FILM ROOM: An exploration of the modern spread, part 2

In last week’s column, we took a look at how coaches have been optioning defenders in the running game using schemes such as the veer to create numerical advantages for decades.  We also briefly touched on how these old-school option offenses have a major shortfall in their inability to present enough of a numerical threat in the vertical passing game to keep the defense from walking up safeties, eventually forcing these offenses to have to win 1-on-1 matchups on the outside that they may not be equipped for from a personnel standpoint.

The fact is, teams that run these old options weren’t able to recruit elite passers or receivers because it doesn’t get them ready for the NFL.  Thus, with a few exceptions, they became rather one-dimensional.  Today, the traditional option attack such as the veer, Wing T, I-Bone, flexbone etc. are more of a relic for smaller schools that can cause a lot of problems with limited preparation time.

Bigger schools, however, began to adopt a lot of these option principles into more balanced singleback spread offenses.  Probably one of the first was Rich Rodriguez at Tulane, Clemson, and West Virginia.  What started out was a desire to be able to execute a zone running scheme out of shotgun spread formations and control backside pursuit led to a discovery that really revolutionized offenses much the same way the run and shoot did back in the early 90s.

The problem Rodriguez identified a solution for was this:  How do you run zone out of spread formations in order to keep an immediate 4 verticals threat in the passing game?  With no tight end or fullback and only 5 blockers on the play, a team that went to a single high post safety could still cover all the gaps.  You could block the front side of the play, but increasingly athletic defensive ends could still chase the back down from behind and the defense can adjust their run fits to force a cutback.

The solution was to, have his mobile quarterback become a blocker and block the backside defensive end by reading him, becoming in essence the ultimate version of the naked bootleg.  It was a great trade for the offense, and the end result looked something like this, the zone read:

Play 1 – Inside Zone


Inside zone (as pictured above) is basically a north/south to cutback play, not really designed to bounce outside.  It allows the back to read blocks, make a cut, and either take the ball upfield or cut it backside.  On the line, the simple blocking rule is this:  Block the defender covering you up, block the next defender over to the play side, and then work up your stack to the second level.  On the diagram above, you can see how it unfolds against a basic 4-3 over (tackle to the run strength of the formation) front.

It created a lot of problems, however there are still defensive answers and its success is dependent upon the blocks, unlike the veer where every blocker at the point of attack has favorable angles and help, making it difficult for players to lose in their assignments.  It’s also still designed to keep hits on the QB to a minimum by having him pull the ball and run only when the alley is vacated and numbers in the box are favorable.  To further this and really keep QB hits to a minimum, coaches started using additional backs or motioning wide receivers into the backfield to serve as a pitchman and give a sort of triple option, all while maintaining the ability to present a legitimate 4 verticals threat that can punish a defense that goes to a single high safety.

Shortly there after, along came some coach you’ve probably never heard of named Urban Meyer with a quarterback who was built for running the ball inside.  One of the tweaks Meyer had was to take Rodriguez’ backside read and turn it into a frontside read, in effect allowing him to adapt the veer to spread football.  At its peak with Tebow running the veer with Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps,  it was virtually impossible for defenses to answer and really wasn’t spread so much as just shotgun veer.

Play 2 – Shotgun Veer


 What evolved from there was sort of an inversion of the veer concept in which the quarterback now serves as the dive back and the tailback carries the ball outside.  We saw this primarily with bigger quarterbacks such as Tebow or Cam Newton, with the idea being to get these bigger power runners headed downhill while using smaller spread scatbacks in more of a sweep action, putting the defensive end in a bind as he has to make a split second decision whether to take the quarterback and give up the edge or take the edge and abandon his gap.  Drawn up, it looks something like thi

Play 3 – Inverted Veer


 The thing to note is that all of these runs can be executed with 4 legitimate receiving threats on the field.  The idea is that with 4 vertical threats, a defense is limited in its ability to go to a single post safety.  The reason, again, comes back to numbers and creating a schematic advantage. With a single high safety, the defense does not have a ready answer for 4 vertical threats, as you can see below



One thing to note in all of this is that if the quarterback can run the ball effectively, even a 1-high look is not going to equalize numbers in the box.  Thus, defenses have increasingly gone to pattern-match quarters looks with walked up safeties in order to be able to effectively defend the seams while still being able to provide run support.  Thus, offenses have had to figure out ways to come up with answers through the passing game.  Next week, we’ll take a look at just what answers the offense has come up with and how they have packaged them with run plays in order to put defenses in a real bind.

Stay tuned and if you have questions, please post them on our premium Insider BullGator Den and I’ll look out for them.

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Tom Furland
Tom Furland holds a BSBA in Decision and Information Sciences and an MBA from the University of Florida and is still proud to say it is the only school he has ever applied to. A lifelong Gator fan and a long-time X’s and O’s junkie, Tom got his start with Gator Country back in 2008. Tom then moved on to the now-defunct Gator Gurus along with David “PD” Parker, where Tom quickly became known as one of the foremost technical experts in the Gator Football community. After taking some time away from writing to complete grad school, Tom is proud to be back at Gator Country and bringing you the best Gator-centric X’s and O’s on the web.


  1. The main thing I’m getting from the information presented, so far, is that you need a good quarterback to be successful. That’s still the same question that has existed at Florida since Tebow left. Does Florida have a good quarterback? I don’t think you can allow Driskel to not show improvement, we can’t wait for his Senior year. If he doesn’t show he’s better by the middle of the year, it’s time to end the Jeff Driskel experiment and let someone else take a shot. I’d like to see him succeed, but I haven’t seen anything yet that makes me optimistic.

  2. Great write up Tom.

    Driskel clearly has the strengths and qualities to be a good spread quarterback. If he can stay healthy, he should have the offense clicking by the Georgia game. Let’s hope the O-Line can avoid injury and show some improvement over last year.