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Race for the Heisman
09-08-2008, 10:28 PM
Transitioning from the Spread: An Evaluation of Scouting Concerns Stemming from the Collegiate Shotgun Spread-Option System

First, before I say anything else, I want this to be a discussion. I’m not doing this to talk at people, I want the input of other people to help me refine the ideas presented here and to come up with new ones that were beyond my scope at the time of this writing. Oh, and this might be a little too extensive for some.

The point of this exposition is to determine what issues, from a scout’s perspective, stem from the shotgun spread-option offense that is now so prevalent in collegiate football. The biggest issues that I have pinpointed at this time are the problems associated with transition from a shotgun-dominated offense, assessment of quarterback accuracy, assessment of quarterback arm strength, and the evaluation of the signal-caller’s vision and decision-making.

When looking at any system that incorporates the shotgun as its base formation, the first concern will be the adjustment to taking snaps from under center. There are concerns both with the quarterback-center exchange and also the quarterback-tailback exchange (albeit less so). After those concerns are the issues with dropping from center. Step length and maintaining a straight drop are two of these issues. Step length is especially important for timing offenses, while dropping directly back from center is important in establishing a firm pocket in which the linemen are essentially protecting the point at which the quarterback drops back to.

After that, the second technical aspect of quarterback play that is of concern is accuracy. The shotgun spread-option offense compensates for a lack of traditional running options by using option runs, which are almost non-existent in the NFL, as well as extensive use of screen plays and quarterback runs. While the former and latter are not prevalent in the NFL, screens are, albeit to a lesser extent. The issue here arises when it is acknowledged that screen passes are for the most part relatively easy completions. Not much is asked from the quarterback in terms of making a difficult throw in a small window. This also creates doubts or concerns of statistics put up by SSO quarterbacks in terms of completion percentage and yardage, as screens will often add to both of these tallies for the signal-caller without requiring much ability from him. Aside from this more specific concern, the general concern is that in an offense that routinely uses three or more wide receiver sets, and in a league that often has large disparities in talent, there will often be wide-open receivers. Open targets still demand accuracy from a quarterback, but obviously not as much as partially covered targets. Quarterbacks may only developed general accuracy, the ability to throw to within the body frame of a receiver, rather than specific accuracy, the ability to throw to a specific area of the body to defeat different types of coverage (such as the back-shoulder fade).

The only physical concern I have found to this point is the question of arm strength. As mention previously with accuracy, there are often open receivers. Large windows not only do not require an exacting level of accuracy from a quarterback, but they also don’t require a cannon of an arm in order to complete the pass. Furthermore, in addition to the abundant screen passes, quick slants and short crossing routes are also staples in the spread offense. These throws do require accuracy from the signal-caller, but do not necessarily require arm strength. Therefore a quarterback can get by without having the arm strength necessary to succeed or excel at the NFL level.

The positive aspect of both the accuracy and arm strength issues is that at their cores they are observable traits. If enough tape exists on a player, scouts will be able to determine whether or not a potential target does in fact have a good arm or the specific accuracy necessary to succeed at the professional level.

Next are the mental attributes, namely vision and decision-making, which while being two separate and distinct attributes, will be linked for the purposes of this evaluation. Not to beat a dead horse, but the SSO incorporates many short throws. Lots of scripted plays like screens do not require the quarterback to either scan the field and find an open target, nor make a decision regarding whether or not he can beat the coverage. Often the first receiver will be open on a quick slant or similar pattern, and the quarterback has to neither make a crucial decision nor go through his progressions. This makes many of the throws completed by SSO quarterbacks almost purely mechanical actions, with very little required from the signal-caller mentally.

Furthermore, as mentioned previously, the displaced runs from a traditional offense must be replaced or made up for. This is pertinent because in college and specifically in the SSO, mobile quarterbacks are becoming ever more the norm. Thus when the initial receiver is not open and the pocket is collapsing, rather than being forced to look downfield, a quarterback can simply take off and run. Vince Young was much criticized for coming from a ‘one read and run’ offense, and while some would argue it is still to early call Young a bust, others would disagree. Regardless of which side of the line you prefer to stand, he obviously has not lived up to the billing of being a third overall pick. Furthermore, the SSO has created a system in which quarterbacks try to read the defensive end and determine whether or not to hand the ball off to a running back, rather than trying to determine what coverage the defense it in. Obviously quarterbacks will try to determine one or the other depending on the situation. The point remains that SSO quarterbacks are probably under-developed in the art of reading a defensive secondary when compared to signal-callers from traditional offenses.

