January 9, 2013

Meyer to add pro wrinkles to spread attack

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On Sunday, millions of football fans across the country tuned in to watch the Seattle Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson battle his counterpart Robert Griffin III and his Washington Redskins. Among those spectators was likely Urban Meyer, but if the Ohio State head coach was watching, it wasnʼt for enjoyment or to kill a weekend afternoon, but rather to learn.

With no bowl game to play for this season due to a postseason ban, Meyer has had more time than usual on his hands since the Buckeyesʼ Nov. 24 win over Michigan to cap off a perfect 12-0 season. Some of that time has been spent recruiting, but other parts of it has been spent studying professional football, and the way that teams have been implementing elements of the spread attack into their respective offenses.

In addition to looking at the Seahawks and Redskins, Meyer took a look at Cameron Newton with the Carolina Panthers and the San Francisco 49ersʼ Colin Kaepernick. And what he saw wasnʼt all that different from the offensive strategy that heʼs utilized in his 11 years as a college head coach.

"I havenʼt watched much pro football. I saw some highlights that looked exactly like the stuff we run," Meyer told The Dan Patrick Show on the NBC Sports Network. "Itʼs phenomenal. Itʼs pure spread offense. That means youʼre reading one defender, and the quarterback is, in essence, a ball-carrier if the defender reacts a certain way."

Not all of what Meyer saw on film from the pro teams he watched looked familiar. One of the original innovators of the spread offense, the OSU coach saw the 49ers implements wrinkles to their offense that he hasnʼt even used.

At least not yet.

"The San Francisco team was the one that really- I mean I just sat there. They actually do something we donʼt do," Meyer said. "I can assure you weʼre going to do it next year."

The marriage between the spread offense and the NFL has been a long time coming since it rose to prominence in the college game a decade ago. Originally thought to be too dangerous to run with franchise quarterbacks with millions of dollars invested in them, professional teams are getting creative in the ways that they maximize the strengths of their dual-threat signal-callers.

As the perception that NFL teams canʼt run a spread attack changes, so too will Meyerʼs offense.

The two-time national champion coach declined to reveal just what elements of the 49ers offense he planned on borrowing, but itʼd be hard for Meyer to find a better professional team to take ideas from. In 13 games for the 49ers this season, Kaepernick amassed a quarterback rating of 97.9, throwing for 1,849 yards and 10 touchdowns, and adding 415 yards and five scores on the ground. San Francisco compiled an 11-4-1 record this season and will meet the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of the playoffs after enjoying a bye in the wildcard round.

The growing implementation of the spread offense at the pro level has occurred thanks in no small part to Meyer, who has helped put quarterbacks like Josh Harris, Alex Smith, and Tim Tebow in the NFL during his head coaching stops at Bowling Green, Florida, and Utah. Meyer is also plenty familiar with Newton, who he recruited to Florida, before the future Heisman Trophy winner transferred out of the program.

The OSU coach is in the midst of working with his latest quarterback project, Buckeyesʼ signal-caller Braxton Miller, who earned the Big Tenʼs Offensive Player of the Year award in his first season under Meyer in 2012. But in order to maximize the new wrinkles in the OSU offense, the junior-to-be will have to improve as a passer, after completing just 58.3 percent of his pass attempts last season.

"The potential that I have- I havenʼt really reached all the things that I can really accomplish yet," Miller admitted after the season.

Should Miller- who also rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last season- not make the necessary strides as a thrower, he could find himself as a Tebow, who will spend the offseason searching for a team that is willing to dedicate its offense to him. Meyer doesnʼt know which team will land the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, but is encouraged considering the current direction of NFL offenses.

"The good news is that the National Football League is showing that there are some people that like to try to move the football doing a variety of different things," Meyer said.

While Meyer is a firm advocate of the addition of the spread to the professional ranks, he also knows that it may have limitations. That doesnʼt mean that he doesnʼt think itʼs sustainable or that he will stop learning from its variations, but as is the case with anything new, it will have to first stand the test of time.

"Thatʼs the million dollar question. You have these franchise type players and theyʼre taking big time hits in the NFL," Meyer said. "How long can you go taking shots like that? That will be the question with how long you can use that style offense."


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