in. In other words, it’s the only way this could find its way into the risk-averse NFL.

How things work out with White and Miami will have a huge impact on the draft next year. It’s a copycat league, and a dozen teams had tried some Wildcat by the end of last season. If the Dolphins’ experiments work well, that will have a huge impact on guys like Tim Tebow, Dan LeFevour, and Colt McCoy, three highly-regarded quarterbacks who have led their teams in rushing at least once in their college careers.

For their part, the Dolphins say that the Wildcat series will remain a small part of their offense. Play in and play out, you can still expect to see Pennington under center doing his normal hand-offs and three- to seven-step drops. It makes sense to do it that way; after all, Pat White won’t hold up taking NFL hits 30 times a game.

However, White’s presence in Miami means we will get to see some spread-option in the pros. Go ahead and call it “the Wildcat who can throw” if it makes you feel better. Either way, college football fans were right about this one: It was inevitable that someone would try it, and this fall, it’s actually going to happen.

 

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