These mental concerns are more disconcerting because film breakdown does not offer much insight into these areas. The interview process at the NFL Combine and the Wonderlic® are different tests that teams can use to determine to what extent these concerns are legitimate with any given prospect, but these tests are not always definitive.

In summation, the primary concerns that arise when drafting a SSO quarterback are arm strength, accuracy, vision, and decision-making. Some of these worries can be mitigated by more extensive study, but ultimately every quarterback coming from a SSO needs to be broken down extensively to determine whether perceived strengths are indeed strengths, and what the true scouting report of such a prospect should rightly read.

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Alright, so I have been bored and this whole 'system quarterback' deal has been on my mind. I know I have no scouting experience whatsover, and I probably have less playing experience that a lot of posters here, but I want to know what everyone thinks about this. Hopefully this may help others in their evaluation of future quarterback prospects and I hope your feedback will help my refine how I think about quarterback prospects. Thoughts?

Paranoidmoonduck
09-09-2008, 12:51 AM
I think you're missing the biggest part of the puzzle. The mechanics of switching from the shotgun can always be learned through repetition. That shouldn't stop a team. And decision making can be fairly easily analyzed as long as you can discern what a players responsibility was.

But there we find the real point. In the NFL, spread plays often require the quarterback to keep tabs on all his receivers. In college, half or more of his receivers are pure decoy unless the play breaks down. This isn't unique to the spread, but it was evident in situations like Texas' Vince Young offense or in Florida's Tim Tebow offense (I maintain that Tebow is given less to watch than Alex Smith was at Utah).

The number one thing a quarterback needs to be able to do is process. Switching from a spread to a more conventional offense might pose a problem, but it isn't because the steps are different or the vantage point is different or because it makes throws harder or easier. It's because it's one of the best ways to keep things simple for the quarterback while giving the defense a lot of things to keep track of. Whether the quarterback can handle the complexities is the real question.

CC.SD
09-09-2008, 01:13 AM
How to transition from a Spread Offense into an NFL Superstar:

Step 1.

Be Michael Crabtree.

Step 2.

Your life is ******* awesome.

eaglesalltheway
09-09-2008, 06:48 AM
Overall I'd say that is a nice job. Certainly a lot better than a lot of posters (including myself) could do about the topic. You summarized everything nicely and really covered it all, at least the important things. It was well written and well prepared. Most of it was stuff I had heard before, or stuff I could figure out by myself, but I like that it is all together for everyone to see. How did you get the copywrite, symbol?

eaglesalltheway
09-09-2008, 06:55 AM
I think you're missing the biggest part of the puzzle. The mechanics of switching from the shotgun can always be learned through repetition. That shouldn't stop a team. And decision making can be fairly easily analyzed as long as you can discern what a players responsibility was.

But there we find the real point. In the NFL, spread plays often require the quarterback to keep tabs on all his receivers. In college, half or more of his receivers are pure decoy unless the play breaks down. This isn't unique to the spread, but it was evident in situations like Texas' Vince Young offense or in Florida's Tim Tebow offense (I maintain that Tebow is given less to watch than Alex Smith was at Utah).

The number one thing a quarterback needs to be able to do is process. Switching from a spread to a more conventional offense might pose a problem, but it isn't because the steps are different or the vantage point is different or because it makes throws harder or easier. It's because it's one of the best ways to keep things simple for the quarterback while giving the defense a lot of things to keep track of. Whether the quarterback can handle the complexities is the real question.

