A year ago we were debating Cam Newton’s ability to become a successful NFL quarterback, which led to a question that started to be asked loudly in late January, and it didn’t really fade until September.
Newton was our annual poster boy for the college golden-armed quarterback coming from a spread offense, and we didn’t know how he would handle the transition from an Auburn offense where he mostly lined up in the shotgun, to an NFL offense with much more structure. Newton didn’t help himself much either when he couldn’t give Jon Gruden an example of an Auburn play that had even a little bit of confusing verbiage.
We asked the same questions about Blaine Gabbert and his fondness for the shotgun at Missouri. Now we’re still asking questions about Gabbert, and Newton is the offensive rookie of the year.
Robert Griffin III just graduated from Baylor’s spread offense, which makes him this year’s target. The Heisman winner batted away questions about Baylor’s lack of complicated schemes today during his Scouting Combine press conference, saying that at minimum a passing play contained three reads and a check down.
During interviews earlier this week Griffin was also eager to deflect criticism, saying that while Baylor’s offense may have looked like a classic spread, many of the formations he worked out of are now commonly used in the NFL as the league’s offensive emphasis shifts heavily towards the passing game.
”At first glance, [NFL analysts] see four or five wide receivers, a lot of motion, and a lot of different sets of formations. If you take it from that aspect, it’s exactly the same things that the pros do, go two-tight, four wide and two tight ends, and a tight end at running back like the Patriots do.”
There’s no formula for the transition between college and pro ball, and no Rosetta stone to convert that convoluted offensive language into English. Every rookie quarterback will experience the standard growing pains, but the ability to make a relatively smooth transition simply lies in football intelligence, and sheer talent.
That sounds overly simplistic, but in the right situation, it is simple, and taking every possible measure to put a rookie quarterback in a position for success falls on the shoulders of his new coaching staff. Just as the Panthers did with Newton and the Broncos did with Tim Tebow, the team that drafts Griffin needs to build an offense around his talent, and his unique blend of throwing and running.
Anything less leads to failure, and we’ll have to endure more stereotypes about college quarterbacks coming from spread offenses.