NFL Holdout

Wary of an offense that features too many snaps out of the shotgun and not enough downfield passing, the pro game has yet to embrace the spread
August 10, 2008

COLT BRENNAN, student of football, knows the challenge he faces. He knows the names of those who tried before him ... David Klingler, Andre Ware, Kliff Kingsbury, Timmy Chang. He knows how much Alex Smith has struggled in three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He's trying to buck the trend of run-and-shoot and spread-offense college quarterbacks' going bust in the NFL.

Brennan set the NCAA record for career touchdown passes at Hawaii, and Andre Woodson set the SEC single-season record for TD passes at Kentucky, but they were dissed—sixth-round picks by the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants, respectively—in the NFL draft in April. "The only thing that'll justify the numbers I put up in college is making it here," Brennan said at the Redskins' training camp. "The learning curve is huge. You've got to train your muscles away from the muscle memory they've been used to for three or four years."

That's part of it, but there is much more. In the offenses favored by spread gurus Urban Meyer at Florida, Mike Leach at Texas Tech and June Jones at SMU (formerly Brennan's coach at Hawaii), quarterbacks take snaps almost exclusively out of the shotgun. In the pros, not many teams use the shotgun more than 50% of the time, and the view of the field is much different for spread quarterbacks when they have to go under center.

Arm strength is seldom a factor in the spread because so many throws are dump-offs; in the NFL, passers have to throw darts on 15-yard outs. And they have to learn to stay in the pocket; scrambling quarterbacks typically don't last long in the NFL. "Quarterbacks in the spread don't get to run the entire breadth of an offense, the way you need to do it in the NFL," Redskins coach Jim Zorn says. "That hurts them coming to the pro game."

Though Brennan, who in his NFL preseason debut on Sunday night completed 9 of 10 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts, says, "I honestly think I can break the mold," Florida's Tim Tebow is a more likely candidate. At 6'3", 240 pounds, he's bigger than most quarterbacks who operate out of the spread, and his arm is stronger than Brennan's. Because Tebow has two years of college eligibility left, NFL scouts can't be quoted on his pro potential. But one general manager said recently, "He's got the tools. My question is, How fast can he forget what made him a big star in college?"

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