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Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Gailey: Wildcat must feature passing threat

By Tim Graham

The Miami Dolphins unleashed their Wildcat offense out of desperation.

Trying to build something under new head coach Tony Sparano after a 15-loss season, they opened the 2008 campaign 0-2. Their passing game couldn't stretch the field, but they did boast a deep and talented backfield.

If only they could figure out a way to utilize multiple running backs on a given play ...

Sound familiar, Buffalo Bills fans?

New head coach Chan Gailey has a quarterback known as Captain Checkdown, a stable of running backs and nothing to lose. He also isn't afraid to get creative. After all, he helped create the "Slash" role for Kordell Stewart with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Gailey was asked Monday whether the Wildcat was possible in Buffalo.

"Oh, yeah," Gailey replied. "We consider everything. We're not so polished in one area that we can stay in that and beat people. We're going to have to consider everything."

In explaining his Wildcat philosophies, however, Gailey raised an important point that would apply not only to the Bills, but also any team interested in running the specialty offense, which features speed motion and a direct shotgun snap to a running back.

"Wildcat is an interesting proposition," Gailey said. "I don't know how long that thing will last if you don't throw out of it. You have to be able to throw out of that formation to make it last because pretty soon they're going to put everybody up there on defense.

"Defensive coaches are catching up slowly but surely. They'll get there. They're a smart group. You have to be able to have some diversity out of it in order to make something like that work."

Another significant problem for Buffalo -- and a major difference from Miami's situation in 2008 -- is they might not have the offensive line to pull it off. While a passing component is important, the Wildcat is based on a nasty ground attack. When the Dolphins relied on it in 2008, they often put tackles Jake Long and Vernon Carey next to each other on an unbalanced line.

Nonetheless, Gailey's comments got me thinking about the backgrounds of Wildcat-style playmakers around the AFC East.

Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch each have thrown one pass in the NFL and it has gone for a touchdown. But the prime candidate to be a Wildcat threat is rookie C.J. Spiller, who possesses a combination of elusiveness and, apparently, an arm. Spiller threw a pair of touchdown passes at Clemson.

The New York Jets have a pair of threats. They've lined up running back LaDainian Tomlinson (seven career NFL touchdown passes) and receiver Brad Smith (played quarterback at Missouri) in Wildcat roles at training camp.

The New England Patriots haven't dabbled much in the Wildcat for a couple of obvious reasons. They don't seem to have a versatile enough running back, and it makes little sense to remove the ball from Tom Brady's hands even for a play or two.

But the Patriots could get tricky with receiver Julian Edelman, an option quarterback at Kent State. He was more dangerous as a runner than he was as a passer, but so is Ronnie Brown. The threat of being able to do both is enough to keep a defense honest, which was Gailey's point.

"You're trying to create some kind of diversion for the defense so that they don't know where the ball is going all the time," Gailey said. "If you can do that, you've got a chance to create more open spaces for the guy that does have the ball, and hopefully they don’t know who has it all the time."