Isaiah Stanback, Golden Tate, and the Wildcat in Seattle.

The Wildcat offense is not something that's foreign to the Seahawks. In the Holmgren years we saw the SeneCat formations with varying degrees of success but resulted in mostly failure. Seneca Wallace was a weapon in theory but the plays just never really panned out. The Seneca Wallace plays had some success under Jim Mora, Jr's administration, but again - not really. The plays were used very infrequently and in random situations. For some reason though, people go crazy about it. I remember being at the games too and seeing Wallace run out there and all of a sudden 'oh it's ON!' Then of course he'd take the snap or the swing pass and run out of bounds or something at the line of scrimmage.

Well, when Isaiah Stanback was signed last preseason, the Wildcat rumors started up again in force.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune did a piece that talked about it and offered a quote from Pete Carroll that we could take and assume meant he planned to run some form of the Wildcat with the UW product.

I've had great respect for his ability, his all-around athleticism, he has terrific speed and explosion. He can offer some help to do some things if we needed it at the quarterback spot to salvage a few situations, (and we're) anxious to see what he offers us.

Of course, he got hurt shortly thereafter, and it was all moot. The Hawks did use a "Wildcat" type formation at times during the year with FB Michael Robinson, a former Penn State QB.  Again, some of the plays were effective, some were not. They used it exceedingly rarely though - when I tried to dig up the occasions they ran it, it didn't return many results. I took a look at all the ones I could find and tried to break them out a little bit for you:

Week 4 at STL
(2:00 2nd Q) M.Robinson pass deep right to L.Washington to SL 33 for 28 yards (C.Dahl). (3rd and 1)
Though I wouldn't call this a wildcat type formation, it is an interesting play-call. Seahawks are in their I-Formation with Leon Washington the RB, Mike Robinson the FB, and Hass under center. Robinson motions forward and far left out to the wing, about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Ball is snapped, a short 2 step drop, and Hass immediately tosses it out to Robinson. MikeRob catches it and in a smooth motion sets up to pass it downfield. He holds on to it for about a second or two to let Leon release out of the backfield and then tosses it back across the field towards Leon. The pass is lofted a bit, Leon has to wait a tic for it but hits its mark and Leon makes the catch for 28 yards (he's tackled almost immediately after catching it). The play works... but it's not really something I'd love to see them run all the time. Passing back across the field like that is always a dangerous proposition, and St. Louis wasn't really all that fooled by it. Nonetheless, it's a good example of ways the Hawks were trying to get Michael Robinson's arm involved with the offense.

This is a play where a guy like Stanback could come in handy, because plays like this only work when they are a complete surprise to the defense. Make it look like a bubble screen then throw the ball downfield (in theory). The other way to get Stanbeck involved in this type of trickeration would be to do an end around, but pull up and throw it downfield. This play works at times, and if it isn't there Stanbeck can hold on to it and run it. Every now and again though the corners and safeties will bite and the halfback or whoever will be wide open downfield. It's just a thought.

Week 6 at CHI
(11:50) (Shotgun) Direct snap to M.Robinson. M.Lynch right guard to SEA 43 for no gain (J.Peppers; I.Idonije).
Hawks in the wildcat with Lynch and Robinson in the backfield, with Robinson behind center in the shotgun and Lynch to his left; Hass out to the right wing. Ball is snapped, Robinson makes his read, and hands off to Lynch who runs right, hesitates, and finds no hole. Lynch is met at the line of scrimmage by a host of Bears and gets taken down quickly. On this play, it looks like Okung actually misses the block on Peppers, who gets inside and past him quickly and Julius makes the tackle. Oh well. Not a very effective play there.

Week 14 at SF
(14:14 2nd Q) Direct snap to M.Robinson. M.Robinson up the middle to SEA 45 for 15 yards (T.Spikes). (3rd and 4)
Ok, so I really actually like how this play is run. The announcers are singing the praises of the 49ers for acting muddled in the middle to disguise their defense and then switch to complimenting the Hawks on it as they come out of their huddle. Hass runs to the right a bit... sort of unsure, lines up off the line about 3 yards, then everyone shifts, with the receivers all switching sides and Hasselbeck going deep left about 5 yards off the line. All the while, MikeRob is sitting in shotgun behind center. Just before the ball is snapped, Hass starts sort of waving his hands above his head at Mike Robinson, sort of like a distraction -  in turn the San Francisco linebackers and safeties are yelling at each other, no one seems to know who they're responsible for.

