spread oneself thin

Spread offense

“Spread offense” may also refer to the four corners offense developed by Dean Smith.

The spread offense is an offensive American football scheme that is used at every level of the game including the NFL, CFL, NCAA, NAIA, and high schools across America. The spread offense begins with a no-huddle approach with the quarterback in the shotgun formation much of the time. The fundamental nature of the spread offense involves spreading the field horizontally using 3, 4, and even 5-receiver sets (some implementations of the spread also feature wide splits between the offensive linemen). The object of the spread offense is to open up multiple vertical seams for both the running and passing game to exploit, as the defense is forced to spread itself thin across the field (a "horizontal stretch") to cover everyone.

There are many forms of the spread system. One of the extremes is the pass-oriented version typified by Mike Leach's Texas Tech Red Raiders, Todd Dodge's North Texas Mean Green, Gary Pinkel's Missouri Tigers and Hal Mumme's New Mexico State Aggies. This version employs multiple spread sets and is heavily reliant on the quarterback and coaches being able to call the appropriate play at the line of scrimmage based on how the defense sets up.

The other extreme version is the Spread Option, used in 2007 by Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia and now Michigan, Chip Kelly at Oregon and Jerry Moore at Appalachian State. Despite the multi-receiver sets, the spread option is a run-first scheme which requires a quarterback that is comfortable carrying the ball, a mobile offensive line that can pull and trap effectively, and receivers that can hold their blocks. The essence of the spread option is misdirection. Effectively, this is the old triple option except that it utilizes spread sets. In particular, the quarterback must be able to read the defensive end and determine whether he is collapsing down the line or playing upfield contain.

A third, rare version of the spread offense is the Pistol Offense which is used by Chris Ault's Nevada Wolf Pack and some high schools across the nation. The Pistol Offense focuses on using the run with various offensive players, and calls for the quarterback to line up about three yards behind the center and take a short shotgun snap at the start of each play.

History of the Spread Offense

While Steve Nuss is commonly referred to as the father of the spread offense, Glenn Ellison is the real father. His version is known as the Run & Shoot offense; however, the scheme (which was originally started as a run-first offense in 1958) has evolved over the past forty-five years into a much more complex scheme. Its first evolution came about in 1962 when Mouse Davis adapted his philosophy to Ellison's but created a more pass-first version. Today coaches like June Jones (SMU), Joe Tiller (Purdue Boilermakers), Jerry Moore (Appalachian State), Rich Rodriguez (Michigan), and Mike Bellotti (Oregon) and most recently Urban Meyer (Florida) have taken the spread offense to a new level. High school coaches across the nation have adapted some version of this scheme with great success (most notably Todd Dodge, formerly of Southlake Carroll High School in North Texas—now with the North Texas Mean Green and Conrad Nix of two time defending state champion Northside High School in Warner Robins, Georgia).

NFL Spread Offense

Professional teams have also used various versions of this scheme beginning with the former Houston Oilers, the Atlanta Falcons, and Detroit Lions. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the most recent NFL teams using a spread offense, with the team successfully adopting it under offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in 2007 to take advantage of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's talents. The 2007 New England Patriots also utilized the spread with quarterback Tom Brady and wide receivers Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and Jabar Gaffney. In addition, the San Diego Chargers (1980s) and the various West Coast schemes developed by Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers (1980s) stemmed their offenses, in many ways, from Ellison's and Davis' designs. In addition, a new offense known as the "spread-flex" is emerging among many programs. This offense combines the flex-bone and the spread offense together in order to cause confusion for defenses and to take advantage of mismatches. This dynamic offense has worked its way up into the smaller colleges and universities such as Air Force who use it very effectively. It can be effective in many ways to spread the ball out to the wide receivers as well as using a lot of pre-snap shifting and motion to run the option zone read plays. Imagine combining the offenses of Navy (a heavily run-oriented option offense that has led the NCAA in rushing in every season since 2003) and Texas Tech (one of the most pass-oriented college offenses) and you have the "spread-flex".

Professional teams have also used various versions of this scheme beginning with the former Houston Oilers, the Atlanta Falcons, and Detroit Lions. The 2008 Miami Dolphins are the most recent team to implement some form of the spread offense in their offensive schemes. Lining up in a "wildcat" formation, the Miami Dolphins, borrowing from modern college spread offenses, "direct snap" the ball to their Running Back, Ronnie Brown. Brown is then able to read the defense, and either pass or keep the ball himself. Thus far, defenses have had difficultly stopping this new-look Miami offense--an offense which has stunned the New England Patriots at New England and the San Diego Chargers at Miami thus far in the 2008 season.


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