Lovie Smith is a slow-talking Texan, but he wants his teams to play fast. That's always been true on defense and special teams, where hyperspeedy athletes fill his roster and swarm to the football. But this season it also could apply to the Bucs' offense, which would like to run a no-huddle, up-tempo, blur attack. "It's a little like in basketball," Smith said. "Do you want that slow-down approach? Or do you want up-tempo, running up and down? We want to be a fast team — period — in all phases, and this kind of leads to that (on offense), too."
In last week's 20-14 preseason loss to the Dolphins, offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford tried to put some pep in the step of the sluggish offense. Quarterback Josh McCown went no-huddle on nearly every possession, with mixed results.
Versions of the spread offense have been around since Darrel "Mouse" Davis implemented the run-and-shoot at Portland State in 1975. That offense moved from college to the NFL again with the arrival of Oregon coach Chip Kelly to the Eagles last year.
Though there are plenty of variations, there also are a few constants: There is no huddle, the quarterback takes a shotgun snap, and his tools are one running back (or none) and four or five receivers. The idea is to create stress on the defense with a rapid pace and identify mismatches by spreading defenders across the field, from sideline to sideline.
"Looking at it from the other side, most defenses in general would like to huddle up and make sure everybody is all on the same page," Smith said. "(With an up-tempo offense), I think you gas the (defensive) line a little bit. (A defense) can't substitute as much, and as a general rule, most of the time you force defenses to be more basic with what they do. And it's just what we want to do, too. All those things kind of contribute a little bit to the no-huddle."
By spreading the field, it's easier for the offense to identify the defense, which tends to be more predictable. It's hard to blitz a corner when he is playing near the numbers and everybody can see it coming.
"When you build stressors into what you do — things that stress the defense and don't stress yourself — I think that's a positive," McCown said. "Probably the main thing is it pushes the tempo and forces (the defense) to make decisions quicker and for everybody to play faster. Obviously, paramount to that is being able to do that without letting it affect your execution.
"I don't know how much we'll do it, but it's a good tool to have."
Some of the most explosive NFL offenses have emphasized increasing the number of plays they can run in a game. The Patriots have been in the top two in the league in average plays per game the past three seasons. In 2013 the Broncos (72.1 plays per game) and Patriots (70.4) topped the list. The Bucs were 28th at 61.3.
But a grind-it-out defensive style can still win championships. Need proof? Seattle (60.4) was 30th in average plays per game last season, and San Francisco (60.2) was 31st.
Risk is involved with the no-huddle. Last week the Bucs did not have a drive that lasted more than seven plays until the final one of the game. The first-team offense picked up only three first downs, including one by penalty.
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Go three-and-out in a hurry-up offense, particularly throwing the ball, and fewer than two minutes could elapse from the clock, putting the defense back on the field with little rest.
"That would be the negative to it," McCown said. "You could have a quick turnaround, a quick three-and-out. You don't want to do that to your defense. But not any different than if you were huddling, you still want to be efficient on third down. It does put a premium on converting because you want to sustain drives and get into rhythm and really push the tempo.
"We've scratched the surface with it. We'll see how much we use it."
Smith has heard the argument about how an up-tempo attack, if unsuccessful moving the chains, can exhaust the defense. He's not buying it.
"I think it's the same thing if you're huddling up and you don't convert on third down," Smith said. "I understand all that, but I just never bought into the argument that if you score fast, if you play fast, the defense has to go back out there (tired). There's defense, and there's offense. I look at it as a team. If we do that, the defense's job is to go out and get the ball back to us quicker so we can get another chance to go up-tempo or whatever we decide to do. That's how Buc ball is played."
Fast. On both sides of the ball.