| White, the NCAA's alltime rushing leader among QBs, is ideal for the new attack.
13 at Atlanta
21 INDIANAPOLIS (M)
27 at San Diego
12 N.Y. Jets (M)
25 NEW ORLEANS
1 at N.Y. Jets
8 at New England
15 TAMPA BAY
19 at Carolina (T)
29 at Buffalo
6 NEW ENGLAND
13 at Jacksonville
20 at Tennessee
Gibril Wilson, Free safety: Say this for Wilson's brief stint in Oakland: It seemed like a good
idea at the time. After helping the Giants win Super Bowl XLII two seasons
ago, Wilson signed a six-year, $39 million deal with the Raiders, who hoped
his work ethic and winning attitude would rub off on their dispirited locker
room. And while his productivity didn't drop -- he led all safeties in tackles last
year, with 133 -- his enthusiasm eventually did. The more the Raiders lost, the
more he realized he was stuck in a scheme that wasn't capitalizing on his
coverage instincts. (He had only two interceptions after getting four in 2007.)
Wilson's deliverance finally came on Feb. 20, when he was due a
$4.9 million roster bonus. Rather than pay it, Oakland released him. "That
was the best thing that happened to me in a long time," says the 27-year-old
Wilson, who signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with Miami six days
A measure of toughness was missing from Miami's pass defense, which yielded
227.8 yards a game, eighth worst in the league last year. The Dolphins' hope is
that their premier pass rush will free up Wilson to challenge receivers and make
more plays. "I'm looking forward to not being an in-the-box safety," says the
sixth-year veteran. "In this defense I'll actually get to use the skills I
learned in my years with the Giants."
This article appears in the September 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
A fad, or the future? This season will tell whether the Wildcat, which sparked the Fins' playoff run, is here to stay.
Over the years the NFL has had its share of fad offensive schemes, but
few as promising as the Wildcat. Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee suggested
adding the formation to the playbook heading into a Week 3 matchup against
New England after an 0-2 start, but conventional wisdom said that the
single-wing-based scheme wouldn't work as well against the speed of pro defenses
as it does at the college level. Miami proved otherwise.
The Dolphins used the formation effectively and often enough to help them
tick off 11 victories in the next 14 games and win their first AFC East title
since 2000. "We were just looking for some type of spark to get a win and were
open to anything," says 10th-year quarterback Chad Pennington, who was signed by
Miami last August after being cut by the Jets and ended up winning his second
NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. "Once we started to see some success, it
created all kinds of momentum."
Last year's Wildcat, which featured a backfield of two tailbacks -- from among
Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Patrick Cobbs -- with the quarterback either lined
up as a receiver or on the bench, accounted for just 8.4% of the Dolphins'
snaps, but it was remarkably effective: 580 yards (10.5% of the team total) and
eight touchdowns (20%) on 81 plays. Meanwhile, Pennington expertly directed
the regular offense, throwing for career highs in completions (321) and passing
yards (3,653), and leading the league in completion percentage (67.4).
Not surprisingly, other teams scrambled to adopt their own version of the
triple option. By season's end 17 teams had run at least one Wildcat play
that featured a direct snap to a player other than the quarterback, and even
more are expected to run some form of the package in 2009.
In a bid to stay ahead of the pack, the Dolphins drafted West Virginia's Pat
White in the second round. The NCAA's alltime rushing leader among quarterbacks,
with 4,480 yards, White was thought by some to be a reach with the No. 44
pick, but Miami was enamored of his speed and elusiveness as a runner and
impressed with his playmaking ability as a passer outside the pocket. Had he
come out a year earlier, he almost certainly would have been shifted to wide
receiver in the NFL. Instead, he'll get a shot at being the third quarterback
and maybe much more as the triggerman in Wildcat 2.0. Last year all but 72 of
the 580 yards gained in the Wildcat came on the ground, in part because the
Dolphins did not have a skilled passer in the backfield to exploit the
one-on-one matchups the formation created. And ultimately that hampered Miami's
ability to score. After the Wildcat produced two touchdowns against Seattle in
Week 10, the Dolphins didn't score another point with it for the rest of
Miami hopes that White can stretch the field with his arm from the Wildcat,
opening up opportunities for receivers such as Ted Ginn Jr. and Greg Camarillo,
who says he's all the way back from the season-ending left ACL tear he suffered
in Week 11. "Now defenses aren't going to know if we're in the Wildcat or
in one of our regular formations," says Brown, who went to his first Pro Bowl
last year. "If one way isn't working, we have other things that we can do to get
the ball in different guys' hands in different situations."
The Dolphins have put together a Pat Package in hopes of capitalizing on
White's talents, but it's unlikely they'll stray much from last year's formula,
given how well it worked -- and how little of it they actually revealed. "For a
long time we were going into games with three plays, and we'd run them over and
over again," coach Tony Sparano says. "We left an awful lot of meat on the bone
that we're eventually going to get to."