The Spread Comes With Major Risks To QBs


Published: August 22, 2008


The spread offense is flashy, sexy, and racks up miles worth of yards. It’s also dangerous and flat out risky to run health wise against top of the line defensive athletes and defensive units. The spread promises points but also promises injuries. Is it worth the gamble every year?

Since the inception of the spread offense at Oregon in the winter of 2005 when Mike Bellotti hired Gary Crowton to be the new offensive coordinator the Ducks seem to be going through QBs like they grow on trees.

When Crowton arrived at Oregon there was high hopes for to be Senior Kellen Clemens. With the spread installed, Oregon fans were hoping to see the better than average runner Clemens outside of the pocket. See him run the option and shred defenses. They got that right away from Clemens and the new offense brought by Crowton. Clemens broke a 50+ yard run against Houston in the very first game, which showed he was more than capable of running the spread. Even better news was the Ducks became a powerhouse rushing team. The Ducks ran for 134 yards a game in their first year with the spread. Nothing special but it was a start for a program that had just made the transition.

The Ducks started the season off hot winning the first three games by an average margin of victory at 16.6 points while the team averaged 40.6 points a game. Impressive scoring numbers for a Duck team who had trouble scoring the year before. Then the Ducks met USC. Clemens was knocked out of the game early and it gave a glimpse of the offense without the senior at the helm. The spread couldn’t beat the ultra fast USC defense and the even faster USC offense. The Ducks eventually lost the game even after Clemens was able to come back from injury.

The Ducks won their next three games in similar fashion to the first three. Blow out wins with high scoring numbers by the Ducks. Then they hit another fast and aggressive defense, Arizona. Down went Clemens again, but this time, for good. Clemens broke his ankle and the Ducks struggled to move the ball. Then his replacement, Dennis Dixon was knocked out of the game. The team was left with one QB in Brady Leaf and was forced to start prepping a wide receiver to become the backup. The Ducks eventually pulled out a victory but it was costly. The team had to move on but the offense was never the same. Before Clemens went down the Ducks were scoring 36.4 points a game. After, the Ducks averaged 32.7, which was helped largely by a 56-14 blow out win over the Beavers.

In 2006 the Duck’s had no major injuries sustained to the QBs. Dixon was roughed up from time to time and in particular the Oklahoma game which required Dixon to miss a few snaps here and there. However, the Duck’s opponents seemed to have caught up to speed on defending the spread and the Ducks struggled to move the chains like they did the previous year under Clemens. Scoring was an issue as well for the mighty spread offense Oregon was running. Oregon averaged 34.5 points in 2005 and in 2006 it dropped a whole five points to 29.5 a game.

After a terrible second half of the season and an even worse bowl game appearance, the Oregon program and Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton agreed to part ways. The Ducks brought in Chip Kelly to replace Crowton in 2007 and instantly got a new look spread offensive focused on being balanced but being aggressive in the running game. The Ducks quickly picked things up and like in 2005 the Ducks offense appeared unstoppable. The Senior Dennis Dixon was able to utilize his speed and run zone reads to perfection and the Ducks soared to new levels on offense. They were dubbed the toughest offense to stop by many college football experts.

Then during the middle of the season Nate Costa, the back up and heir apparent to Dixon, tore his ACL. Done, shut him down, there goes the future of the program for the year. It doesn’t seem like a major injury at the time as Costa has yet to take any snaps so far in the season. A few weeks later though, Costa’s injury becomes the worst injury of the year. In what looks like a meaningless scramble against ASU late in the ball game Dixon was popped in the knee and fell awkwardly to the ground. It looked bad when it first happened but later seemed minor as Dixon ran off the field and into the locker room to skip the probable post game celebration.

The next week the Ducks saw the severity of the injury as they faced yet again another fast, aggressive, and tough defense from Arizona that knocked Dixon out for good. Down goes Brady Leaf right after him against Arizona and later against UCLA for good. Down goes Cody Kempt against OSU for good and Oregon is left with Redshirt Freshman Justin Roper and defensive players who last played QB in high school.

Going into this new season the Ducks loaded up on QBs in hopes to never see the injury plague again at the quarterback position. Yet once again the injury bug is back as Nate Costa goes down with a knee injury to the same knee he tore his ACL in last season. Duck coaches don’t know the damage that is done yet, or they simply are not saying anything but it’s clear Costa will have his work cut out for him to see the field against Washington on August 30th.

What’s worse is that Oregon is already lining up with other injuries. JC transfer Jeremiah Masoli has suffered a wrist injury that’s preventing him from playing 100 percent and true Freshman Chris Harper has had shoulder problems all fall camp long and can’t throw a ball farther than 15 yards without floating it down field. That leaves the Ducks with Roper and the other true Freshman Darron Thomas with the latter being a long ways away from starting material. Oh, and have I said the Ducks have yet to even play a game this season?

