The Titans, the Dolphins and maybe even a little single-wing this week

When the Miami Dolphins come to Tennessee this week they will probably bring their Wildcat formation with them and might even use it once or twice. Offhand, it’s my impression the Dolphins haven’t used it much since Ronnie Brown broke his foot earlier this season.

I’ve asked a Dolphins writer about this and he’ll give us that info in our question and answer exchange, which you can read here on Total Titans later today or tomorrow.

Since the Wildcat seems to fascinate so many people, I’ll go ahead and write some more stuff about it now. Please know this. I have a lot of respect for our readers on Total Titans, who are a lot more knowledgeable than most fans. Many of you already know most of this, so this is really for those who aren’t that familiar with the Wildcat.

First, the Wildcat is Miami’s version of the single-wing offense, which was invented by Carlisle coach Pop Warner 100 years ago. Yep, the same guy that Pop Warner football is named for. Some guy named Jim Thorpe was the star in that offense and went on to win an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon and play both pro baseball and football.

The single-wing was more than a fad or gimmick. It was popular in the NFL through the 1940s and in the NCAA well into the 1950s. In 1951, Dick Kazmaier was the last single-wing RB to win the Heisman Trophy. Five years later, Tennessee single-wing tailback Johnny Majors finished second in the Heisman voting, which proves the single wing was still a productive offense 50 years after its inception.

The single wing never died, it just faded away for a while. Houston Nutt ran it off and on for ten years at Arkansas, with Clint Stoerner and then Matt Jones before people really took notice when Darren McFadden and Felix Jones ran hog-wild.

(Nutt took the single-wing with him to Mississippi where it was renamed the Wild Rebel, featuring Dexter McCluster. By the way, McCluster is far too small to be a NFL back. I see him as a slot receiver and kick/punt returner, a la the Chiefs’ former KR/PR Dante Hall.)

Nutt’s offensive coordinator at Arkansas was David Lee, who went on to become Miami’s QB coach and installed the single-wing for the Dolphins, where they named it the Wildcat. They shocked the Patriots and the football world when they first used it. Fans were excited over the Wildcat and many of them thought it was some newfangled invention that would revolutionize the game. Bah.

Years ago, current Patriots coach Bill Belichick wrote the following about the late Dr. Ken Keuffel’s book, Winning Single Wing Football: A Simplified Guide for the Football Coach:

“The principles of single-wing football are enduring, and they’re all covered by Ken Keuffel. Every coach in football can profit by reading this book.”
The single-wing can be effective against teams who aren’t prepared for it. The next time Belichick and the Patriots faced Miami, they shut it down, as did several other teams that year.
In a nutshell, the pure single-wing utilizes an unbalanced line, a direct snap to a tailback and a wingback (hence the name single-wing) in motion. There are basically three plays that are run out of the single-wing. First, the tailback runs off tackle. Second, he hands off to the wingback in motion. Or third, he passes the ball.
Ronnie Brown was the ideal back to run the single-wing. He’s a natural off-tackle runner, has the hand-eye coordination to handoff to a man in motion at full speed, and is a decent passer. He had a good partner with Ricky Williams functioning well as the wingback.
It takes the right personnel to make the single-wing effective and the Dolphins are no longer in that situation without Brown. I doubt if the Dolphins run much of it this week.
As noted before, the single-wing never died. It’s my understanding it’s been used over the years at high schools across the country. I’d love to be able to watch a local high school run it. There are a couple of middle Tennessee area high schools that run a winged-T, which is fun to watch.
If any of the midstate schools ever decide to run the single-wing, you can be sure I’ll be there to see it a couple of times. If you live in an area where you can watch a single-wing team live, I recommend you do it. On Sunday, I’ll just have to settle for maybe seeing it live for a few plays.
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