He pretty much covered all of that in his post. He mentioned the scripted thorws and in many pass plays the QB doesn't have to read the defense. You went into a little mor edetail, for it, but. I wouldn't say he is missing the biggest part of the puzzle. Sure the mechanics can be learned, and he can receive the snap form the center and drop back, but all that does is put him even with a QB prospect from a conventional offense. But if the QB from the spread can't read the defense and go his progressions, that puts him at a big disadvantage compared to the QB prospect who is used to those things. If the spread QB can't do those things well, it leads to poor decisions and also bad throws. I honestly think the mental aspect is more important than the physical aspect, especially for a QB. I know you say that decision making can be fairly analyzed, and that is true for conventional QBs, but there are less opportunites (sometimes considerably less) to see how a Spread QB can make their decisions.

rockio42
09-09-2008, 08:36 AM
wow, I read some great things and there and you did a whoel hell of a lot better than i could, great read

Ozzy
09-09-2008, 10:23 AM
Random comment on the spread, honestly I hate it.

It makes football teams like Florida into a bunch of wuss players that play out of position and their transition into the NFL will be extremely difficult because of it. Think of Tebow, the guy is a wonderful QB, even better human being yet the spread will not help him in the NFL. Harvin is the worst though, he cannot even run a route really, all he does it play RB and catch little nothing passes.

I dislike the spread because it does not prepare players for the NFL. Which honestly is almost all of their goals. Thus teams like USC, who run a pro style offense, not tricks just simple plays prepare their players better on the offensive side of the ball.

I have nothing wrong with getting the ball into a play makers hands, but seriously all this trick crap, isn't that for the teams with no talent, not the teams with talent?


Granted I love Steve Spurrier and loved his offenses, but his offenses which used to be called his bag of tricks...is now considered standard compared to all of this new stuff people do. I have no problem with short screen passes to the WR's, but honestly to do it almost every play?


The spread annoys me but it will always be there because it is hard to defend. However the NFL does not do it for a reason...

Paranoidmoonduck
09-09-2008, 10:43 AM
He pretty much covered all of that in his post. He mentioned the scripted thorws and in many pass plays the QB doesn't have to read the defense. You went into a little mor edetail, for it, but. I wouldn't say he is missing the biggest part of the puzzle. Sure the mechanics can be learned, and he can receive the snap form the center and drop back, but all that does is put him even with a QB prospect from a conventional offense. But if the QB from the spread can't read the defense and go his progressions, that puts him at a big disadvantage compared to the QB prospect who is used to those things. If the spread QB can't do those things well, it leads to poor decisions and also bad throws. I honestly think the mental aspect is more important than the physical aspect, especially for a QB. I know you say that decision making can be fairly analyzed, and that is true for conventional QBs, but there are less opportunites (sometimes considerably less) to see how a Spread QB can make their decisions.

To say that spread quarterbacks are more likely to have condensed reads is not really true. I'd say it's a bit easier with the spread to analyze responsibility because the targets are spread out enough that a lot of quarterbacks just won't look at one half of the field. This isn't unique to the spread, Jeff Tedford has been doing this for years with his quarterbacks. Other teams go through false progressions to try and fake the defense.

I can't say it's just the mental aspect or the physical aspect. Scouting typically first asserts that a player has the tools to succeed, then dig deeper and tries to see if they have the mental ability. Some players barely have the first and have spades of the second, and that's why there are a lot of late round picks who make it as quarterbacks.

Besides, that isn't really my point. Transition is what every player has to do, and the jump from any college offense to any pro offense is definitely harder for the quarterback than anyone. Analyzing ability to transition is terribly difficult, but while the spread often presents a whole other spectrum of things for a quarterback to learn, those things will almost certainly not be their downfall.

BBIB
09-09-2008, 12:52 PM
The spread annoys me but it will always be there because it is hard to defend. However the NFL does not do it for a reason...

Because the NFL is a more conserative league.

There was a time when QBs didn't pass in the NFL.

There was a time when people thought you had to have a dominant running game to win.

THings change. All it takes is a trendsetter and it becomes a copycat league. Just like the spread in college football.


People said the spread offense wouldn't work. Then they said it wouldn't work in the SEC. Now they are saying it wouldn't work in the NFL.

In reality, if you have the athletes, and you have the offensive creativity, you can make a whole lot of things work.

Take a look at Georgia Tech. They are running the triple option. But they are using BCS conference level athletes to run it and so far so good.

Now obviously the triple option is suicidal in the pros because you don't want your QB having to take that many carries, but who's to say a variation of the spread offense with NFL level talent can't work?

