Saturday, April 22, 2006

Oakland Tribune: Cal aims to spread'em, shred'em next season

Tedford has added the QB-friendly spread offense, to go along with pro set

By Dave Newhouse, STAFF WRITER

BERKELEY — Jeff Tedford really is a mad tinkerer after all. He has imported the spread offense to Cal, and now has to figure out how to balance it with his more familiar pro set offense.    Tedford has shown he is flexible, willing to try something new. And so he has succumbed to the Urban Meyer craze, the wide-open spread approach that is taking over college football.   The only question is: Why Cal?  Well, with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and LenDale White leaving USC, and Maurice Drew saying goodbye to UCLA, Cal and Oregon are likely Pac-10 co-favorites, and the Ducks changed to the spread last year.  But Tedford may be that rare coach trying to win with two offenses.  "It's another dimension of offense, something tough to defend, something where our defense can practice against it," he said of the spread. "It utilizes our personnel pretty well. All those reasons."  Cal doesn't have as many tall receivers as USC and Oregon, but theBears wideouts are quick and fast, and the spread gives them more room to maneuver. And Cal tailbacks Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett should be even more explosive against defenses designed primarily to stop the pass.

"You see so many eight-man boxes these days," said Tedford. "You spread people out, you can run the football. We have quite a bit of speed on the field."  Contrary to popular belief, Tedford believes more strongly in the run than the pass. But he doesn't have the massive, experienced, overpowering offensive line he had in 2005. With the spread, though, blocking angles become more important.  "We're a little bit more athletic right now," Tedford said of his offensive line, which returns one starter, guard Erik Robertson, from the beginning of last season. "Those are things you have to take advantage of."  The spread is designed for mobile quarterbacks, and Cal has three — Joe Ayoob, Steve Levy and Kyle Reed. Nate Longshore isn't as mobile, but he's the starter at the moment. Tedford, though, isn't concerned.  "At times, you're going to need the quarterback to pull the ball down and make some plays," he said. "It's that way in anything; we always have some form of the option in our game plan."  How much spread will be used at Cal? No percentage has been determined yet. That will come sometime much later after Saturday's noontime scrimmage that will wind up spring football.  Tedford has previous experience with the spread in Canada, so he's not exactly shooting from the hip. However, he wanted someone who coached it every day. Northwestern averaged 500.3 yards of offense in 2005, No.4 in the country. Mike Dunbar was the Wildcats' offensive coordinator. "I didn't hear his name," Tedford said of his initial search. "I looked at tapes of a lot of the offenses around the country, the running and pass production. I was at the (NCAA) convention (in Dallas) and I said, 'Does anybody know who is the coordinator at Northwestern?'"

Dunbar attended the same convention. Tedford tracked him down and Dunbar, a former head coach at Northern Iowa and Central Washington, agreed to come back west. He's from the Seattle area, and is a 1972 Washington graduate.  "You really play a numbers game," Dunbar said of the spread. "If there's six in the box, you do this. If there's seven, you do that. You have to force people to cover you."  Northwestern rolled up nearly 700 yards against Wisconsin last fall in upsetting the Badgers. No wonder the spread has become so popular.  "It's quarterback-friendly," Dunbar said. "He's back there five yards and can see the field. He just has to see safeties; he makes his decisions off those safeties."  No offense is perfect, not even the spread, which lacks a tight end.  "There are flaws," Dunbar said, "like your inability to protect the edge when you get close to the goal line, because you have one less blocker. So you use things like the bubble screen."  He believes the spread, and a mixture of the spread and pro set, can be implemented with a spring and fall practice. Conceptually, the two offenses aren't that far apart. And Dunbar feels Cal's personnel fits the spread. So is this the right offense to spring on the Pac-10 at this time? "I think so," Dunbar said. "Coach Tedford is offensive-minded. He's one who has tried to stay ahead of the game. And he sees the spread evolving. Five years ago, when we started at Northwestern, there were very few teams using the spread. Now there's a whole lot more.  "But the ability to mix the two is the intriguing new part." And if the two bring Cal its first Rose Bowl bid in 48 years, why not?


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