Power Spread

Posted: September 3, 2011 in All Things Power Spread
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Power Spread is a term I came up with a couple of years ago.  Its a Concept – utilizing different schemes to produce Power Football from a Spread Formation.   Today we see lots of these schemes, the most well known at present is probably the Read Option – Where the QB is lined up in a shotgun and reads the defense on the move with the ball at the RBs side until the last second when the decision is made to let the RB take the handoff or a QB keep.  A sub-scheme off of the read option is possibly the most famous of all Power Spread schemes – the Zone Read.  The Zone Read actually combines the use of zone blocking (made famous in the 1980s with such teams as Glen Mason’s Minnesota Gophers) with the Read Option.  West Virginia, coached by Rich Rodriguez, had great success with speedy players to make this scheme hugely popular in the 00s.

The Pistol formation is the other popular scheme in the Power Spread.  This scheme has the QB positioned not so far back from the center as in the shotgun – thus its called Pistol – a smaller gun.  From this “half” shotgun position there can be a RB positioned behind the QB as a Tailback in a pseudo I formation. There’s other variations with 2 backs, split backs, even triple backs in some sort of pseudo Single Wing from the 1920s!  But the idea is to have the rb or rbs somewhat hidden and useful in mis-direction, while still keeping the field spread and the QB in great position to either run or throw.  The great idea about the Pistol is that the QB can be much more protected than in the Read Option where he’s constantly vulnerable.   The pistol can be run either with a mobile , semi-mobile or even a non-mobile QB.  Just depends on the play creativity from the different Pistol sets.

The other Power Spread Scheme that needs mentioning is the Triple Spread Option, invented by Paul Johnson while at Georgia Southern in the 1980s.  It may look like old fashioned Veer Option(Oklahoma) or better yet, Triple Option football (Nebraska) of days gone by, but its really a semi-spread or spread set (depending on the width of the Wingbacks) disguised within a Triple Option scheme.  In fact, their is only the QB, under center, and one RB – so its basically a One RB set, which is usually a Spread set.  But in this case, two of the four WRs are lined up in a close to the Oline, slot position, called Wingbacks — again harking back to the Wingback formations of the early part of the last century.  Paul Johnson took this scheme to Hawaii, then made it really famous at Navy and now Georgia Tech.  While at Hawaii, he tinkered with spreading the Wingbacks out a little wider as Slotbacks and/or lining up or motioning into 3 players to one side of the field with a Wing, Slot and WR and passing a lot more out of what looked like purely a run option offense.  Thus, Triple Spread Option , Triple Option Spread or Spread Triple Option – whatever suits your fancy.

Actually, when Paul Johnson spread his Wings wider into Slot position he actually turned his Triple Option set into one of the first “famous” passing spread sets in football history and ironically the first Power Spread scheme of the modern age – The Run & Shoot!  Started by Mouse Davis at Portland State in the 1960s and made famous by Jim Kelly and the Houston Gamblers of the USFL in the 80s and finally by Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers of the NFL in the 90s,  the Run & Shoot was a quick pass, passing spread with the QB under center and utilizing half rollouts right OR left on every single play!  The set and WR patterns were so simple it was brilliant. Everything was based on WR and QB reads.  Like the Triple Option, the scheme requires great cohesion, so it must be run exclusively so without any other schemes or concepts involved so that the right level of execution can be achieved.

The Run&Shoot had something in common with the Power Spread Concept from the start-  brilliant simplicity in maximizing talent.   You didn’t need to be a star WR or even a WR by trade to play in this scheme.  In fact the Slot Backs who caught the most passes were usually converted RBs or scat backs with a lot of speed and decent hands.  Still, the QB position was not so flexible in this regard as the quick thinking passer with a fast and accurate “arm”  was  required for the best success. But the overall simple brilliance of the scheme finally brought out the first real Modern Day Power Spread scheme when the Detroit Lions were the first NFL team to consistently use the Spread to Run concept when they highlighted Barry Sanders in this Run&Shoot package during the same time that Warren Moon was zinging passes all over the field for the Oilers.  This development came about as so many do in sports – due to necessity – Barry was an incredible runner, especially in the open field and Rodney Peete did not have the strongest or most accurate arm.  In fact Peete was probably a better runner and actually took advantage of the “spread sets opening the field” to take off and run a lot more than the usual passing spread or West Coast QBs of the time.  But in the end it was all about Sanders and spreading out the field to let him find the seams. Of course, when teams ganged up too much on Barry it was a lot easier for Peete to find his WRs, regardless of his limitations as a passer.

