A spread offense in football is an offensive formation in which the skill players are 'spread out'. The shotgun formation is a type of spread formation. The spread offense is designed for offenses to rely on speed and movement rather than pure strength.
Structure of the Spread Offense
A spread offense consists of having multiple receivers line up across the entire line of scrimmage. This opens up more gaps in the defense and makes it cover more ground. Most modern spread offenses will include a quarterback in the shotgun with a single running back next to him. Some offenses use a spread pistol formation, in which the running back lines up directly behind the quarterback.
Some spread offenses run what is called the spread option, in which the quarterback has different run or pass options available on any given play. The spread option uses a lot of misdirections and fakes to trick the defense, but it requires an extremely disciplined and organized offense.
History of the Spread Offense
Evidence of the spread offense can be traced as far back as the game itself-Pop Warner's wing formations changed the game in the early 1900s, but it was not until the 1970s when the spread offense made any sort of ground in the mainstream coaching philosophy. Jack Neumeier and Tiger Ellison, two high school coaches, developed two legendary strategies, known as "basketball on grass" and the "Run and Shoot" offense, respectively. The combination of these offenses has become the foundation for many modern spread offenses. Other innovators, including Rusty Russell, Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, and Chip Kelly, have added their own wrinkles to spread offenses that still influence the game heavily today.
Modern Use of the Spread Offense
The spread offense is most common in college football because it utilizes speed and agility to make the most of basic skills like catching and short passing, which many college players already possess. The NFL is less sensitive to widespread change, but its shift to a pass-before-run league has opened the door for more spread offense concepts. Running a spread offense in the NFL is difficult because the defense's talent levels are higher, whereas the offensive players are essentially using the same basic skill sets of college players.