[A]re the days of the option pitch, jet sweep and jump pass coming to an end in Gainesville?
Already we know that Tim Tebow and [back-up quarterback] John Brantley spent countless hours this spring working on hand-offs and drop-backs from under center during spring practice. And that the coaches spent most of the spring identifying players who could play fullback as Gators tinkered with an “I-formation” offense. And that Brantley, the heir apparent to Tebow, does not have the skill set to run the spread-option the same way Tebow does (not a knock on Brantley, just stating the obvious that Tebow is a unique physical specimen). . . .
Apparently Florida’s coaching staff (i.e. quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler) is downplaying the whole spread-option thing, and telling recruits that a more pro-style offense is being installed.
From [ESPN's Bruce] Feldman: "The Gators coaches told [a recruit] they’re going to more of a pro-style offense, because NFL teams don’t run the spread, which [the recruit] says was good to hear since he’s more of a pro-style guy himself."
It’s an interesting turn of events for the Gators and Meyer, who are trying to fight the perception that Florida skill players – mostly quarterbacks and receivers – don’t succeed in the NFL because they don’t get the proper training in college.
A few thoughts. First, this is overblown insofar as the idea is that, once Tebow leaves, all the spread stuff goes out the window. It's unlikely that a coach like Meyer, who has run the spread for a decade on his way to an undefeated season and two national championships, will suddenly chuck what he has done in favor of being totally"pro-style." That said, there might be a hint -- but little more than that -- of truth to this.
New quarterback coach Scott Loeffler is more of a pro-style guy, it is true. He coached for a long time at Michigan, which was definitely more on the "pro" side of the spectrum, and he of course spent some time in the NFL, most recently with the Detroit Lions. The Gators might be looking to add a few of these NFL looks, possibly as much to take advantage of their runningbacks as with their quarterbacks. Indeed, assuming the reports that the Gators used more under-center and traditional set stuff during the spring is true, I chalk most of that up to trying new things with new coaches and a veteran group that just came off a national championship; Tebow knows how to run the spread stuff so why not work on some wrinkles? The whole SEC will spend the offseason working on ways to knock Florida off. Meyer knows he has to stay ahead of the competition.
But, more importantly, this anti-spread angle for recruiting is unfortunate but real. High school or even NFL head coaches might bristle at the idea that you would do anything but what absolutely gives you the best chance to win on the field (and for players it is my way or the highway), the reality in big time college football is that Meyer must compete against Southern Cal, Ohio State, Miami, and others for top-flight recruits. And most of those guys expect to the go to the NFL. There is no doubt that the most recent NFL Draft felt at times like a giant negative ad campaign against the spread, complete with Mel Kiper chiming in to talk about Tebow's bright NFL future as a tight-end or H-back. Contrast that with the glowing praise the talking heads -- and even NFL coaches -- heaped on Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez as being "NFL ready" because of their "pro-style" college systems. All this adds up to recruits actually believing this stuff; perception becomes reality.
It also points to the idea that Meyer might be adding some pro-style for "flavor" and recruiting purposes. A little could do him a lot of good: he would have more of a recruiting pitch; he could possibly dispel some of the "he can't take a snap from under center" talk plaguing Tebow to help him be a better draft pick, and those two things together could be enough for him to explain away the negative comments about the spread without actually, in fact, giving it up. Meyer's a spread guy to the core, but he also is pretty shrewd. It's all part of college football.
UPDATE: Spencer Hall at the Sporting Blog chimes in, announcing that the spread is not dead, though Meyer might be a cyborg. And a reader who spent some time with Florida's staff this spring says he agrees that it is partially as a wrinkle and also as a recruiting ploy.