I love the spread, I really do, but after hearing about the Costa injury it got me thinking. Is the spread offense worth the risk we are taking every time we take the field? Since we’ve started using the spread the Ducks have lost a QB to injury nine times at least by my count (KC vs SC, KC vs UA, DD vs UA, DD vs ASU, DD vs UA, BL vs UA, BL vs UCLA, CK vs UCLA, CK vs OSU). That’s nine times in 26 games under the spread. The Ducks have lost a QB in 35% of their games!

What about other teams though? It can’t simply be just Oregon can it? Nope, last year alone West Virginia lost Pat White to an injury, Florida had Tim Tebow play almost an entire season with injuries, and Hawaii lost Colt Brennan for a game. The list goes on and on and even goes back years. The spread is fun, sexy, and scores a lot of points while piling on enough yards each year to reach the moon it seems. But, it’s putting quarterbacks into situations that risk major injuries across the board and even putting an end to a team’s national championship hopes.

I am not saying I am against the spread offense but I am starting to realize using the spread offense than something like the west coast offense presents a team, and in our case Oregon, a risky situation where it seems at one point in the season you will loose a quarterback to an injury.

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18 Comments on "The Spread Comes With Major Risks To QBs"

  1. Big Dog on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 5:31 am 

    Nope, most of the injuries that have occurred have been in drop back sets or scramble situations which any halfway mobile quarterback would be in the same danger. The Clemens and Leaf injuries are a perfect point. I like your idea of bring a possibility to light, but the only real injury from an option play was in 2005 in that Arizona game with Clemens where Dixon got his bell rung on an option play. Everywhere you got there are injuries, a certain offense can’t really be to blame.

  2. jtlight on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 7:46 am 

    Let’s make one thing clear really quick: Correlation does not imply causation. Just because injuries happened does not mean that it was the fault of the spread offense.

    * Clemens was not “injured” against USC and rarely ran the ball in that game. He was simply banged up by an incredible defense. This had nothing to do with the spread.
    * Clemens broke his ankle while in the pocket.
    * Costa (recently) re-injured his knee in a non-contact manner.
    * Leaf was in the pocket while he got hurt.

    On top of all this, despite simply listing injuries, please, show us why these would happen during the spread as opposed to other offenses.

    Here’s something that we can say about football in general. The more that a player touches the ball and gets hit, the more likely he is to get injured. Yes, this can happen during the spread, but it’s more about putting all your offensive production through one person than anything else.

    And while this may have been true for Dixon, it was not true for any of the other QBs, who suffered freak accidents. By the end of the article, you’re simply listing injuries, whether or not they are related to the spread at all. This is just flat out illogical.

    Let’s say it again: Correlation does not imply causation.


  3. Northwest Sports: In the Morning :: Sports Northwest Magazine on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 9:35 am 

    [...] that Ducks’ presumed starting QB Nate Costa has a knee injury, Ducks Attack points out just how dangerous the spread has been for Ducks’ quarterbacks: “Since we’ve started using the spread the Ducks have lost a QB to injury nine times at [...]

  4. admin on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 10:17 am 


    I realize some of those injuries occurred during a “non spread” play you could say. However, its a glaring stat that we have lost so many of these QBs in such a short time.

    I love the spread. I want it to stay actually. I wrote this piece simply to show how risky running the spread it. This is football, people get hurt I know. I played football up through HS. But certain offenses or plays tend to better chances of getting hurt. In my eyes the Spread is one of those.

    Ducks Attack

  5. Dean on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 10:32 am 

    Longshore, Cowan, Olson, Canfield, Locker, Carpenter & Booty were all banged up last year. Last time I checked none of them played in the spread.

  6. woundedknees on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 10:35 am 

    “It’s a collision sport”, is probably the most telling fact around running the spread. A football player who stays healthy his entire career is either a genetic freak, or riding the bench, IMO.

    The more a player gets hit, or makes quick, elusive moves, the more likely he will be injured at some point.

    If the NCAA determines that the spread is truely dangerous, the committee in charge will likely take steps to se that it is outlawed, right?

    Not likely. As long as spread teams are successful and entertaining (re: keisters in the seats) we will most likely continue to see the spread utilized.

  7. Coastal Duck on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 10:40 am 

    It seems to me that I remember Clemens being forced out of the pocket and was scrambling when a horse-collar tackle with a well-placed knee to side of Clemens’ leg by the DE was the cause of the injury.

    That being said, I would have to say that the more a QB handles the ball on a run or option pitch (with the resulting hit), the more there is a chance of the QB to sustain an injury.

    On the other hand, when the Wishbone was in its heyday, I don’t recall that may injuries to the QB.

    Since even Penn State is going to a spread (and one might wonder how long it will take to install it at Ohio State with Pryor at the helm), the pool of stats should be greater and therefore more accurate as time goes on.

