The Meyer Offense: Glimpses Of Past, Future

As offense has evolved over the years at the University of Florida, we've seen Doug Dickey's wishbone, the west coast passing game that Mike Shanahan brought in during the early years of the Charley Pell regime, Galen Hall's power-I that featured Emmitt Smith, the wide open passing game of Steve Spurrier during the Fun 'N Gun years and for the last three years, a one-back, shotgun offense that's part pro, part spread.

What made Saturday's scrimmage in The Swamp by the Florida Gators so much fun was seeing bits and pieces of all those offenses in Coach Urban Meyer's spread option attack.

The offense isn't nearly as polished or explosive as it is going to be. We'll see progress in the final two weeks of spring practice that will give a few more glimpses of what we're in store for this fall, but really, it won't be until the final scrimmages in August before the season opener against Wyoming that the sophistication of this offense really begins to show.

Saturday, there were power running plays straight up the gut. There were numerous short passes from a variety of formations. There were option plays, reverses and there were quite a few throws deep down the field. There were probably as many misses as hits, but that's to be expected with any new offense just seven practices into the spring.

The Meyer offense has been called everything from gimmicky to innovative. Some say it is a truly unique offense while others say it's nothing more than a coach stealing the best out of a dozen other playbooks to come up with something that's difficult but not impossible to prepare for. A growing number of coaches say it is an offense of the future that does indeed steal a lot from offenses of the past while tossing in enough unique little nuances that promise to keep defensive coordinators burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how they're going to be able to double up on key wide receivers and still remain accountable for the quarterback.

What makes the offense so dangerous is that the defense has to be accountable for the quarterback on every play or else the quarterback will take off running with a lot of green grass ahead. Saturday, there were occasions when all four quarterbacks (Chris Leak, Gavin Dickey, Josh Portis and Cornelius Ingram) found themselves unaccounted for so they helped themselves with their speed, eating up huge chunks of yardage before they were either stopped or run out of bounds.

"The thing you're going to see if you have athletic quarterbacks that it creates problems that most offenses can't give defenses," said Meyer after Saturday's scrimmage. "The threat of option, the threat of a guy scrambling the threat of a guy out of the pocket is for real and I thought Chris and Gavin Dickey all did a good job."

In today's scrimmage, Leak cemented his role as the starting QB

The threat of a running or scrambling quarterback will free a wide receiver from a double team or eliminate the possibility of a blitz. The concept of the offense is to create 11 one-on-one matchups and from those matchups, further the problems for the defense by using formations to create size and speed mismatches. In concept it's intriguing, but when you see it at full speed with options, motion, shovel plays or reverses off the option to go with the constant threat of deep passes posed by one of the fastest groups of wide receivers in the nation, it's not all that difficult to envision a season filled with big plays that go for big yardage.

The shovel play is a different style of triple option that is probably best explained in basketball principles. The quarterback essentially becomes the point guard with the option of taking it to the rack (running) or dishing to one of his wings (back or wide receiver). Saturday, Leak came down the line with tight end Tate Casey as his trailer on the left. Normally at that point in option football the quarterback's choices are to run or pitch the ball back. That's normal. In this offense there is another option.

Leak also had the option of pitching a shovel pass forward to a running back. In this case it was Deshawn Wynn, filling the lane to Leak's right. The linebacker took away the option of Casey and the defensive end crashed down on Leak. Leak pitched the shovel pass forward to Wynn who gained nine or ten yards.

"That's one of our base plays," said Meyer. "There's a lot of times when there's three options for the quarterback. The two plays that we talk about are our base zone run play and a shove play where he's got three options. That's a little bit like it is, like a point guard."

Wide receiver Bubba Caldwell already sees the potential in the offense and he loves what he has seen of the shovel play.

"It's a great play," he said. "It's a catch and you can also get a lot of yards with it. This is an offensive that I love. This is the reason I came here to run a spread offense that is going to get the ball into the playmakers' hands."

Bubba Caldwell is in the slot as Jarvis Moss and Michael Hill prepare to rush the passer.

Leak runs the first team as he has the past two years. He is the clear leader at the quarterback position, adapting quickly to an offense that requires him to use his legs as well as his arm. He had an 80-yard touchdown pass to Chad Jackson on the second series Saturday, a deep strike down the middle. He had a couple of nice throws across the middle where he got to show off some of the new-found zip that coaches have been working with him to develop. He also showed that he can make decisions to pitch or tuck the ball and run on the option, plus when the defense dropped in coverage and didn't pressure him, he got outside and up the field easily for big yardage.

