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Alabama Football 2015 Preview: Why the Pro Style Spread Could Emerge

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Lane Kiffin looks to evolve Alabama's offense once again

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Ed. Note: As promised yesterday, we're going to dust off three articles over the next three days. One is on the evolution of the Alabama offense. Parker absolutely nailed this prediction. Alabama was in shotgun more than any team since the 2007 Applewhite season. And, as predicted, Kiffin's shotgun style was run-heavy and emphasized matchups on the outside. Here's a refresher for old hands, and, for new folks, it's an introduction to the Alabama offense.

One of the old tried-and-true adages amongst football coaches is that they desire for their offenses to be "multiple", meaning that the offense can give defenses a bunch of different looks. However, not many college teams are capable of effectively producing a multiple offense. After all, in today's world of scholarship limits and immense parity, trying to create a truly multiple offense can really stretch an offensive unit thin. Presently, coaches try to create a certain identity for their program and get their kids to really buy into becoming real craftsmen in their trade; it's simply good economics. Specialization has become the norm in today's world. Not many kids are playing three sports any more, at least not at the high school level. Developing an offense in such a short amount of time, in what has become such a high-stakes game, almost necessitates specialization.

Despite all of these challenges, there are a few teams that are truly able to run what is considered a legitimate multiple offense. The 2014 version of the Crimson Tide is an example of this. Combine an ages-long tradition of multiple tight end sets and a heavy emphasis on running the football with a new age coordinator and dual threat quarterback, and suddenly you've got an offense capable of both spreading the ball around at a quick tempo and also chewing up the clock with momentum-killing doses of pounding the rock.  It also doesn't hurt to have a transcendental talent at the wide receiver position. Lane Kiffin deserves a ton of credit for how he was able to evolve Alabama's offense last season, especially since he did so without veering too far from the traditional "Alabama way."

However, moving into the 2015 football season, Alabama will be having to replace an exorbitant amount of production on the offensive side. This has been discussed around the Internet ad nauseam. The challenge the Crimson Tide will face when developing this year's offense is that it will not be the same as last season. Things frequently change in the world of college football, and if a team cannot adapt and evolve, it will be left behind.

The 2015 Alabama offense has the makings of an attack that many fans usually see on Sundays: the Pro Style Spread.

Creating Match-Ups

At first glance, the idea of the Pro Style Spread seems like an oxymoron. The spread offense is typically considered the exact opposite of the pro style offense. However, in the early to mid-2000's, the NFL started moving away from a league that revolved around every-down running backs and became more focused on creating favorable match-ups. With talents like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning roaming around, and an increasing focus on specialization, many NFL teams started utilizing spread concepts within their pro style scope. The most common sight on an NFL Sunday is now the preferred 11 Personnel out of Shotgun. In layman's terms, there is one running back, one tight end (thus the 11), and three wide receivers.

At the college level, no one has been running the Pro Style Spread effectively for as long as Bobby Petrino has.

Pro Style Spread Pass

The image above is from the 2010 Arkansas-Auburn shootout. The Razorbacks come out in their 11 Personnel on 2nd-and-7. On the top side of the screen, both receivers will run post routes in order to attack Auburn's Cover 2 look in the middle of the field. If the look is not there, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson has been instructed to check down to either the tight end or the running back in the flats. The Pro Style Spread works well in this vertical manner, and Petrino loves to utilize it. Wilson's initial reads are for big gains down field, but he will work his way down until he finds an open man.

Pro Style Spread Pass 2

Notice that Wilson looks straight for the post in the middle of the field; right where the safeties and linebackers won't be. However, even if Auburn had been able to cut off the post routes, both the tight end, D.J. Williams, and the running back, Knile Davis, are wide open in the flats. Fortunately for the Hogs, Auburn's secondary was porous in 2010, and the double post routes shredded the Tiger defense on this play for a touchdown.

2015 A Day Pass

Flash forward to the A-Day Game from just over a month ago. With Jake Coker at the helm, Alabama has a big-armed quarterback with plenty of pro potential. He's the kind of guy that Mel Kiper would say can "make all the throws". Alabama doesn't normally operate with a quarterback with the kind of arm talent Coker has. Combine this with a plethora of talented receivers who have specialized their skill sets over the years, and the foundation is set for a successful Pro Style Spread attack. In the above image, the offense is going to exploit the weakness of the defense's Cover 1 Man by creating a match-up at the bottom of the screen. Robert Foster, the favorite to become Coker's top target outside, is in a one-on-one situation with Bradley Sylve, who is filling in for the injured number one corner, Cyrus Jones.

