it’s important that the system fits the players, not the players fit the
system.” – Head Coach Tony Sparano, introductory press conference, January 16,
did a double take. Many of you did too, I’m sure.
first thing that caught my eye was left tackle Jake Long, lining up in an
unbalanced formation on the right side
of the line. Then I noticed quarterback Chad Pennington lining up wide.
is this?” I said aloud.
my eyes could dart back to the offensive backs, the ball was snapped and
everything was a blur. Somehow running back Ronnie Brown had the ball. Who had handed
it off to him? Was it a direct snap?
Patriots were confused, too. A second later, Brown found the end zone.
in the game we saw other plays from the same basic formation. RB Ricky Williams
took a handoff from Brown on one play, and another was a pass play where
southpaw Brown rolled out and hit tight end Anthony Fasano on a flag route for
a touchdown. The pass was right on the money, too.
rout, the glorious rout, was on.
took a while, but eventually I came to the realization that I’d seen this
before, in high school, but also from watching college ball. It’s not a trick play
or a gimmick; it’s old school. It’s basically the single wing formation.
old scheme, dating back almost a century, has a new name in Miami – “Wildcat”. It was first installed
during training camp, after practices had been closed to the public. It emphasizes
the strength of the Dolphin offense, namely Brown and Williams, and gets tight
ends Fasano and David Martin on the field at the same time.
success the Dolphins enjoyed with Wildcat means that we’ll see it again.
honestly, we had even some other people in mind for down the road”, confirmed
head coach Tony Sparano in his day after press conference.
Ted Ginn might be someone that Sparano is thinking of. Ginn saw extensive
action in this formation at Ohio
State, usually as a
tailback next to QB Troy Smith. The Buckeyes called it the “Shot Ginn”
what took so long for the Dolphins to break out Wildcat, now the talk of the
answer is that Ronnie Brown, who plays QB in the formation, hurt his thumb
during the preseason. This forced the coaches to temporarily shelve the idea.
the 31-10 blowout at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, Sparano, offensive
coordinator Dan Henning, and quarterbacks coach David Lee discussed changes on
offense. They needed something different to give the Dolphins an edge using the
personnel they had.
was time to unveil Wildcat.
was brought to Miami from the University of Arkansas
by Lee, where he served as offensive coordinator before joining the Dolphins. The
Razorbacks, who call the package “Wild Hog”, have enjoyed great success with
it, most recently with RB Darren McFadden.
the Patriots, Wildcat was unstoppable…even after halftime adjustments were
made. In the end, Bill Belichick was forced to admit that he had been
don't think we did a good job coaching, starting with me, and didn't do a good
job of playing”, he said.
that’s the sort of thing Dolfans had become used to hearing from the Patriot “coach-of-the-moment”
over the years, before this decade’s wandering in the wilderness began.
back to Sparano’s introductory press conference, when he promised that he would
use whatever system made the best use of the talent on hand.
what is Wildcat, exactly?
commonly referred to as the single wing, starts with an unbalanced line
formation. This means that Long lines up to the right of right tackle Vernon
Carey, giving the Dolphins three offensive lineman to one side of center Samson
Satele. This alignment creates match-up problems for the defense by forcing the
front seven out of position. It is particularly effective in setting up double
teams at the point of attack by having that extra man on one side of the line.
It also is effective in creating cutback, or weakside, opportunities if the
defense overplays the double team(s) as space is opened up by the missing
skill player combinations are possible, with the stipulation that a minimum of
seven men must be on the line of scrimmage.
and Martin can line up outside of the offensive linemen as true offensive ends,
or one of them can be just off the line of scrimmage. Williams or RB Patrick
Cobbs can split out wide (the wingmen), on the line or off, or can set up in an
offset backfield. To maintain deception as long as possible, the Dolphins have
Pennington stay on the field as a split end to either side. He can just stay
out of the way, which Sparano would prefer, but could go out for a pass if the
defense decided to ignore him.
is important to note that having a talented center, like Satele, is essential
to the entire concept as the single wing demands a center who can direct snap
to various players whilst being able to get on his man quickly.
the ball is snapped to Brown, he has the option of keeping it, handing it off,
pitching it, or throwing a pass. Brown is the team’s best all-around player on
offense. His versatility and talent makes the Wildcat especially dangerous.
thing gets even nastier when you start fiddling with personnel. Ginn, for
example, would add an entirely different dimension on the perimeters with his
speed and ability to execute a pass option. Brown could even use playaction to
try and sucker in the safeties, and then throw a pass to Ginn over the top.
beauty of Wildcat is that it enables the Dolphins to get their best players on
the field, regardless of position, at the same time. And, because of the many
run/pass options, the plays can be tailored to the strengths of each individual
player and in finding mismatches with the opponent.
Wildcat is not considered to be a conventional offense, opponents will now have
a more difficult time preparing for the Dolphins. For now, expect to see more
of Wildcat as the Dolphins to continue to mix in these plays with their