Tomey's plan: Back to the future

Using the "Double Eagle," Tomey's Arizona team finished among the nation's top 10 in total defense four times and led the nation in scoring defense in 1992. Early results were encouraging, as the defense dominated most of Saturday's spring game.

Monday, April 18, 2005

At a time when most coaches are searching for the next cutting-edge scheme, Dick Tomey spent San Jose State's spring practice sessions putting in an offense and defense that were lauded a decade ago.

"The same stuff wins today as won 40 years ago," said Tomey, whose final spring practice was Sunday.

The Spartans' first-year, 66-year-old coach is going with the West Coast offense, which hardly seems retro except that he's using the original version.

"This is a true West Coast offense," offensive coordinator Ken Margerum said, "not a watered-down version."

A lot of teams utilize a variation of the West Coast offense, but only a handful of NFL teams and virtually no Division I college teams use the original West Coast offense, the one created more than 20 years ago by Bill Walsh, a San Jose State alumnus who was instrumental in hiring Tomey.

"It's like when you watch ESPN and see the 49ers of those days run their plays," quarterback Adam Trafalis said.

Trafalis, who completed 44.6 percent of his passes last fall as a freshman, seems to have won the quarterback job, having separated himself from the other two contenders. He is still a bit raw, but he's mobile, which is essential in the West Coast attack.

"This offense is just a lot more structured than last year," Tafralis said. "There's a lot more of a plan, instead of just flipping a coin."

He completed 15-of-27 passes for 223 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in Saturday's spring game, which drew about 3,000 spectators to Spartan Stadium.

The strong suit of the offense is the wide receivers -- Rufus Skillern, James Jones and John Broussard. Margerum, Stanford's wide-receivers coach last season, says the Spartans' receivers are faster than Stanford's.

"There's no question the wide receivers here are faster," said Tom Williams, Stanford's co-defensive coordinator last season and the Spartans' co- defensive coordinator now. "In fact, the skill positions on both sides of the ball are faster and more athletic than at Stanford."

The difference is line play, and the Spartans hope to compensate for that on defense with the "Double Eagle" D that Tomey used with such great success at Arizona.

"It's kind of a throw-back defense," Williams said.

Tomey describes it as a "bastardized version of the Bear defense," referring to the 46 defense Buddy Ryan and the 1984-85 Chicago Bears made famous.

Using the "Double Eagle," Tomey's Arizona team finished among the nation's top 10 in total defense four times and led the nation in scoring defense in 1992. Yet practically nobody uses it, perhaps, said Williams, because few coaches understand it fully. Supposedly, it is easy to play but hard to coach.

"And the great thing," Williams said, "is that it's not based on having great athletes."

Tedy Bruschi and Jeff Hammerschmidt became stars at Arizona in that defensive set despite being less touted recruits.

That's why Williams figures 5-foot-8 Eric Williams could be a pretty good roverback and Ezikiel Staples, a 5-11, 203-pound former fullback, could be an effective inside linebacker. He already knows Josh Powell is a potential star at strong safety.

Early results were encouraging, as the defense dominated most of Saturday's spring game.

In any case, it's not the scheme that wins games, Tomey says, it's the players. The coaches that get the most out of their players are the ones that win.

"People are complicated," he said, "football is not."

He's perfectly satisfied San Jose State has the resources needed to maximize his players' contributions. He claims its practice field is better than the ones at Arizona and Texas, where he was an assistant last season.

"If the head coach is worth a damn," Tomey said, "we'll have a great program."

E-mail Jake Curtis at jcurtis@sfchronicle.com.


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