The Wildcat formation took the NFL by storm in 2008. Teams across the league looked to incorporate the formation into their regular gameplans. The unpredictable nature of the formation was too exciting to neglect.
Dan Henning used it with the Carolina Panthers in Dec. of 2006, and he helped the Miami Dolphins work it to perfection with Ronnie Brown against the Patriots in Week Three.
The Dolphins received mountains of praise from every major media outlet for their innovation.
It was unique, brilliant, and intuitive…and it was something Brian Schottenheimer had in his repertoire since the beginning of 2006.
When the Jets drafted a record-breaking quarterback from Missouri named Brad Smith in the fourth round, they chose to turn him into a wide receiver instead. Schottenheimer realized he could take advantage of Smith’s collegiate experience as a QB and athleticism, and throw some trickery into the mix.
Naturally, no one noticed.
The Dolphins are the geniuses, and everyone’s following them. If Tubby Raymond can’t even receive his due and proper, did you think the Jets would have a chance at some recognition?
The Domesticated Wildcat
In 2008, New York decided to go with the formation a few times, much to the dismay of fans. It wasn’t so much that the fans didn’t like Brad Smith—it’s that the timing was usually poor.
Smith was able to secure some first downs from behind center. Leon Washington normally lined up next to him in the backfield, so the threat of a quick flip to another elusive runner kept defenses on their toes.
But the Wildcat looked more like Garfield when the Jets ran it.
It was never as effective as the Dolphins’ variation, nor was it half as creative. Smith’s quarterback experience was never utilized, and the potential for confusing a defense with a reverse or a pitch to Brett Favre for a deep pass was never explored.
Leave it to New York to turn an unpredictable formation into a boring exercise in futility.
In fact, leave it to the Jets to finally run a reverse from the formation on a rainy and cold November afternoon.
When New York did try and extend the play, Smith botched his overhand flip to Jerricho Cotchery, the ball fell to the ground, and slipped directly into the hands of Vernon Fox for a Denver Broncos’ touchdown.
Oh, the excitement.
Brad Smith Does Not Equal Creativity
Mangini and friends lost sight of new ways to mix it up on offense.
Their opinion of creativity revolved around Brad Smith and the failed Wildcat plays. Instead, players who consistently proved to be dangerous with the ball in their hands were conspicuously absent.
Leon Washington didn’t receive half as many touches as he deserved, despite being the Jets’ true—and only—offensive threat from anywhere on the field.
WR Chansi Stuckey disappeared from the offense after emerging as a go-to target in the red zone for Favre early in the season. A fourth-quarter catch-and-run in Oakland helped the Jets send their game into overtime, and that’s probably the last time Stuckey was given a significant opportunity.
And David Clowney’s one catch was an acrobatic one against Buffalo where he tipped the ball to himself for a 26-yard gain along the right sideline.
If it wasn’t clear to the coaching staff, Brad Smith’s variation of versatility was ineffective.
He’s not a talentless player. But his potential shouldn’t have equated to more playing time than players whose abilities far surpass his.
Wide Receiver Depth Wasn’t Deep At All
The Jets carried six wide receivers on their active roster this season. Six.
Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith, Wallace Wright, and David Clowney.
Coles and Cotchery, of course, are the two starting receivers. Unfortunately, their roles are identical—except Cotchery is younger and doesn’t request a new contract every offseason.
Despite that, neither receiver is a burner, or a jaw-dropping route runner. They both fail at gaining separation deep down the field.
Stuckey is fast and has incredible hands, but is underutilized. And Wallace Wright is a special teams ace who happens to be listed as a wide receiver. He’s not expendable.
This left Smith and Clowney battling for some kind of activity on game days. Given Smith’s tenure and the coaching staff’s opinion of Smith’s versatility, Clowney was typically the odd man out.
A preseason injury and a crowded depth chart left him off the field for the majority of the season.
The difference here is that Clowney is a true wide receiver, whereas Smith is a mediocre one. Smith’s transition from collegiate QB to professional WR hasn’t been an impressive one.
He’s athletic, quick, and shouldn’t be unaccounted for by a defense, but that’s all he is—a decoy…a distraction.
Clowney, on the other hand, has the speed to run through a defense, the vision to track down a deep ball, and the hands to reel it in and take it the distance. Sure, he only showed that ability in preseason with Brett Ratliff—but it’s something he showed that Smith never has.
As it stands, the wide receiver position has an evident hole in 2009 that needs to receive a priority this offseason.
When Chad Pennington was the quarterback, the argument was that he didn’t have the arm strength to utilize a fast, deep threat. If there’s one thing 2008 proved, it’s that the coaches just didn’t have the strategy.
Angel Navedo is the Examiner for the New York Jets, and the Head Writer at NYJetsFan.com. Some of his work can also be found on MyGridironSpace.com—a premier social networking site built exclusively for NFL fans.
He can be reached here.