News

The NFL Goes Wild-Cat

By Harvey Fialkov, McClatchy Tribune
April 22, 2009

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MIAMI – As soon as Miami Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown shifted behind center Samson Satele to take the shotgun snap, one could hear the buzz of anticipation spread throughout the stands while sensing the panic of surprised defensive coordinators.
 
The Wildcat was about to strike.
 
The ancient version of the old college Wing-T was hatched by first-year coach Tony Sparano and quarterbacks coach David Lee on a flight last year following a 31-10 rout by eventual NFC champ Arizona that dropped Miami to 0-2. That chat resuscitated the Dolphins’ offense and fueled an 11-5 season.
 
The following week, offensive coordinator Dan Henning shocked coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots in a 38-13 blowout in Foxborough, Mass., as Brown accounted for five touchdowns, four out of the Wildcat, including a 19-yard TD pass to tight end Anthony Fasano.
 
The Wildcat spread like wildfire throughout the NFL, with at least a dozen teams utilizing it. With the draft looming this weekend, Sparano and GM Jeff Ireland have been asked if they would select versatile players such as West Virginia’s Pat White or Rice’s James Casey for Wildcat purposes.
 
“I wish I had a dollar for every person who ran it,” Sparano said. “There are a lot of those kinds of players out there, the potential Wildcat guys, whether they’re different positional players that have the skill to run the football that maybe have thrown the football. It all depends on whether you’re married to this philosophy.”
 
The Dolphins prefer a power running attack out of the base offense so they don’t have to rely on “gadget” plays. That’s why they jettisoned Satele and signed Raiders center Jake Grove. However, that doesn’t mean a complete divorce is imminent or that Henning won’t reach into his bag of tricks.
 
“There was an awful lot left on the bone that we didn’t roll out there during the season,” Sparano said. “This gives us the chance during the offseason to push the envelope a little more.”
 
The Dolphins ran 91 plays out of the Wildcat and scored eight touchdowns, while averaging 6.1 yards per rush or nearly 2 yards more than their overall average of 4.1.
 
But with the element of surprise gone, has the Wildcat run out of lives?
“It caught people off guard,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “There are a lot of good defensive coaches out there. You’re playing with 11 guys, right? So I think people will eventually be able to figure it out.”
 
White’s stock has risen since earning MVP honors at the Senior Bowl, but it’s his ability to run, catch and throw that has Wildcat proponents salivating.
 
“White is sitting there at the Wildcat,” NFL Network draft pundit Mike Mayock said. “What do you do with that free safety that you’ve been moving up in the box against Ronnie Brown? Do you bring him up or do you leave him back there?
 
“If you bring him up, then White is going to have one-on-one (coverage) on the outside with no help. But that’s what he’s going to force you to do. Because he’s going to run the option, which NFL defenses hate.
 
“If you get 10 to 15 snaps a game from a guy like Pat White that can run the option and throw the football, you’ve got something special in the NFL. I think it’s the next evolution of the game.”
Future Wildcatters?
Pat White, W. Virginia, QB/Returner/Slash
The buzz: Outfielder drafted by the Angels threw for 1,842 yards and ran for 974 more. Ran a 4.55 40 and had a 35-inch vertical at Combine; projected as a slot receiver/returner in the NFL. The all-time leading rusher for a QB in the NCAA.
 
James Casey, Rice, TE/H-back
The buzz: Pitcher drafted by the White Sox caught 111 balls for 1,329 yards with 13 TDs while rushing for 241 yards with six TDs as senior. Directed ‘Thor’ package as option QB.
 
Derrick Williams, Penn St., WR
The buzz: Parade All-American QB in high school had 44 catches for 485 yards with four TDs while gaining 243 yards and three TDs as senior. Added three TDs returning kicks.
 
Percy Harvin, Florida, WR
The buzz: A lightning-quick game-breaker who often took the direct snap and gained more than 1,300 yards as WR/RB with a combined 17 TDs. Size, durability and character issues are negatives.
 

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