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But while Meyer and Rodriguez would eventually become confidants, Meyer's most direct inspiration for his ground game came from Kansas State, where coach Bill Snyder had made a direct-snap running back out of quarterback Michael Bishop and contended for the 1998 national title. "I went out to visit Kansas State and saw what they were doing with the quarterback, and I came away from there amazed," says Meyer. "That stuff really impacted me."
Snyder's innovation was a matter of survival on his own practice field. He had hired a group of hungry, aggressive defensive coaches at K-State who would later become head coaches, including Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Mike Stoops (Arizona) and Jim Leavitt (South Florida). They developed a sellout, eight-in-the-box defense that was as difficult to run against all week as it was on Saturday. "We had to get better against our own defense, and the answer was pretty simple," says Snyder, who retired in 2005. "We had to involve the quarterback in the running game. We ran the same plays, but we gave ourselves the option of running them with the quarterback as the ballcarrier."
Translation: single wing. Simple math.
Meyer incorporated Snyder's principles—"Call it whatever you want," says Belichick, "but it's single wing football"—and took Utah to a BCS bowl after the 2004 season and Florida to the national championship with Tebow as a freshman in '06. Media members fell over themselves proclaiming Meyer's offense the ultimate modern "spread" game, but the quarterback running game was pure throwback. Tebow took direct snaps and ran off tackle, just like George Gipp. Single wing groupies everywhere went wild when Tebow threw a jump pass—running toward the line of scrimmage as if to carry off tackle, then leaping into the air and tossing—for a touchdown against LSU. Dick Kazmaier used to throw jump passes. You could see them right there in Ed Racely's Cape Cod garage, and here was Tebow doing the same thing.
To more universal appreciation, Tebow won the Heisman Trophy a year ago, passing for 32 touchdowns and running for 23, and he is contending again this year. He is a true double threat and, at 6'2 1/2" and 238 pounds, a durable one.
The professional game has evolved significantly in many ways, but the quarterback position truly has not. The ideal NFL quarterback remains an accurate thrower who can make decisions under pressure and, if rushed, buy time in the pocket. For all its advancement, the league has not yet produced a player who is equally dangerous as a runner and passer. (Michael Vick? Vince Young? Please.) But with the influx of single wing--based offensive packages, the door is open. And at lower levels of the game, the position has continued to slide closer to the Tebow model than the statuesque Tom Brady version. "The single wing type stuff is going to become more the norm in the future," says Chan Gailey, Chiefs offensive coordinator. "Over the next 10 or 15 years, it's going to evolve because the runner-thrower is the kind of quarterback that the college game is producing now. You don't find a ton of 6'3", 6'4", drop-back, stand-up passers. They're not in college, so we're not getting them up here."
When Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was head coach of the Dolphins in 2007, he noticed a sea change in the quarterback position at all levels of the sport. "I saw little kids playing Pop Warner—seven, eight, nine years old, doing the belly-read option from a shotgun," says Cameron. "I was absolutely floored by the stuff they were doing so young."
The elephant in the room is the madness of exposing a $10 million-a-year quarterback to an NFL bruising. "The hitting really is at a much higher level than college," says Pennington. "I don't think you would last very long [in a single wing]."
Says Cameron, "It's one thing to have Darren McFadden back there, but your quarterback? I don't know about that. Maybe Tebow can do it in this league."
The voices of the NFL cannot speak quickly enough in swatting aside the concept of running from the quarterback position. Yet coaches keep trying, whether in Lou Holtz's failed attempt to run the outside veer option with the New York Jets three decades ago or the Tennessee Titans' halfhearted attempt to incorporate Young's feet into their offense, along with his arm. There is no debating the potential value of a quarterback who can throw and run and also survive. There is only the issue of how to do it and with whom?