One could argue that the Patriots offense last year where they had many 4 WR sets was some type of variation of the spread.



The spread not being able to work in the NFL is an unproven opinion.

And it will remain unproven as long as you have offensive coordinators too afraid to incorporate it.


Another primary example. The Raiders ran a variation of the Arkansas Wildhog for one play last night. It worked for 8 yards. Too afraid to try it again. What if it was found out that it could work in the NFL on 9-10 plays per game if you had the personnel to run it?

Ozzy
09-09-2008, 02:06 PM
My main problem with the spread currently is Florida. Is it just me or did Meyer win the national title with Zooks players. Zook recruited tough smart football players that were strong not just fast. It seems all Meyer cares about is speed. And what I am saying one is that Florida as an entire team looks very different than the years previously. The defense is not as tough and the offense is not as consistent. There is something wrong when a teams strongest and toughest player is their QB.

What I am saying is one, Harvin is not being helped what so ever at Florida in terms of getting him ready for the NFL. And two, they are just simply getting speed, those RB's they have Rainey and Demps are both like 5 nothing and under 180. Now sure they are talented but seriously you have to have a balance between trick plays, strange plays to get yards and straight out football.

Especially in terms of getting players ready for the NFL which in a way is what it is all about it is a win win for both sides.

As for the spread in the NFL, I do not think that will happen, in terms of not playing 4 WR's. That is not a spread, I am talking the option offense constant QB shotgun set and constant fake to the RB and play action and WR screens.

Maybe I am wrong but it will be very interesting to see how Tebow and Harvin do in the NFL with their college experiences.


Sure Auburn not runs a "spread" but really they are still tough, they still play strong defense and they still run the ball. Sure they have different formations but their skills are not being weakened by the spread and it will not hurt them in the NFL.

Staubach12
09-09-2008, 03:34 PM
PMD brought up a very good point. Often, it's about the complexities of the offense rather than anything else. Learning to make three and four reads is going to be a big deal for a QB who usually makes one (maybe two) and then run if it's not there (Tebow, Young).

Also, as far as footwork goes, I think we all know it starts with the feet. Dropping back from center is a bigger concern than the center-QB exchange.

Iamcanadian
09-10-2008, 08:36 PM
From a pro scouts point of view scouting a QB in a spread offense isn't as difficult as people make out. Just because Smith failed doesn't automatically suggest that their is some great problem in scouting QB's who play in a spread offense.
QB's who play in a pro type offense in college have just as much of a problem succeeding in the NFL as do QB's who play in a spread in college.
Scouts and GM's first look at a QB's arm strength, can the QB make all the throws or is his arm too weak. Then they look at a QB's feet, can he move around in the pocket just enough to sidestep pass rushers. Then they look at a QB's intelligence, is he smart enough to be able to read defenses and absorb the information quickly enough to still pick up 2nd and 3rd options. They look to see how he reacts in the pocket, is he bothered by a pass rush or can he stand in and still find an open receiver. Is he a leader who commands respect from his teammates in the huddle. Even after all this information is absorbed by pro scouts they still have a fairly high failure rate because it is pretty hard to judge mental toughness, the ability to get up from failure, ignore it and go on with the next play like nothing bad happened.
If a QB has these skills and mental toughness he is quite likely to succeed no matter what system he played in.
Do you think that QB's who play in a college pro type system are easy to scout, well they aren't, because college HC's can hide a QB's weaknesses by not asking him to throw every kind of pass. They can limit his ability to read defenses by giving the QB simple keys to make the decision of who to throw to and they may never ask a lot of QB's to even find a 3rd option. There are multiple ways in which a college HC can disguise the weaknesses of his QB and that is why few ever succeed at the next level.
Believe me teaching a QB to take a snap or to drop bad from taking a snap after playing in a spread offense is the least of their worries in assessing QB's.
Personally, I doubt scouts spend a whole lot of time worrying about which system a player plays in and concentrate far more on skills and abilities. If a QB has 'it', no system is going to limit his success. It is finding the few who have the 'it' that worries pro scouts and GM's.

summond822
09-10-2008, 10:03 PM
I think that you've forgotten another important part of the spread offense and transition to the NFL, and it has nothing to do with the QB position.

