Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cam Newton and the Death of a Meme

Remember when Georgia fans touted Mark Richt's pro-style offense as a recruiting advantage vis a vis Urban Meyer's spread?  Remember when Matt Stafford going first in the Draft was a big deal for the future success of the Georgia program, just like Tim Tebow's anticipated struggles in the NFL would be a big deal for Florida?  I do.  Meyer may be gone and replaced by a coach who favors a pro-style offense, but the question of whether the spread offense is a recruiting disadvantage remains relevant.

We are close to getting an answer on the question, at least as far as quarterbacks are concerned, and the answer is not an affirmative one for Georgia fans.  While Tebow's NFL status is indeed murky, Cam Newton, the reigning top pick in the Draft, is sixth in the NFL in yards per attempt as a rookie.  He is actually leading Drew Brees in that statistic.  He is fourth in the NFL in yards passing, trailing only the holy trinity of Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Tom Brady.  If you use more advanced stats, then Newton drops down a little towards the middle of the pack, but he is still performing extremely well for a rookie, especially one on a team that went 2-14 last year.

Newton is almost single-handedly destroying the trope that pro-style coaches use on the recruiting trail that their way is the only way to prepare a signal-caller for Sundays.  This argument shouldn't have carried too much weight as NFL offenses have evolved.  A high school quarterback can watch Brady, Rodgers, and Brees play and will almost certainly note that they are regularly in the shotgun with three- and four-wide receiver sets.  The NFL has transitioned to a pass-based version of the spread, which invalidates the argument that a quarterback has to be under center with a fullback behind him in order to simulate what he will see on Sundays. 

However, there was still a valid criticism that the run-based spread - as practiced by Rich Rodriguez, Urban Meyer, Chip Kelly, Gus Malzahn, and numerous imitators - is not used in the NFL.  That offense makes a quarterback's job easier because the threat of the QB as a runner puts all sorts of pressure on opposing defenses and therefore makes the passing game simpler and easier to execute.  I will admit that I was skeptical of Newton as a pro prospect, especially early in his career, because Malzahn's offense made things so easy for Cam.  Newton has shown that these concerns were totally misplaced. 

In the old days, the play that made college football unique was the option.  Whether it came from the wishbone, the I, the veer, or the flex, college option quarterbacks didn't stand a chance in the NFL because they didn't learn anything beyond the most basic passing concepts.  The college run-based spread has replaced most of those old college offenses.  It's unique in that we have not seen it on Sundays as anything more than a change of pace, but because it uses spread formations and more advanced pass routes, a college spread quarterback has options in the pros that his option predecessors did not.  We all thought that Tim Tebow would be the test case for whether run-based spread quarterbacks could succeed in the NFL, but as it turns out, it's his back-up who is proving the point.      

3 comments:

peacedog said...

You don't think that maybe we should. . .

1) Let Cam Newton finish a season. . .

2) Let Cam Newton actually play multiple seasons. . .

3) Wait 10+ years to see if any other so called spread QBs have success. . .

Before trying to make any sort of big picture judgements here? I mean, I'm not asking for us to wait for an accurate HGH test to be performed or anything.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Richt can sit in a recruit's home point to Stafford and say, "look what we can do for you".

Washington Hogwallop said...

@peacedog

Tom Brady is a "spread QB", I think its time to lay the myth of the spread-offense not working in the NFL to rest.