Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Having the courage to try something new

After going 1-15 last season, new Dolphins coach Tony Sparano started off 0-2 as head coach in Miami.

It was at that point that he made the bold decision to try something different: "the direct-snap-to-a-running back, sleight-of-hand Wildcat formation."

In the 76 times the 8-5 Dolphins have used the formation this season, they've gained more than 450 yards and scored eight touchdowns.

Recalls Coach Sparano:

"We were all miserable at that point. I didn't feel like we had an identity in the run game. I also felt it was getting harder to put Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the game at the same time and get them touches.

"I called [offensive coordinator] David [Lee] ... and said, 'Look. Here's what I want: Tomorrow when we get back, I want three runs, maybe a pass out of this Wildcat package … We need to find something we can put our arms around as an offense that can create space."

Of course, the "Wildcat Formation" isn't new. According to this article, it's "legendary coach Glenn "Pop" Warner's 1907 single-wing formation designed for multi-faceted, future Hall of Fame halfback Jim Thorpe. The last single-wing tailback to win a Heisman Trophy was Princeton's Dick Kazmaier in 1951. Kazmaier watched highlights of the Patriots befuddled by galloping ghosts."

"My reaction was one of amusement that something from 57 years ago would be resurrected and create a spark," Kazmaier, 78, says. "The single wing is a timeless treasure.

Adds Miami QB Chad Pennington:

"It goes to show the fundamentals of football never change, that the importance of blocking, tackling and executing never changes. You have to give coach Sparano credit for having the courage to bring something to the pro game that hasn't been done in a while. It creates good angles for the offense."

Since MIA unveiled the "Wildcat," a number of other NFL teams have introduced their own versions of the formation.

"It's all part of what makes this game exciting, coaches and players constantly trying to get an advantage," [Cardinals coach Ken] Whisenhunt says. "Defensive coordinators have to spend time working on it in practice. That's what you want, make them take time away from preparing for your base offense."

Coach Sparano is quick to deflect praise, saying: "We didn't invent it. We copied it from a college team."