I cannot hide from the fact I have been a pure spread skeptic. Or, perhaps more accurately, a skeptic of the pure spread.
As the movement evolves, I can, too, right? Sure, why not?
While the benefits of spreading a team out to use more of the field are clear, it is also easy to paint one’s self into a corner with systems that do not utilize all types of players and plays.
So as far as that goes, Ohio State fans should be happy to see the spread movement coming to Ohio State only after it has had time to more fully mature.
There are plenty of different ways to move the ball, it’s not just zone run, zone read and bubble screens.
The big addition to the repertoire is the inverted veer, which is really a beautiful play and one that might have saved the shotgun run game movement as defenses had figured out some ways to consistently give a false read key on the zone read and screw up what was the scheme’s base play. Hybrid players also made a difference, as you might recall seeing smaller ends like Thaddeus Gibson and Nathan Williams give quarterbacks a “keep” read then have the athleticism to close distance and bring him down anyway or at least make him cut and give time for pursuit to arrive.
The inverted veer involves a read of the front side end (like the classic veer) while blocking a strong-side zone or “power” play (a.k.a., the same blocking scheme from the play Jim Tressel called “Dave”) instead of just making the backside end pay for overplaying a handoff going away from him. The alteration gives the offense an even better numbers advantage as it adds an extra blocker to the play side while still optioning an end.
Over time the type of personnel used within some versions of the spread has changed, too. That’s another key distinction between what Meyer plans to do at Ohio State versus what Rich Rodriguez did at Michigan or for that matter what Joe Tiller did at Purdue (two very different approaches, of course, but both designed to take advantage of personnel that would be considered “nontraditional” in the Big Ten).
Defenses adjusted to the early spreads by putting more speed on the field, negating some of the advantages it initially gave inferior teams. Offenses responded by bringing back some of the big guys who had been relegated to the sidelines by the influx of 3- and 4-WR sets. That gives the offense a chance to take advantage not only of the full width of the field but also to win physical matchups closer to the middle. One of my early criticisms of the spread as a weapon of traditional powers such as Michigan or Ohio State was that it could marginalize one of the advantages those schools have over the Michigans and the Texas Techs: the ability to recruit not only big guys and fast guys, but big, fast guys. The latter group is much more exclusive than the first two.
And so as Meyer takes Columbus, Ohio State has plenty of personnel that should fit into a power-oriented spread offense. That begins with quarterback Braxton Miller, who has the speed and agility to make plays and the toughness and willingness to run inside even though he lacks the ideal build to do that too often, and goes on to a foursome of fast power backs (Meyer acknowledged last week here he has a “scat quarterback” instead of a power QB like Time Tebow). Jordan Hall could kind of fill in the cracks as a tough-to-tackle edge guy when he returns from foot surgery.
Then there is the trio of athletic big guys: Zach Boren, Jake Stoneburner and Jeff Heuerman (Meyer seems ready to add Nick Vannett to this group recently as well) who should give the staff the capability to be less transparent with intentions to run or pass. They can move around the formation and make blocks at the first or second level.
There were questions about the athleticism of the offensive line, but the players and coaches assure us the new training staff did a lot to alleviate those since January.
What about wide receiver? The potential is there and seems to be coming along, however slowly.
Maybe that’s the most telling aspect of the whole progression. Who would have thought five years ago a team could go into a season feeling good about it’s chances of scoring a lot of points with a spread offense with the biggest question mark on the team being the wide receivers?
Certainly this has been an interesting offseason. Watching the system implemented during spring and talking to the new coaches about the challenges they have faced and the benefits of what they do has been very cool.
Now it’s almost time to see it take the field for real. Should be fun.