Ball is snapped, Robinson turns and pump fakes out to Hasselbeck to distract the linebackers and it works - The play is run to perfection - LG Gibson pulls to the right and lays a sick block on the MLB Patrick Willis 3 yards downfield and breaks Robinson free. Overall good execution and a ballsy playcall.  Doug Farrar actually broke it down the day after the fact in a cool article for SportsPress Northwest, you should check out the piece for a more thorough analysis that he put together at the time.

Week 15 at TB
(4:54 1st Q) M.Robinson up the middle to TB 1 for 3 yards (E.Biggers). (4th and inches)
Same formation basically, except Hass out right flanked by Mike Williams. Also, Robinson is under center. The play itself doesn't really work; ball is snapped, and Robinson attempts a sneak - we all know how effective sneaks are for the Hawks - it gets stuffed. But Robinson makes the play by taking a step back, rolling to his right, bouncing it to the outside, breaks a tackle on the corner and falls forward for a first down. Keep in mind this play started at the Bucs 4 yard line so it's a huge play for the Hawks.

So there you have it - if anyone remembers another wildcat play let me know because I'd love to take a look at it and update that here. As you can see, it was used only a handful of times the whole year so the idea of keeping Stanback because he offers you that option seems a little silly.  Robinson was the Wildcat guy this year; and could be again next year, if they sign him, and if he plays fullback.  As for Stanback, they recently DID re-sign him for next year so the idea of using him there is not out of the question.  As noted at SeahawksGab.com and taken from a source at ProFootballWeekly just a few weeks ago:

"They really like his versatility," one team source told PFW at the Combine. "He can return kicks, get involved in the Wildcat and play receiver. He's the one guy I see (at team headquarters) just about every day. They were really intrigued by him before he suffered an Achilles injury in training camp."

For it to work more consistently, it's nice to have it done by a guy that's in there all the time so as not to tip off the defense of an impending trick play (opposed to when Seneca Wallace would go in and everyone (especially the opposing defense) would go crazy because they all knew what was coming) - we'll see if Stanback is an every down type of slot receiver or not.

Physically, he's got the measurables: he's fast, shifty, and big. Can he play the game?  As Gregg Rosenthall of Profootballtalk so aptly put it:

Of course, it'll only truly be the Wildcat if Stanback already appears on the field as a receiver, and then slides into the snap-taking position after coming out of the huddle. That specific approach poses a much greater challenge to defenses, since they get a much more limited opportunity to adjust than when, for example, Mike Vick trots out and Kevin Kolb comes off [when Philly was running the wildcat with Vick before he won the starting job over Kolb].

That idea of Stanback doing this makes me wonder why the Hawks wouldn't use Golden Tate in this type of situation too. When Golden Tate was drafted last April, SI.com's Peter King stated at the time that:

When Carroll called him to welcome him to the Seahawks, he told him to be ready for anything - receiving, returning, rushing ... and yes, Wildcatting. Golden Tate might play Ronnie Brown in Seattle.

We obviously haven't seen that yet but I have a good feeling about Tate. He's too good of an open field runner to not have more of an impact this season - if the Hawks decide he's ready to get involved. He flashed at times, but never really put togehter enough plays to warrant more time. That could change this year and you could in turn see him in the Wildcat role as well. With him playing more downs, shifting him to the RB spot for direct snaps or doing an end around would not be out of the question and could conceivably surprise opposing defenses.

Check out Tate running the Wildcat in '09 against the Cougs. He's a good runner and shows that he knows how to hit the holes in the defense; he also breaks tackles and makes people miss - keep in mind he was a high school running back.

The obvious question though is this: is the Wildcat dead? Two years ago, a lot of people would have told you that it's here to stay. But even the Dolphins sort of phased it out this last season mostly - and some teams used it now and again but none with any regularity. Before last season, even John Clayton was on board with the Wildcat, saying that 'like it or not, it will be around for a while'. 

And it was still around... sort of. But the scarce use doesn't necessarily mean it's dead. Don't be surprised to see the Broncos use Tebow in the Wildcat this season either - the Broncos have their own version of the Wildcat they call 'Wild Horses'.  John Fox, now the head coach of the Broncos, stated before the start of last year:

It will be around because it changes your rules in preparing a defense. The quarterback position is a runner, and you have to account for him. It's like a punter who can run on special teams. You have to prepare for fake punts. Having that extra runner you account for creates an overload.

Whether the Hawks decide to use it much will be something to watch next season. If they do, it's one way that young/backup players like Golden Tate and Isaiah Stanback could get involved in the offense.

This piece originally ran at my old blog but I wanted to see what the Field Gulls constituency thought of it. I will be following up this post with another look at Golden Tate and offer up some ideas of how he can get involved in 2011, so stay tuned...

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