The Spread - Stopping It, Running It, & More
Florida QB Tim Tebow
Florida QB Tim Tebow
Posted Aug 20, 2008

So, how do you stop the spread? What does a spread option quarterback have to do before every play? Why aren't spread quarterbacks succeeding in the NFL? Really, what kind of pro prospect is Tim Tebow? Pete Fiutak asks the experts.

The Spread - How To Stop It

How do you stop the spread? Why aren't spread QBs better in the pros?

By Pete Fiutak

The Spread   2008 Preview
10 Top Spread QBs |
The Big Ten & The Spread

In a quest to find out as much as possible about the spread attack, from all different sides, I asked the experts some key questions. How would an all-timer of a head coach stop it? How do the stars run it? What do the insiders think of the spread quarterbacks as pro prospects?

So, how do you stop the spread?

Fox NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson’s mid-1980s Miami Hurricane teams all but ended the reign of the wishbone/triple option offense by putting faster, more athletic players on defense to get to the ball faster and to swarm the ball-carrier. So, how would the legendary head coach deal with the new spread?

“It all comes down to talent. If you have more talent and more athleticism on the defensive side of the ball than the offense has, you’ll stop the spread. But Florida has so many good athletes and so much good talent, you’re not going to be able to have more speed and athleticism, so it all comes down to familiarity. Michigan lost to Appalachian State at the beginning of the year because they weren’t used to seeing the spread. They weren’t ready. If you see it week in and week out, you get used to how to read it and you get much better at stopping it. … First you have to take away the quarterback, but with a guy like (Tim) Tebow with too much strength and power, he’s too effective running the ball and can produce even if you get to him. And then you need the defensive backs to be able to stay with the receivers so you can focus mostly on stopping the quarterback. Most importantly, you need fast, athletic linebackers. … Or you can be USC and you can pick your guys to stop the spread. They have the big, fast defensive linemen to take away the quarterback and let the big, fast linebackers and defensive backs take care of the rest.”

What does a spread option quarterback have to do before every play?

Juice Williams, Illinois: “We have a checklist of about eight different things that you have to look at in two or three seconds. You have to know the fronts, the coverages, the time clock, where the receivers are going to be, where the line is set up, where the linebackers are moving, and this all has to be done quickly. Now that I know what to do right away, I get more to do. When I first started, I was thinking too much and just started running, but after a year of running the offense, you figure it out faster.”

Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan: “Look at the defense from front to back. Identify the box up front in the middle, and go to the shell to see the corners and safeties what they’re doing. You have to put the whole picture together in an instant. I’m given the freedom to change a certain play here and there, but the plays are designed to run, most of the time, no matter what the defense is doing.”

Why aren’t spread quarterbacks succeeding in the NFL?

Mike Mayock, NFL Network: “The skills haven’t translated well. The footwork has been awful. Look at Joe Flacco (from Delaware) last year. He had the arm and the size and the skills to work with, but he has the talent to develop. You need to have the right scouting and coaching to figure out the player, and not the system. I never thought Vince Young was going to translate well to the NFL, he had way too far to go, and Alex Smith was an aberration; it was a down year for quarterbacks.”

Nolan Nawrocki, Pro Football Weekly: “With the increased speed and violence of the game at the pro level and the likelihood of injuring a quarterback attempting to run, you don't see a lot of designed QB runs in the pros. And those that come in the league looking to run – Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb, Steve Young - often quickly try learning how to become passers first, runners second, lest they be regularly stuck on the injured reserve, as McNair was late in his career and McNabb increasingly seems to be. Norm Chow was run out of Tennessee for not developing Young enough as a passer. … QBs in the Jeff Tedford / Mike Leach /Urban Meyer /Steve Spurrier systems rarely are asked to read more than a third of the field and tend to complete primarily short, dink-and-dunk passes that allow for quicker decisions to be made and more accuracy. Their systems do not promote the development of a quarterback but rather hide their shortcomings while padding stats that can easily fool not only the average fan but even the most experienced evaluator.”

Really, what kind of pro prospect is Tim Tebow?

Mike Mayock, NFL Network: “It all depends on the skill set of the individual player and how much you can work with him. Tebow is a big, strong runner and a talented athlete with a strong arm, but can he make those stick throws like you have to make in the NFL? “

Nolan Nawrocki, Pro Football Weekly: Tebow at this stage is very clearly more of a thrower than a passer - he struggles to take pace off the ball. I can appreciate his physical stature, toughness - mental and physical, intelligence, run strength, athletic ability and production in a system perfectly tailored for his talents, but I did not see the peripheral vision, progression reads, decision-making or touch desired in a pro quarterback, and he has played in a system that clearly has not translated well to the NFL.”