GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Urban Meyer took a steno pad from the reporter sitting on his office couch and began scribbling away. With two diagrams, the Florida coach explained the concepts behind his base offensive formations: the spread and the single wing.
"I'm kind of giving you everything we do here," he said.
Hardly everything, but a brief lesson cracked open a window into Meyer's fascinating world of X's and O's. It's a place that's become a sought-after destination among his peers these days, but that's no revelation given Meyer's astonishing run of championships since arriving in Gainesville.
Some of the folks requesting off-season audiences, however, might come as a surprise.
Never miss a local story.
"Right now, we've been contacted by a minimum of three NFL teams who want to implement a spread element," Meyer said last month. "They're going to do it."
Meyer, of course, wouldn't say which teams, but the general interest in the Gators' playbook has an ironic rub.
In April, one of the hot story lines heading into the NFL Draft was how difficult it's become for pro scouts to project players from a college spread scheme — with its wider linemen splits, flanked tight ends, bubble-screens and near-exclusive shotgun alignment — to more conventional NFL sets.
Apparently, one of the ways to make that transition smoother is to spread the spread to the NFL.
"It's already here," said Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski, head coach at Boston College the last two seasons. "A lot of teams have it."
Not that many have used it.
Maybe more need to, given what the New England Patriots have done with the spread passing game since Bill Belichick began making annual off-season treks to Gainesville (and Meyer to Foxboro, Mass.) the last three years.
And it's probably safe to say more will use it, considering all the Sunday cameos of the so-called "Wildcat" formation — with the same base power off-tackle play Tim Tebow runs so magnificently — made around the league last season, especially with the Miami Dolphins.
"Everyone knows how I feel about Bill Belichick," Meyer said. "How is it that Tom Brady and this guy (Matt Cassell) who never even started a game in college can make it work? Because Bill Belichick adapts. ... And the Miami Dolphins were 0-and-whatever (in 2007) and they adapted to what they had. All of a sudden, the running back was taking snaps and they were winning games."
Look for the Dolphins to expand that facet of their offense this season after drafting West Virginia quarterback Pat White, a holy terror in the spread option for the Mountaineers. Tailback Ronnie Brown may have taken the bulk of Wildcat snaps at OTAs and minicamp, while White has struggled. But it's early.
"I think as we get on with this, he'll have some good days," Dolphins Coach Tony Sparano said.
Better than good. Don't be surprised if the Wildcat becomes the "Wild-Pat" once White, who unlike Brown or Ricky Williams brings a legitimate threat to throw the football, gets comfortable back there.
"Now you'd have real double jeopardy," Buccaneers defensive coordinator Jim Bates said.
Last year's seminal spread moment came in Week 3 when Brown accounted for five touchdowns (four rushing, one passing) working from the shotgun in the Dolphins' 38-13 blowout road victory against New England — the very team that shattered NFL passing and scoring records operating from a base spread the year before.
That was just the beginning.
"The NFL has always been ahead of the college game, but what's happened now is that so many (college) teams are running some version of the spread, and doing it so well, that it's catching the NFL's attention," CBS college football analyst and former quarterback Todd Blackledge said. "And these talented players the NFL is getting are so accustomed to it, you now have NFL people thinking that one of the ways to get the most out of them is doing what they're most comfortable with."
Meyer estimated that three-quarters of the high school tape he sees shows offenses lining up in the spread. Last season, nearly half the teams in the Bowl Championship Series conferences (31 of 65) worked from spread-based offenses.
Next up: the next level.
The spread's basic passing theory has been in the NFL a long time. Five receivers out in pass routes have to be accounted for by five defenders. That sixth defender (either a linebacker or defensive back) either goes after the quarterback or acts as a safety valve. Assuming the latter, the quarterback is looking at five one-on-one matchups. Basic stuff.
"People have always said — way before Urban Meyer — that one of the ways to protect your quarterback is to run spread offense as much as you can," said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger. "That goes back to Bill Walsh."
The principles of the spread running game go back a lot further than that, a hundred years or so. When the quarterback is a constant threat to run, the defense loses its numbers advantage.
The Gators' offense would not be anywhere as effective without the power running game rooted in the single-wing, a formation that dates to Pop Warner and the early 1900s. The cyclical nature of football has brought the single-wing back into coaches' collective consciences, but in combination with a spread element that creates space and tries to force matchup nightmares for a defense.
"You load up one side of the field and see how the defense reacts," CBS color analyst and pro football Hall of Famer Dan Fouts said. "You're looking for mismatches."