As with the Run&Shoot of the Barry Sander Detroit Lions, always the Power Spread is about the threat of the run first, unlike the passing spread sets or even the spread concepts of earlier days with the Bill Walsh West Coast Offense. These are all “pass first” concepts as opposed to the older and more traditional “run first” styles of the Pro Two Back Sets that started in the 60s and continue to this day or the  Full House sets that dominated football from the 30s thru the 50s (though Dutch Meyer is credited with the first Spread Sets in College Football at TCU in the 50s).   All of these sets utilized the QB under center, which in the 30s was a revolutionary idea as early football was usually played with the Center snapping the ball back to someone at a certain distance away.   And if you look at the old Single Wing sets of the 20s and earlier it looks like, at least in College Football, that history has made a full circle back to the future with the Power Spread.  Back in the 20s and earlier,  the forward pass was still a novice idea and most of the scheming consisted of an overwhelming layer of misdirection utilizing all 4 backs in a contained set.  They were not spread sets, but still utilized the backs and ends in a multitude of formations with the same run first mentality and great use of misdirection involving EVERY player including the QB!

And this leads me to my last point about the  Power Spread.  This is not a gimmicky concept or gimmick schemes.  It utilizes every player at a team’s disposal – not leaving the QB out as a function of handing the ball off and getting out of the way.  Or setting up in obvious situations in 2 back sets where the FB always blocks and the TB always gets the ball. OR even obvious situations in passing spreads where the threat of the run is almost nil.  The Power Spread is designed as run to set up the past like the old schemes of days gone by, BUT , and here’s the key – THE POWER SPREAD CAN BE USED IN ANY WAY THE TEAM, TALENT AND COACHING DEMANDS.   It can also be used as a pass first offense if you so desire as was the Barry Sander’s Run&Shoot scheme that so confounded defenses.  They had to protect the pass, because of the Slotbacks spread out so wide , even though they knew the great threat at RB.  The mis-direction schemes at the beginning of last century did not involve any passing expertise you see today.  But then neither did the early Full House or Pro schemes later in the decade, though the pass continually improved and finally exploded into a great weapon with the development of the West Coast and Passing Spreads of the 80s and 90s.  Now, in the 00s, finally a system developed where by its impossible to know whether its the pass or run which will be the greatest weapon on the team and how and where ALL the offensive players will be utilized.  THIS IS THE POWER SPREAD – ABSOLUTE BALANCE.

In the end the Power Spread is about nothing else, if not BALANCE.  As pioneers such as  Dutch Meyer, Mouse Davis and Bill Walsh discovered – the field can be spread horizontally as well as vertically and when the misdirection of the old Single Wing is brought into the equation the balance of this offense is so complete that its near impossible to stop – even with bare bones execution. And if the Team possesses a player who can throw the ball a little, then its simply impossible to stop at this time in Football History. Always, its run first out of the Power Spread, but its very easy to alternate to a pass first mentality  when the defense stacks the box and then back to the run. In fact, the field can be stretched deep, short, wide or middle – like a 4 way Accordion – continuing to counteract  the defense until the defense can no longer commit to any one part of the field or any one player. EVERY PLAYER MAXIMIZED, EVERY PART OF THE FIELD UTILIZED.  That’s the Power Spread and where Football continues to grow – from the Rugby style scrums of the 1800s, the Single Wing of the early 1900s, the T Formation Full House of the 1940s,  the Pro Sets of the 1960s and finally the Passing Spreads of the 1990s – this is just one more step forward in the Evolution of American Football – THE POWER SPREAD.


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