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.
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.