Don't Mourn Endangered Positions

Pat Forde wrote a somewhat melodramatic piece about "endangered positions" in college football: the drop back passer and the workhorse running back. He mentions "full-time defensive front sevens" being on the way out too, but he mostly just focuses on classic pocket passers and 25-carry a game running backs.

Forde quotes Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino as being one of the biggest lamenters for the death of the under center quarterback, which is understandable given his scheme. That's what he prefers, and they're getting harder to find. Arkansas redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Wilson had worked exclusively in the shotgun before coming to Fayetteville, so the Razorbacks' staff is having to teach him to take under center snaps, hand off to an I-back, and do three to seven step drops.

Kentucky head coach Rich Brooks is the token defensive quote, and he points out that he can't use a 4-3 every snap against a spread offense. He has to sub in more defensive backs to deal with speed on the perimeter.

Oregon State head coach Mike Riley is the proponent of the workhorse running back in the story. He says he doesn't care what everyone else does and is waiting for the game to go back to what he does with his running backs.

All of this only matters if you believe in one thing: a Platonic ideal of football.

Specifically, it's if you believe that the NFL's way of doing things is that ideal. It's the world of drop back passers, workhorse running backs, and full-time front sevens. Football doesn't require any of those things to function, and nowhere in the rule book does it say that's the best way of doing things.

The NFL has worked itself basically to a stalemate with the way it does things, but just because that's happened there, that doesn't mean that everyone else has to do it that way. The fact we're even having this discussion means that the professional league doesn't rule football in the way it often thinks it does as well. The spread offense revolution (if you want to call it that) began in high school, it moved up to college, and it is gradually moving up to the NFL in the form of "the Wildcat who can throw."

Riley hit on something important though, which is that football is cyclical. Things come and go, and what we think of now as "traditional" will be the retro chic of a decade or two from now. In the meantime, guys like Riley, Nick Saban, and Lane Kiffin will continue to do it like the pros do. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that.

But just as there's nothing wrong with the pro set, there's nothing wrong with the spread set either. It's just two different ways of doing things and if you can make it work, you'll be successful. Petrino and the Forde-quoted Indiana head man Bill Lynch are incorporating Chris Ault's pistol formation to give them both a shotgun and a pro-style one back set in the same formation. Both men prefer to have their running backs take handoffs while moving forward, and the pistol allows that without having the quarterback under center. (As a side note, the pistol is making inroads in the NFL too having been used by both the Patriots and Chiefs last season).

Though Petrino complains, he's not changing his ways entirely. He's going to teach Wilson and any other shotgun guys how to do it his way. Riley won't budge on giving his main guy the rock 25 times a game, something Michigan State and head coach Mark Dantonio did last year with Javon Ringer.

As long as those guys are coaching, and there's no reason to think they won't, then the endangered positions won't go extinct. But even if they did, there would be no reason to mourn them. Football can survive without them just as it does now without the Wing-T. After all, teaching players to do things your way is one of the primary job descriptions for a coach.

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