Thursday, August 06, 2009

On The Ground: Steve Sheiner on the Dolphins and the Wildcat

In the next instalment in my extended interview series for this piece on innovation in the NFL for The Good Point, I present Steve Sheiner of the Miami Dolphins site Blog With A Porpoise. Steve is also a senior editor at, the network I run Canuck Puck for. He had a lot of interesting comments on the Dolphins, the Wildcat offence, former B.C. Lion Cameron Wake and innovation in the NFL in general. Read on for the full interview!

Andrew Bucholtz: The Dolphins obviously made a huge turnaround last year, going from the league's worst record to AFC East champions. How much of that success do you attribute to their implementation of the Wildcat offence?

Steve Sheiner: I certainly think that played a role in their success as they caught a lot of teams off-guard that were ill-prepared to defend against such an unfamiliar attack. But more realistically, the Dolphins had one of the cushiest schedules in 2008 and the loss of Tom Brady in the division certainly didn’t hurt matters either. But the Dolphins have the players to utilize the Wildcat effectively, and with the addition of QB/WR Pat White, you can expect to see plenty more where that came from in 2009.

A.B.: Many teams have since tried to copy the Wildcat, and several more are talking about using at least some form of it next season. Do you think other teams can be successful with it, or was it a unique coaching/personnel mix in Miami that resulted in the Dolphins' success?

S.S.: It’s become fairly common knowledge that the NFL is a copy-cat league. When something works, other teams will adopt it. But the right personnel is crucial in implementing any new offensive scheme, particularly the Wildcat. Ronnie Brown was exceptional spearheading it last season, and you can bet there will be other teams looking to add it to their arsenal in the coming year. It takes the right players to make it work and an offensive mind to creatively design a new mix of formations and plays.

A.B.: With the Wildcat, it seemed teams had a tough time adjusting to it at first. Will it still be effective for the Dolphins this year now that everyone has seen it, or will they have to come up with something else?

S.S.: You will still see the Dolphins run the Wildcat in 2009. What you won’t see is the same plays and formations that you saw last season. Defenses prepare for what they’ve seen before, and certainly for what they’ve been beaten by previously. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. The Dolphins will have some new tricks up their sleeves this year and more often than not, the opposing defense won’t be ready for it.

A.B.: What will the acquisition of Pat White in the draft mean for the Dolphins' Wildcat formation? Also, is he a player that can only be effective in a system like the Wildcat, or can he be a regular quarterback in the future?

S.S.: To quote the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, "Pat White is the next level of the Wildcat. You take a guy who can throw the football like an NFL quarterback and who can also run the option. That means the safety is in the box and your cornerbacks are one-on-one with no deep help." That spells trouble for opposing defenses. Local media have already dubbed the attack "The WildPat" as they anticipate seeing plenty of the dynamic White spearheading the offense. White will create passing lanes with his quick feet and is accurate on the move. White will offer a number of different options as a quarterback, running back or slot receiver, and he’ll make defenders pick their poison.

At just 6’ tall and 206 lbs., White doesn’t have the prototypical size to be an NFL quarterback. We’ve seen other smaller QBs succeed, but it’s not easy when you can’t see over the offensive line in front of you. While he’s expected to compete with Chad Henne for the backup role behind Chad Pennington, most local reporters believe Henne is the heir apparent and White won’t see much opportunity for a long while at QB. But he did throw for 6,049 yards and run for 4,480 more while at West Virginia, setting the NCAA record for career rushing yards by a quarterback; so you never know.

A.B.: The Dolphins have made some other unconventional player moves this offseason, including signing CFL star Cameron Wake in the hopes of converting him from defensive end to outside linebacker. Do you think Wake will be successful in the NFL? If so, could this lead to more intensive scouting of the CFL by NFL teams?

S.S.: Presently, Wake is pretty low on the depth chart. He’ll be counted on more as a special teamer than for linebacker duties. He’s a reserve outside linebacker, basically the third-string nickel rusher. He’s primarily expected to be a key contributor on special teams this season and not much more. If he fails to impress there during training camp and the preseason, he might find it tough to retain a roster spot. But if he makes the team and continues to impress coaches, more teams will have their scouts keeping a closer eye on both the CFL and the new upstart league, the UFL.

A.B.: How important do you think it is for NFL teams to try unconventional strategies, whether in player acquisition or in play design and selection?

S.S.: In this era of the NFL, it’s vital for teams to constantly develop new and innovative ways to not only get the ball into the hands of their playmakers, but to catch opposing defenses off guard. The Wildcat did just that last year and you’ll see more of the same (though not quite the same) this year. The acquisition of Pat White is a perfect example of a team taking a player that fits their scheme. Receiver Percy Harvin is another example in Minnesota. Expect the Vikings to implement some Wildcat formations in their offensive game-plans this season, with our without Brett Favre at quarterback. Harvin is another dynamic playmaker that will allow Minnesota to get creative with their play-calling and find ways to get him the ball.


  1. With Brown running the wildcat near the end of the season as mentioned teams were starting to "figure it out". It will be interesting to see what new spin PW will bring to the wildcat. I mean the system worked well last year with Brown, and other teams tried to replicate it and failed. It may be harder than people expect for White to come in and engineer the wildcat.

  2. Anonymous8:48 PM

    There's a difference between 'figuring it out' and being able to stop it ;)

    The Dolphins will employ the Wildcat once again, but you can bet on some new wrinkles with Pat White involved and a 100% healthy Ronnie Brown

    Steve Sheiner

  3. Yeah, I'm with Steve on this one. Teams have seen the Wildcat, but the Dolphins still have the best personnel for it, and Pat White should take them to a new level. They may not be able to use it as often or in the same ways they did last year, but I think it will still work well for them.