‘Wildcat’ Offense Spreads in Copycat League

November 3, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

Running back Ronnie Brown, 23, of the Miami Dolphins takes a direct snap in the 'Wildcat' offense against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this season. ( Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Running back Ronnie Brown, 23, of the Miami Dolphins takes a direct snap in the 'Wildcat' offense against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this season. ( Doug Benc/Getty Images)
While the “West Coast Offense” used to be the “it” scheme in the NFL, over the past couple of years, a new formation has been tickling offensive coordinators’ fancy, the “Wildcat” formation.

Not that the pass-oriented offense made famous by the late Bill Walsh is on the endangered species list, but that more teams are picking up the Wildcat.

Essentially, the Wildcat is an offensive formation that utilizes a direct snap to the running back (typically), who acts as the quarterback out of the shotgun; the actual quarterback lines up as a receiver.

The “Wildcat QB” then has the option of running the ball, passing, or handing off to another player, often a wide receiver on an end-around or sweep play.

Origins

There are many different stories about the actual originator of the offense.

The Boston Herald calls it an “homage” to Pop Warner’s single-wing offense.

The Philadelphia Daily News says it evolved from former University of Delaware Fighting Hens head coach Harold “Tubby” Raymond’s “Wing-T” formation.

The Kansas City Star says it was first used by head coach Bill Snyder in the late ‘90s with the Kansas State University Wildcats.

Regardless, many credit the 2006–07 Arkansas Razorback team—with current NFL running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones—for refining the current scheme that is used in the NFL today.

Miami Innovates

While some, including New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan, view the Wildcat strictly as a gadget or trick play, teams in the league are successfully implementing it.

The current Wildcat craze in the professional ranks can be traced back to last season in a game between the then 0–2 Miami Dolphins and the 2–0 New England Patriots in Week three.

Dolphins QB coach David Lee, who was offensive coordinator with the 2007 Arkansas team, helped tailor it to suit the team’s personnel.

Caught by surprise, the Patriots couldn’t stop the Dolphins from putting up 461 yards of total offense. Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown, the recipient of many of the direct snaps, rushed for 113 yards, four TDs, and threw for an additional TD.

According to ESPN’s John Clayton, the Dolphins finished the 2008 season 11–3 when using the formation.

While many credit Walsh with creating the West Coast Offense, numerous were the coaches who would install their own brand. Many are now doing the same with the Wildcat.

Clayton reported that 17 teams in total used the offense in 2008 and more were at least thinking about using it this season. The NFL is considered a copycat league after all.

Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher considered the Wildcat in the preseason featuring QB Vince Young.

The Philadelphia Eagles ran a version called the “Wild Eagle” last year with WR DeSean Jackson. So when the team signed QB Mike Vick, it was thought that he would be a Wildcat QB.

The Eagles have used it a number of times this season with modest success.

The Cleveland Browns have tried unsuccessfully to implement the Wildcat this season, using WR Joshua Cribbs as the man behind center.

Cribbs remains hopeful as he recently told www.cantonrep.com.

“With me making the right decisions, I feel like we can do great things and have a lot of success, just like Miami is having success,” he said.

Integrating the offense doesn’t happen overnight as teams are finding out; it takes the right players to run the offense effectively.

Miami has the benefit of having Lee on their coaching staff plus Ronnie Brown has had a season to practice it and run it.

But will it become commonplace like the West Coast or will it fade like the “Run and Shoot” offense?

“[The Wildcat] will be around because it changes your rules in preparing a defense,” Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox told ESPN.

“It’s like a punter who can run on special teams. You have to prepare for fake punts.”