Is the Spread Offense Just a Fad?
We all know the line about NFL standing for the No Fun League.
Now we have our first episode of this definition lining up against Mr Fun himself, Johnny Manziel.
Dude was in Vegas over the holiday weekend, partying his patootie off.
The question arose as to why Manziel wasn't studying the Cleveland Browns' playbook instead of doing what's done in Sin City. No one should have been surprised. But the debate has begun between button-down and party down.
Go get 'em, Herm!
The discussion then turned to playbooks. Apparently, Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported a few weeks ago that, while at Texas A&M, Manziel never had a playbook.
King's a blowhard who's been trading off his name and early career for years, now. The first casualty of this was accuracy. Hasn't he noticed yet that most college teams using the spread offense may not have thick playbooks, but they do have playbooks.
And just like the flow sports of hockey, basketball, and soccer, they do have plays. They're just based heavily on read and react, which offers a different set of defensive challenges. And the decisions athletes like Manziel make are just as sophisticated as the skills involved in memorizing an NFL playbook:
- Chip Kelly transitioned well from college to the NFL with the Oregon offensive philosophy.
- Mark Helfrich is building on Kelly's fundamentals without adding any more pages.
- Gus Malzahn simply runs a handful of plays from a combination of sets.
- Kevin Sumlin keeps his playbook stripped down by design, too, because it works.
One of the pioneers of this trend is Mike Leach, now at Washington State. He shares his system with other coaches that can be readily viewed in a Part 1, Part 2, and Cut Up presentation that has been around for years. Each of the coaches listed above have run variations of this scheme, which features limited memorization and extensive reads.
Offenses have been evolving since the days of the single wing. Like Red Hickey's shotgun in the late 1950s that is still a major element today, the thin playbook looks like it's here to stay, simply because there's less structure and more variation on any given snap.
All Manziel did was make plays. Isn't that the point? This also worked for Baylor. According to former Bear wide receiver Kendell Wright, who is now with the Tennessee Titans, Baylor didn't have a stereotypical playbook, either. Art Briles' offense didn't need one.
|At Baylor we didn't huddle. Everything we did was coming off of signals and off the sideline ... We didn't have a playbook. If we had a new play or something, we'd just draw it and go out there and run it.|
That's a quicker way of making in-game adjustments instead of waiting for halftime. That's why these teams can be harder to stop. They can change a gameplan -- what the defense spent a week studying in the video room -- in a heartbeat.
NFL coaches have to understand this when they draft players from spread systems. Some will feel confined if they have to revert to a more structured philosophy. That may explain why Robert Griffin III struggled so much last year and why the 'Skins hired a coach more in tune with what the spread can do. After all, Jay Gruden is a disciple of Bill Walsh's West Coast schemes, which were a mainstay in the spread offense's development.
New Browns' coach Mike Pettine has scoffed at the playbook-or-no issue, saying Texas A&M ran a complex offense. He also noted that Mr Football has to pick up the nuances of NFL elements like calling protections and formations, but so far, he's happy with Manziel's progress.
So, is the spread just a fad like the run-and-shoot, which was here today and gone tomorrow? Leave it to ESPN's Colin Cowherd to put it into a cultural context:
It's evolution. There's no going back.