Spread offense has pros, cons

Shane Beamer
Shane Beamer

There have been many popular high school football offenses. The single-wing, veer, various other forms of the triple-option and the Wing-T have all had their heyday.

Unquestionably we are now in the decade of the spread. With both pass- and run-first offenses using it effectively, it is now as popular and conventional as your dad's form of the option was in the 1970s.

Football is a copycat sport, and high school coaches certainly stole some of the spread principles utilized earlier this decade by men like Rich Rodriguez and Joe Tiller. But not all colleges are running a spread, and that has taken more certainty out of the already inexact science of recruiting.

It's getting more and more difficult for colleges to figure out how certain players fit into their system.

Is this player a receiver or a corner? Is he a tight end or a defensive end? Is he a slot or outside receiver? Can this player thrive as a more traditional drop-back passer than as the dual-threat player he was in high school?

"What we're seeing at the high school level is that a lot of the basic fundamentals are missing from quarterback play," ESPN's Jamie Newberg said. "We see these kids at camps and combines, ask them to take a snap from center, make a seven-step drop and find their receiver. They're lost, because they are worried about taking the snap from center. I think it's a big reason why quarterbacks are struggling in the NFL. I think it's stunting the growth of the quarterback.

"It's changing football quite a bit. A lot of times we're seeing high schools run it without the personnel to run it. They just want to run it."

With the growth of the spread, fewer teams are utilizing fullbacks and tight ends.

In a three-receiver set, most teams will utilize one tailback and a tight end. Throw in another receiver and the tight end typically leaves the field. Some prep teams now base with four or five receivers, especially if they have an athletic quarterback who is a threat to run.

That makes it more difficult for colleges to find fullbacks and tight ends. Often, they are forced to sign prospects with the dimensions and athleticism to play there who haven't necessarily done it before. That makes recruiting much more about luck than precision.

"With most kids you look at what type of athlete they are and how they might fit in," said Spring Valley coach Miles Aldridge, a longtime college assistant. "But certainly nowadays you are recruiting a quarterback or a receiver for a specific position in the spread. A long time ago we could take quarterbacks and make them receivers, but nowadays you do have specific positions.

"I think you always end up taking a certain number of athletes without knowing what they'll be. You know they can run, catch and do other things, so you can plug them in."

The spread offenses utilized by high school teams do have their advantages. They have allowed college coaches to better assess the athleticism of a prospect than the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offenses of yesteryear, South Carolina recruiting coordinator Shane Beamer said.

"You get to see guys’ athletic ability in space and get to see them run around," he said, "so there is a little bit of a give and take with the spread."