  8. Treston on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 11:00 am 

    If you look at how Clemens broke his ankle, it was a horse collar tackle which they are dealing with by the rules. The defender was chasing him out of the pocket, grabbed the back of his pads, and then landed on him when they both went down.
    Back to the point. I agree that Correlation does not imply Causation, so I’m going to go with the assumption that it’s not about the offense. Remember, until now we have not had a quarterback that was recruited to run this type of offense. Dixon was a perfect fit. But remember, he was a fifth year senior, and his senior year was the third year into this spread offense experiment.

  9. jtlight on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 11:14 am 


    I think that the spread offense does increase chances of injury, but not to the degree that is implied in the article.

    UCLA has had to deal lately with as many QB injuries as Oregon, yet they don’t run a spread.

    The number of injuries on a team is rarely related to the systems run, and is a very poor statistic to rely upon. For the most part, injuries are just dumb luck.

    While your chances of injury increase in some systems, it is not to the degree that would see the amount of injuries at Oregon in the past few years.


  10. Kurt on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 12:31 pm 

    Yes and no.
    The spread reduces the potential for injury along the offensive line, but leaves skill position players a bit more exposed.

  11. quackinAK on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 3:25 pm 

    Bill Musgrave, Danny O’neil, Tony Graziani, AJ Feeley all suffered injuries that caused them to miss games if not the rest of the season. Before the advent of the spread offense at Oregon. The quarterback is a dangerous position simply for the fact that they have the ball every play. I could see an argument for the types of injuries normally associated with running backs (ACL, knees, ankles etc.) but like jtlight said correlation does not imply causation is the first thing you learn in any statistics class.

  12. A. Leeman on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 6:34 pm 

    The spread definitely increases injury risk — the question is how much. Because the quarterback runs more in the spread, the quarterback will be hit more by the opposing defense, which raises the risk of injury. It’s also worth noting that Oregon plays seven, sometimes eight, games a year on artificial turf. Dixon’s injury against ASU last year was a prime example of how an artificial surface can also make matters more dangerous for quarterbacks.

  13. Randy on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 8:26 pm 

    Fran tarkinton ran the spread,,,he ran every defense he went up against in to a spread defense…Im sure he got hurt somehwere but he made it to 4 superbowls running all over the place….and he weight what? 160 lbs with pads?..
    this is a joke…this guy dont like the spread cuase it put the wupin on his team most likely…
    Are you a oklahoma fan????hmmmmm

  14. Kenny on Fri, 22nd Aug 2008 8:51 pm 

    I think it is a good point. Just because the injuries didn’t take place on spread option plays where the QB is running, it doesn’t mean that the spread wasn’t the cause. QBs bodies are not meant to get hit as much as they have been in the spread option. Tebow was only able to get hit as much as he was because he is built as solid as he is. And this may sound stupid but hear me out: defenders hit QBs harder then they hit RBs or WRs. When a defender sees a WR or RB, in his mind its “wrap him up, don’t let him break the tackle.” When a defender sees a QB, its “how hard can I hit this guy and make it on ESPN.” That has its effect.

  15. Chuck on Sat, 23rd Aug 2008 8:54 am 

    I think the Ducks need to look at their shoes and their connection to the turf. The Ducks seem to have great footing, but that can be a minus when your foot sticks to the turf and your knee goes another direction. It isn’t just quarterbacks getting acl injuries at Oregon, it is the skill players of all types. I hope they have solved the problem this year and the Costa’s injury is just a holdover from last year (and not very serious).

  16. krame on Sat, 23rd Aug 2008 10:15 am 

    I don’t think its fair to say 9 injured qb’s, because DD was injured in the ASU game. He was never even hit in the Arizona game. Brady Leaf was injured in the Arizona game “Sprained Ankle”, he and Dixon were tough enough to try to play injured then went out of the following games because of pre-existing injuries. Costa had a badly injured knee before he was ever in a Ducks uniform.

    Your point is well taken that running the spread can be a qb hazard, but I think you are stretching your evidence a little. To help your point about the spread being a dangerous offense for all offensive players, check out the 5 torn acl’s the Gators have already suffered this season. OR MAYBE ITS NOT THE SPREAD AS MUCH AS THE FIELD TERF!

  17. admin on Sat, 23rd Aug 2008 2:26 pm 

    Krame and others,

    I dont think the field has anything to do with the players tearing their ACLs. Its pretty equal to the players getting hurt on grass and on turf.

    When we start talking about turf I do have questions on why we always seem to be slipping. When I played high school ball on our turf field we never had issues of slipping or bad traction.

    Matt Prehm
    Ducks Attack

  18. jfwells on Sat, 23rd Aug 2008 3:09 pm 

    Weather a QB is running or in the pocket when he gets hurt in the spread offense is irrelevant. One of the hallmarks of the spread is the 3 or 4 WR sets and running backs releasing out into the flat where they have no ability to pick up a blitzing LB. With no TE, QBs are going to get hit more often if they are not able to quickly make the correct reads and get rid of the ball.