2015 A Day Pass 2

Foster smokes Sylve immediately off of the line, and Coker wastes no time in getting him the ball. Because of the double posts being run on the opposite side of the field, as well as Kenyan Drake grabbing Geno Smith's attention, Foster has nothing but grass in front of him. Had Sylve been able to cover Foster, tight end O.J. Howard is the first check down look for Coker, and he is wide open in the middle of the field. This is a textbook example of using the favorable match-ups that the 11 Personnel Shotgun presents to beat Cover 1 Man.

RUNNING THE DANG BALL

The word spread often gets mislabeled as a pass-happy offense, when it can be quite the opposite. While feature running backs are mostly a thing of the past in the NFL, running the ball has not lost its significance. There is not a single successful franchise in the NFL that cannot run the football with great effectiveness. The Pro Style Spread is typically known for using the "H" and "Y" positions in many different roles. While many spread offenses like to use these two spots as 3rd and 4th wide receivers in the slot, pro style offenses typically utilize one or two tight ends, or a tight end and an H-back (such as Jalston Fowler). Pro Style Spread offenses will use these two positions to out-number defenders at the point of attack in the run game. These offenses are also known for pulling lineman and "power" runs. Traditional power runs, power sweeps, counters, and interior traps are all staples of the Pro Style Spread, and they work really well.

Pro Style Spread Power

This is another example from Petrino's 2010 Arkansas squad. The Razorbacks come out in another 11 Personnel set, this time in the Pistol formation. The Pro Style Spread utilizes a number of unique run blocking combinations that are designed to fool the defense and create one-on-one situations with large blockers taking out smaller defenders. On this play, the Hogs will pull the center and left tackle, while the tight end and left guard block down on the defensive linemen. This will set up a scenario where the outside linebacker and cornerback have to try and get around the two pulling lineman. It does not go very well for Mississippi State.

This run is a perfect example of a classic Power run, but without the use of a fullback. Arkansas has all three of their receivers out wide on the other side of the field, so as to bring the attention of the secondary away from the play-side. The right guard and right tackle immediately move to the second level of the defense and throw a couple of good cut blocks as well, guaranteeing the easy hat-on-a-hat match-up for the pulling lineman. Knile Davis also shows great explosiveness and acceleration on the run. Fortunately for Alabama, the Tide has someone on offense who exhibits similar traits.

Derrick Henry's an absolute load when he gets moving, but he has had the tendency to go down pretty easily when he isn't able to get some space. Utilizing lead blockers to get him out in space will be a key for the Tide's running game in 2015. With an All-American left tackle (Cam Robinson), a three year starter at center (Ryan Kelly), a run-blocking inclined right tackle (Dominick Jackson), and a pair of young guards with NFL guard techniques and potential (Bradley Bozeman and Ross Pierschbacher), Alabama will have the bodies to run these schemes.

Why It Fits

As the last video displayed, Alabama already had many attributes of the Pro Style Spread in the playbook last season. This again shows the range of looks that the 2014 Tide could deploy on defenses. However, losing eight starters from that group will limit that range. That doesn't mean that it has to limit Alabama's production. By sticking with a main offensive identity, the 2015 offense can compromise for their lack of range with specialization. The Pro Style Spread has become the preferred choice in the NFL because of how effective it is. The league has become much more of a chess match than ever before, and in ways that the college game has yet to catch up to. Bobby Petrino has shown time and again that running this type of an offense can pay off in big ways at the collegiate level.

Alabama is as close to an NFL team as one is going to find on Saturdays. The Crimson Tide have the most NFL-ready talent, the best set of pro-style coaches at the collegiate level, and all the resources and facilities necessary to make sure the Tide is as prepped as possible come gameday. There is not a team in the country more capable of running the Pro Style Spread effectively. In college, each passing season truly does bring about a new team. Lane Kiffin and company understand this as well as anybody. The coaching staff needs to build the 2015 offense around the players that they have, and the Pro Style Spread is perfectly suited to match the roster for this season.