I believe that any RB coming out of a Spread Offense system needs to be evaluated extensively, because in the spread, a lot of times RB's are asked to go east-west and not north-south. Perfect example is Cedric Benson. A runner who came from the spread and was not able to adjust to a pro-style offense that required him to run downhill. This makes me very leery of any RB coming from the spread, unless I see extensive footage of them running downhill and hitting a hole. Not taking a delayed handoff the sitting in the backfield and choosing which hole to run throw. Can they get the tough yards or not should be a big question in any scouts mind. That is unless teams plan on using them as a Reggie Bush/Chris Johnson type where they don't plan on them running between the tackles at all.

One of the biggest concerns that I think scouts and coaches have over QB's is can they drop back with their back to the play, turn around and make the correct read. They are used to being able to watch the entire play develop in front of them and then choosing which receiver. Can they adapt to not seeing the entire play and still make the correct read? I think that that is a big question with QB's out of the spread. (not sure if someone already said this I didn't read all the responses)

eaglesalltheway
09-11-2008, 06:57 AM
To say that spread quarterbacks are more likely to have condensed reads is not really true. I'd say it's a bit easier with the spread to analyze responsibility because the targets are spread out enough that a lot of quarterbacks just won't look at one half of the field. This isn't unique to the spread, Jeff Tedford has been doing this for years with his quarterbacks. Other teams go through false progressions to try and fake the defense.

I can't say it's just the mental aspect or the physical aspect. Scouting typically first asserts that a player has the tools to succeed, then dig deeper and tries to see if they have the mental ability. Some players barely have the first and have spades of the second, and that's why there are a lot of late round picks who make it as quarterbacks.

Besides, that isn't really my point. Transition is what every player has to do, and the jump from any college offense to any pro offense is definitely harder for the quarterback than anyone. Analyzing ability to transition is terribly difficult, but while the spread often presents a whole other spectrum of things for a quarterback to learn, those things will almost certainly not be their downfall.

We are pretty much agreeing, its just a difference in how we are looking at it I think. We agree thatthe mental aspect is the most important, and also that if the player has an adequate arm and can make the throws it will help in the transition, but where we differ is going over some of the read/ progression. There are a ton of QBs in the spread who really don't have to go through their progression like moist QB because (like you said) there is that extra space and his WR is just more physically talented than the defender covering him. There are QBs in the spread who do go through thtier progresions, but those are the ones who usually end up having the best chance of being successful in the NFL. I just go with the extreme in my explanations sometimes because it really helps me articulate what I am trying to get across.

BBIB
09-12-2008, 03:16 PM
My main problem with the spread currently is Florida. Is it just me or did Meyer win the national title with Zooks players. Zook recruited tough smart football players that were strong not just fast. It seems all Meyer cares about is speed. And what I am saying one is that Florida as an entire team looks very different than the years previously. The defense is not as tough and the offense is not as consistent. There is something wrong when a teams strongest and toughest player is their QB.

What I am saying is one, Harvin is not being helped what so ever at Florida in terms of getting him ready for the NFL. And two, they are just simply getting speed, those RB's they have Rainey and Demps are both like 5 nothing and under 180. Now sure they are talented but seriously you have to have a balance between trick plays, strange plays to get yards and straight out football.

Especially in terms of getting players ready for the NFL which in a way is what it is all about it is a win win for both sides.

As for the spread in the NFL, I do not think that will happen, in terms of not playing 4 WR's. That is not a spread, I am talking the option offense constant QB shotgun set and constant fake to the RB and play action and WR screens.

Maybe I am wrong but it will be very interesting to see how Tebow and Harvin do in the NFL with their college experiences.


Sure Auburn not runs a "spread" but really they are still tough, they still play strong defense and they still run the ball. Sure they have different formations but their skills are not being weakened by the spread and it will not hurt them in the NFL.


That's why I said that you could incorporate certain elements in the spread.

The option play could NOT be implemented in the NFL. The reason is because they would tee off on the QB every time. But the features that could be potentially incorporated is the 4 WR sets to put playmakers in space.

The draw and the PA off the draw. I think those elements of the shotgun spread could absolutely be used in the NFL as a base offense.