Analysis: Will the College Spread Offense work in the NFL?


About half of the 1A college football teams use what can best be categorized as the spread offense as their base set. Florida coach Urban Meyer told reporters that 3 NFL teams came in for a seminar on the theory and practice of the spread. He did not reveal which teams were in attendance.

Meyer’s O has won 2 of the last three titles so he would be the one to ask about the spread. However, we have seen college offenses come and go in the league before. There are several coaches that brought their offensive style to the NFL and for the most part they are now back coaching college teams.

In 1989 both the Lions and the Houston Oilers adopted the run and shoot. The base formation is 1 RB and 4 WRs. Mouse Davis adapted the O from a high school package and installed it for the Oilers. The Lions drafted Houston QB Andre Ware to run their version in Detroit. The attempt failed despite the fact that both teams played in doors at home. The problems were many. The pass rush forced the QB to roll out most of the time. That cut the field in half and allowed the D to roll coverage in the direction of the rollout based on which hand the QB threw with. The running game was not nearly as successful as it had been in college. In an attempt to improve the running game, the Lions widened the splits between the lineman to give the back more room to run. But there just aren’t many 260 pound middle linebackers that can run with the RBs in college. The wider splits allowed the pass rush to get to the QB faster.

In addition, the QBs that ran the R&S in college were not able to read NFL coverages. The success in college depended on quick passes underneath the coverage and run after the catch. The speed of the NFL DBs prevented the long gains that the R&S had generated in college.

In 1992, the Bengals drafted David Klingler QB from U of Houston. Klingler had broken every record in the team and league history but was a flop in the NFL. The Bengals did not have the O line or WRs to make it work.

Former Florida coach Steve Spurrier brought his version of the R&S which was much more like the current spread to Washington in 2002. The Redskins blew out the opposition in the preseason but the NFL figured out the way to defend the scheme and Spurrier went back to college to coach South Carolina after 3 season.

Now with college teams using the spread, some teams are considering a version of it. The QBs coming out are more spread/wild cat style than drop back passers that the traditional NFL offense requires. The spread will not work for the reasons described above plus a few. Offensive system like the one in Florida depend on a QB running threat. QBs are too expensive and fragile to be hit by 340 lb D linemen and 260 lb linebackers.

The other issue is weather. In the cold winds of the north in November and December, if you can’t run you can’t win. Even with a TE replacing one of the WRs, there is not enough blocking at the point of attack to sustain a running game. You need a FB or a second TE to make the running game work consistently. A team in the west or south might make it work at home and early in the season. But when the winds blow up north, you have to be able to run the ball on the road to win enough to keep a coach employed long term.

NFL defenses have figured out the wild cat. It may take a little time, but they will stop the spread as well.

That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.

Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits He has also published several novels on and edits .

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Analysis: Will the College Spread Offense work in the NFL? by
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