Monarchs will open '09 season in spread

August 28, 2008
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Aug. 28, 2008

Playing and coaching football in the Northeast, Bobby Wilder's formula for successful offense was fairly traditional.

Power rushing game. Road-grading linemen. Bruising fullbacks. Big tight ends. Complementary passing attack.

Move Wilder to 2007 and 600 miles south and his equation changed. The head coach of Old Dominion's start-up venture is building an offense, an entire program, around speed.

The Monarchs, who begin play in 2009, will run the spread offense.

The system is all the rage now in high school and college, with programs everywhere adopting various components and tailoring it to their personnel.

As its name indicates, it's designed to spread players the width of the field, to get the ball to players in open areas, to create mismatches against defenders.

Wilder, a Maine native who played quarterback for the Black Bears and later coached there for 17 years, believes that the spread is well suited for Virginia and for Hampton Roads in particular. The 757, as it's known, breeds speed and skill players and the climate is more suited to a faster-paced, pass-oriented game.

Maine didn't have access to the level of overall speed and quickness in recruiting available here, Wilder said.

Second, Wilder said, "Because of the climate we were in, particularly when you got to November, you had to be able to run the ball. You were going to play games in rain, sleet and a lot of wind. If you couldn't run the ball, you couldn't win. Our championship teams at Maine were geared toward running the ball."

More halfbacks and receivers, combined with fewer blocking fullbacks and tight ends, make it more difficult to run traditional I-formation and power rushing games.

Wilder said that in the past, his ideal running back went 6-foot-1 or 6-2, weighed 220-230 pounds and ran between the tackles.

"We're looking for more of a hybrid now," he said, "where in the past, you were looking for a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust kind of guy. This guy needs to be a hybrid. He needs to be a running back-slash-receiver."

Running backs in ODU's version of the spread must be able to run and catch out of the backfield, Wilder said, and sometimes line up as an inside receiver.

Playing in "the box," he called it: the area from one end of the offensive line to the other, and 10-15 yards downfield.

"The back that just lines up in the backfield and all he does is run," Wilder said, "he's not going to be able to play in our system. He's got to be able to show he can catch the ball and beat a linebacker on an inside route."

Because the offense often will line up without a tight end, meaning an extra blocker, running backs in the spread must block as well -- a point Wilder drives home to the backs during blocking drills in practice.

"If you can't do this, you can't play here," he said he tells them.

Some of the most successful plays in the spread offense come off of play-action, where the back fakes taking a handoff and the quarterback throws downfield, as the back is responsible for holding off a pass rusher.

"Backs have to be able to block a linebacker," Wilder said. "If they can't, then they can't be on the field, because otherwise everybody will know when they're on the field it's a run play.

"To play running back in the spread is a challenge," he said. "You've got to be able to run, to catch and to block."