Advancing the Wildcat


Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Earlier this year, someone with a vast football mind made an insightful observation about the Wildcat offense for 2009. The way to make it a permanent weapon, rather than just a gadget surprise, is to demonstrate a willingness and proficiency to pass out of the formation.

With a running back or receiver taking the direct snap, options are otherwise limited. You can run right, run left, or look for a cutback up the middle. The quarterback is split out wide, so defenses can fill while knowing the ball isn't likely to be thrown over the top. But if the player who takes the direct snap can throw, it adds a whole new dimension to the formation.

That's why I thought it was interesting to watch the two Wildcat plays Chicago used in practice Wednesday at Olivet Nazarene University. One snap went to receiver Devin Hester, who faked a handoff to Matt Forte and then started looking for a place to run. The Bears defense is used to that play, and Hester had nowhere to run.

The second, however, featured a direct snap to Forte. He faked a handoff to tailback Kevin Jones and then rolled to his right. Forte tossed a nice touch pass to Hester, who was running a shallow drag route.

Believe it or not, that sort of play will give defensive coordinators headaches this season if the Bears run it during the preseason. (Or maybe if they just read about it here!) Defending the Wildcat becomes much harder when you have to account for at least the possibility of a pass. Linebackers can't cheat to the line. Safeties have to keep an eye on receivers, even the quarterback.

Not every running back and receiver can throw well enough to make this work. But if they can, it achieves the reverse effect of a traditional bootleg.

When a mobile quarterback rolls out, the most high-percentage play is still a pass. But he can also gain positive yards by running if it's available. The same is true when a running back who can throw rolls to the right. His best option is always to run. If the defense is worried about him throwing, he'll face a softer line of scrimmage. But if the defense fills hard, he can throw over the top of it.

It's not as if the Bears are on the brink of revolutionizing the Wildcat. I just don't know how effective a run-only Wildcat play will be this season, considering the attention teams are paying to it. Demonstrating an ability to pass out of the Wildcat should extend its shelf life.

Enough about the Wildcat and more about me. I spent most of Wednesday compiling information for our Bears Camp Confidential, which should be posted by midday Thursday. I'm also working on a post for next week about new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli's impact on the team, as well as a longer-term project on tight end Greg Olsen.

For now, as always, I direct you to Jeff Dickerson's Bears blog over on ESPN Chicago, where you'll see an update on the health of defensive tackle Tommie Harris (limited Wednesday, unlikely to play Saturday at Buffalo) and the latest from quarterback Jay Cutler.