Dickey had a touchdown throw to Dallas Baker to go with some very nice decision-making about when to tuck the ball and run. His play Saturday probably resolved the question of who's the number two quarterback, a question that loomed large for Meyer Friday evening.

"He (Dickey) is trying to balance two difficult issues right now," said Meyer. "He's playing for a great baseball program at Florida and he's playing for a great football program. It's different when you're playing for a bad program on either side and then it really doesn't matter. The one thing about Gavin, he's probably one of those kids who grew up with a ball in his hands, just throwing in the back yard because he just comes right out there and plays."

Gavin Dickey waiting for the hike. He had an impressive day today.

While Dickey looked quite natural in the quarterback position Saturday, Meyer noted that he's still got catching up to do simply because he hasn't been afforded the time or the reps due to baseball practice.

"He's a little bit behind the other guys," said Meyer. "There are a couple of little intricacies to the offense that he didn't get today and maybe Chris is ahead of him because of time spent but this is not a 20-hour a week offense it's a 35-hour a week offense and he's not giving us 35 hours so he is behind."

The time spent in the offense, both viewing film and attending meetings as well as on the field experience is turning the on the field play into quick reactions that don't require thought. Meyer said that this is where Leak has the real edge at this point.

"It's not learning as much as reaction," said Meyer. "That's the thing that separated Alex Smith (Utah quarterback) and that's going to separate Chris. That's how the great players separate from average players, not being able to just tell you but doing it and within the speed of the game."

SCRIMMAGE REACTIONS: Meyer was pleased with the effort and thought both the defense and the offense had some outstanding moments. He noted that this opinion might change once he sees the film. "After Monday I might tell you it's awful, but I thought it was a good day," he said. "I saw some defensive guys step up and make plays when they had to. I'll let you know more after the film, but that was a good day out there, good hitting out there."

The defense will definitely crowd the line more this year.

Offensively, he singled out Leak, Dickey, Jackson and DeShawn Wynn.

Ray McDonald had a nagging injury that was supposed to keep him out of the scrimmage, but he played and did so well enough to earn Meyer's praise. It's been an up and down spring so far for McDonald. Meyer says the difficulty with his big, talented defensive tackle is getting him to go hard on every play.

"We had a guy like that at Utah where every body said he's got great potential but he doesn't go hard all the time," said Meyer. "That's all I've heard about Ray and Marcus (Thomas). They're going to change that or they're not going to play. So Ray can decide to continue to go not real hard or he can transfer somewhere else where that's acceptable but it's not acceptable here and he's starting to learn that."

Meyer also singled out corner Dee Webb and safety Jarvis Herring for their play. Herring, he said, "has had a great spring. He could be an all-conference type player for us."

Meyer groused about his team's toughness after Friday's practice. He talked about toughness or lack of it again Saturday.

"That's not something that will change in 24 hours," he said. "I don't think we are a tough team. We're not. You can paint it whatever you want to paint it but we're not a tough team, but it's March so we've got a ways to go."

LIFE IN THE PIT: Injured players don't stand around on the sidelines during practice or scrimmages. They discover life in The Pit, and Meyer says that it is not a pleasant experience.

The "Pit Gang" had to walk all the way to the top of the interior level of the stadium and back down again, during the whole first half of practice.

During Saturday's scrimmage, Terrence Holmes, Branden Daniel and Ronnie Wilson were among a group of players seen ascending and descending the stadium steps carrying chains and sand bags. After awhile, they went to the southeast corner of the end zone and spent the remainder of the practice bench pressing sand bags.

"That's The Pit," said Meyer. "Stay out of The Pit. It's an ugly deal. Nothing good comes out of the pit. That's for injured guys just so you know they're all working."

Meyer says that if the coaches who handle the work in The Pit are doing their job, the time spent there is most unpleasant and often a bit painful.

"The pit is where they just are screaming," he said. "If our pit coaches are doing a good job you'll hear them yelping and screaming in agony. That's for the injured guys, the guys that aren't practicing. Their goal is to get out of The Pit. Practice is easier than The Pit."

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