Is the Spread Hurting Quarterbacks?

That is the contention made by Tom Luginbill as part of ESPN’s recent series on The Spread Offense.

As far back as I can remember, the foundation for quality quarterback play has been fundamental footwork and ballhandling in the three, five and seven-step passing games and the play-action scheme. It all started with these skills in terms of dropping from center, reading progressions and developing timing and anticipation.

I’m not so sure that is necessarily the case any longer. The spread offense, particularly the shotgun, has changed everything, from a fundamental standpoint, to such a degree that it is hurting the development of QBs at every level, from high school to college, and even at the professional level.

Of course, Luginbill betrays a bias right off the bat:  He is used to the days when quarterbacks were statues in the pocket and structured to play within the confines of a pro-style offense.  That day, at least in the college ranks, is long gone.  So why should young quarterbacks focus on being pocket passers if the spread is the predominant system?  Certainly, the development of pro-style quarterbacks is hurting, but the spread quarterbacks are flourishing. 

Ironically, Luginbill cites footwork as the main issue:

The purpose of pointing this out is not to criticize the spread offense, the shotgun or any coach, program or player that uses it. It is to stress the importance of where good quarterback play begins: with the feet.

Certainly, if one has a preference for a dropback, pro-style quarterback, then footwork as it pertains to the 3, 5 and 7-step drops, etc, is an issue in this day and age.  But fortunately, there is no rule book in football that says that quarterbacks have to be chiseled from the same mold as Johnny Unitas.  These days, quarterbacks actually move in the pocket and–horrors!–occasionally take off running, sometimes by design!  In which case, a very different kind of footwork is needed–namely, feet that are fleet and not stuck in cement.  

Quarterbacks need to be adept at whatever system they are running.  Period.  There is no ‘right way’ to be a quarterback, in the schematic sense.  Jamelle Holloway ran the Wishbone very effectively.  Who cares if he couldn’t perform a 7-step drop properly?  Could Jeff George run the option properly?  Nope!   But I bet old-style scouts like Luginbill would consider Holloway to be less fundamentally sound than George.

On the other hand, coaches need to learn to fit their system to the talents of the players they have.  Earth to the NFL:  If 90 percent of college quarterbacks are running variations of the spread, it’s time you get off your high horse and follow suit.  Some teams, like Miami, seem to get this.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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3 Responses to Is the Spread Hurting Quarterbacks?

  1. derek July 25, 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    I agree with him. I also think that today’s game completely harms development of the Flying Wedge. Great football starts and ends with the wedge, and today’s systems don’t teach players what they need to run it effectively.


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