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The wildcat and the spread

Join Senior Editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Alan from London, England:
For those of us that don't follow college football, what is the spread offense and how does it differ to the wildcat?

Vic: The spread uses three, four and five-wide receiver sets and often employs oversized line splits. The whole idea of the spread offense is to spread the field and create space to run and throw. In a typical spread offense formation, two wide receivers would line up left, two wide receivers would line up right, the quarterback would take the snap in a shotgun-type formation and he would be joined in the backfield by a running back. What's important to note is that in the spread, the quarterback is not only a passer, he's a running back. That's the number one distinguishing fact of the spread. The wildcat offense is distinguished by an unbalanced line and a running back taking the snap from center. The quarterback is on the field, but his primary function is to keep the defense in base personnel, which is achieved by merely having a true quarterback in the offensive huddle. The wildcat has some spread-formation elements to it, but the presence of a tight end in an unbalanced line makes it more akin to the old wing-t formation, which was distinguished by a wingback cocked at an angle off the tackle's hip, from which the tackle and the wingback executed a double-team block known as the "post and turn." That blocking technique is now forbidden but the tight end is a kind of wingback and the misdirection elements of the wildcat give it a wing-t flavor. The wildcat, at heart, is a power-rushing offense. The spread is all finesse. It creates a mismatch in personnel that I'll explain in my answer to the next question.

Matthew from Rustenburg, South Africa:
Is there a reason why more teams in the NFL haven't incorporated the spread offense? Does it just not work as well at this level?

Vic: The reason you don't see a college-like spread offense used in the NFL is because, in the spread, the quarterback is a running back. That's the mismatch in personnel. Go back to that typical spread formation I posed. Against that alignment, the typical defensive formation would put three defensive backs against two wide receivers on each side of the field, leaving five defenders against five blockers, a running back and a quarterback. If the quarterback isn't a runner, five can be expected to handle six. In college football, however, the quarterback is a runner and five against seven is too much of a disadvantage for the defense to overcome. So, do you want to make your quarterback a runner? In the NFL, I don't think so. The oversized line splits would also create a problem in the pro game, as it would invite blitzing and that's not a formula for keeping your quarterback healthy, either. To make the spread work, NFL teams would have to have on their roster a quarterback with true running back skills, but the oversized line splits would still have to go because NFL defenses have too many great athletes to invite that kind of disruption on a play-by-play basis without disastrous results. Without the oversized line splits, I don't think the spread would be nearly as successful in the NFL as it is in college.

Stan from Jacksonville:
I think the problem with everyone's high expectations for the Jaguars is that they are formed based on good, developmental stories of young rookies posted on Can you bring us down to earth and explain to us all of the potential problems you are witnessing in OTAs?

Vic: It's not something you witness in OTAs because OTAs are not full-contact, therefore, they are not truly competitive. I can, however, tell you where my concerns are for this team. I think you start on the defensive line. I think that's an area of grave concern and the recent circumstances involving John Henderson's inactivity have underscored those concerns. I have concern for the situation at safety, too. On offense, the lack of a young, developmental quarterback is a negative. Most people would point to the possibility of having rookies at the two tackles as a negative, but I love the positive element it provides for the future. I like what the Jaguars have done at wide receiver and I think that position will get fixed this year. Most of my concerns are on defense and I think they are distinct. My other main concern is for quality of roster. The Jaguars are in a youth movement and that means roster-gutting.

Stuart from Lenexa, KS:
If it's this bad with OTAs still fresh, what's going to happen during the "dead zone?" Are you going to take some much-deserved vacation and not even attempt to fill space during that time?

Vic: I'm sure someone else will try to fill space, but I won't. When I go on vacation, I don't work. You know what I mean? The week following the conclusion of OTAs, I'll be going on vacation.

Alex from Jacksonville:
If you were a first-time, first-year head coach, how would you go about building your coaching staff?

Vic: I'd want a staff full of coaches who know how to teach. I wouldn't want yellers or intimidators. I'd want assistant coaches who know how to teach young men to become professional football players. I'd want that if I was a first-year head coach or a long-time head coach.

Joey from Jacksonville:
I volunteered at the Jaguars rookie day "Got Skills" competition. Let me tell you, these rookies get it. They were so supportive of the kids and not one of them refused an autograph. The next generation of Jaguars fans are coming. Those kids booed one kid with a Patriots hat on.

Vic: This class of rookies has a great collective personality. If they can play, they can turn this franchise around.

David from Jacksonville:
The Falcons cut Vick because they couldn't find anyone that would trade for him. Do you think that's really true, or do you think it's a bit of smoke? I say so because I suspect if you trade a guy like Vick for a seventh-rounder, which he easily could fetch, then you set precedent that you're willing to take less than a player's value in future trades if there's not intense interest.

Vic: You lost me, David. I think you're overlooking something: There's not a lot of demand for dog-killers. Most teams don't want their employees to have to fight through protesters to get from the parking lot to the front door.

Dwayne from Jacksonville:
You know, I became a fan when I Googled "underwear," found you and liked what I read.

Vic: The Underwear League ends play this week. I'll miss it.

Alex from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
What do you think the chances are of the wildcat becoming a more prevalent part of the NFL offensive strategy?

Vic: If you have a Pat White on your team, which is to say a quarterback who provides a true element of run or pass, it might work. The Jaguars might have that guy in Zach Miller. Otherwise, in my opinion, the wildcat's days would be numbered. Baltimore showed everybody what to do defensively. The wildcat wasn't going to fool or surprise anybody this year. I think the Dolphins knew that. I think they knew they had to take the formation to the next level. Even at that, however, I have my doubts. Is Pat White a good enough runner or passer to make either one work? That's my main question.

Bryan from Paterson, NJ:
I was looking through the Jags roster and noticed all the young talent there is in the secondary. I just wanted to know how you think all the rookies are coming along. Do you think Brian Williams will move to the safety position next to Nelson?

Vic: Derek Cox's development will define what happens in the Jaguars' defensive backfield. When you trade a second-round pick to draft a guy, you do so with the idea that guy will become a starter. I think Cox has been battling a little bit of a hamstring pull in recent OTAs, which is why we've seen less of him. All eyes will be on him in training camp.

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