Jeff Tedford and the Spead Offense
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 07, 2006

JEFF TEDFORD has had strong offenses since he came to Cal, but he’s still trying to make improvements, which is why he visited West Virginia and Florida, which both run spread offenses, during Spring Break.

“It wasn’t just looking at the spread,” said Tedford, as we talked in his office. “I hadn’t had a chance to visit other schools in the spring for awhile, so these were multiple-purpose visits. I looked at their facilities, their nutrition programs to see if there was anything we could incorporate into what we’re doing.”

But, looking at spread offenses was his primary focus, because Tedford plans to incorporate elements of the spread into his current offense, which emphasizes power running, which he refers to as downhill running. “I felt that we’re comfortable enough in what we’re doing with our basic offense that I can put in something new now,” he said.

“When you say spread offense, people immediately think about passing,” Tedford said, “but some coaches use it to improve their running game, because it spreads out the defense and presents more opening, though not as much for the type of running we do. We’re certainly not going to change our emphasis on downhill running. We won’t go without a tight end (as many spread offenses do). We’ll have some flexibility with our formations. We may use one back sometimes, two backs other times. We could even use two tailbacks at the same time, maybe flanking Marshawn (Lynch) because he’s a good receiver.\”

Tedford even brought in an offensive coordinator, Mike Dunbar, who had been running a spread offense at Northwestern, a high-powered offensive machine last season. “When you’re putting in something new, it helps to have somebody who is familiar with it,” Tedford said. “You don’t want to have to start from scratch.”

This spring, the Bears have been running about 60 per cent of the time out of the spread. Obviously, that percentage will change when the Bears go to summer camp. “Spring is a time when you can experiment a little,” he said. “When we go to camp, we’ll be preparing for the season.”

Quarterback is the position most affected by the change to the spread. “When you take a snap under center, it’s automatic that you take five steps back,” said Tedford, up from his chair to demonstrate. “In the spread, you might take a pass off to your right or your left, which throws off your timing.”

All of which makes it vital that your center can also make the adjustment. Sophomore Alex Mack, who’s in his third year in the program because he redshirted as a freshman, has the unenviable task of replacing Marvin Phillips, but Tedford said he’s been doing a fine job this spring.

“He’s handling all the snaps. It isn’t just the snaps but the blocking,” said Tedford, again getting up to physically demonstrate his point. “If the defensive lineman is lined up on your snapping side, with the normal snap, you can quickly recover to get in blocking position. With the snap out of the spread, you have to follow through, which makes it more difficult to get into blocking position.”

NOBODY WATCHES the center, though. Everybody watches the quarterback, so it will be the quarterback who will determine how effective the plays out of the spread will be.

Tedford has been working with four quarterbacks this spring – Nate Longshore, Joe Ayoob, Steve Levy and Kyle Reed, who redshirted last fall. All four have had the equal number of snaps so far in practice, but Tedford said that will change on Monday, when the Bears start their final two weeks of spring drills. “I’m not sure yet how we’ll divide the snaps,” he said, “but the first quarterback will get more.”

Who’s No. 1? “If we had to play a game tomorrow, it would be Nate,” Tedford said, “with the other three pretty much bunched behind him. But that’s not to say that Nate has the No. 1 spot cinched.”

Longshore was the starter going into last season but broke his leg in the first game and was out the rest of the year. Ayoob took over and had a problem adjusting to the emotional pressure, much of it self-administered. “He’s bounced back from that, which I’m glad to see,” Tedford said, “not just for now but for the future. When he’s out of football, I want him to be able to look back and say he did his best.”

Tedford finally went to Levy for the Big Game and Las Vegas Bowl wins. Levy is probably the least talented of the group, but he showed remarkable composure and leadership when he got his shot.

“It’s a strange situation,” Tedford said. “Kyle is probably the best athlete of the group but he’s got the least experience. Last year should have been the year Nate got the experience, but it turned out that Joe got most of it.

“We got thrown into a difficult situation when both Aaron (Rodgers) and Reggie (Robertson) left last year. You like to have a starting quarterback who’s had a year of experience, but there are programs where they seem to be starting a senior quarterback who has never started before and they do fine.”

Whoever the quarterback is, he’ll benefit from the Bears’ strong running game. Lynch battled through a broken bone in his hand to have a fine year last season, and Justin Forsett fell just short of the 1000-yard rushing mark. Marcus O’Keith, who was once thought to be a potential star but has never gotten out of the shadow of J. J. Arrington and Lynch/Forsett, separated a shoulder in practice this spring but will return this fall to give the Bears needed depth.

And the Bears should have outstanding receivers, led by sophomore DeSean Jackson – if they can stay healthy.

AS ALWAYS, though, the biggest reason for optimism is Tedford, who continues to grow as a coach.

When a coach who is already successful is flexibile enough to think he could still find ways to change and improve, it’s a very good sign.

Ben Braun should take note.

BONDS E-MAILS: I got so many e-mails on my Bonds/steroids column yesterday that, instead of answering them individually, I’m going to take a representative sample of 10-12 of them and put them in “Letters” this weekend, probably Sunday. I don’t anticipate writing on this subject again for awhile. I like to stimulate discussion, but from e-mails, it appears that people have made up their minds on Bonds, pro or con, and won’t be budged.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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