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What Exactly Is A “Pro Style Offense?”

Putting the “I” back in team...formation, that is.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It’s amazing to see how the game of football’s evolved. How the game was played 20 years ago is completely different than the way it’s played today, and it at times resembles nothing of the game played even longer years back.

Changes to rules and the way athletes train necessitated a change in mentality on the way the game was and is played. The game is referred to as a “copy cat game,” so teams have to continuously look for an edge either with the way the current scheme or how to reinvent the wheel in order to get ahead.

This offseason, Boston College’s offense underwent a much-publicized overhaul with the addition of new coaches and personnel. It appears that, perhaps more than ever, the Eagles will change their playbook away from the spread option format they attempted to employ a year ago. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll go away, but it seems like things might be changing.

Ultimately, we won’t know what it looks like until the team sets foot on the field, and that’s namely because football terms, especially at the collegiate level, are totally different. But for the time being, there’s a good chance the Eagles will have a totally different formation on offense thanks to new coordinator Scot Loeffler.

The popular term thrown out these days is the “pro style offense.” It’s a term that’s incredibly confusing, mostly because pro style isn’t actually used that much in the pros anymore. As the game’s evolved, the professional style’s grown to include whatever is actually used, as opposed to the more traditional formation.

Pro style takes its most understood name from the style of play back in the 1980s. They are balanced offenses that are capable of splitting up passing and running calls, with versatile offensive lines, good quarterbacks, and pounding runners. They own the time of possession but, perhaps more importantly, own the line of scrimmage.

A pro style offense uses a number of different formations, beginning with the single-back and I-formation looks. The single-back formation uses exactly what it says - one running back. The quarterback then lines up under center with a full line and a complement of receivers. Though there isn’t a traditional fullback, they own the line of scrimmage by bringing in a second tight end.

In traditional running schemes, a third tight end can be employed, limiting the number of receivers. In traditional passing schemes, three or four receivers are used. The formation is then based on the versatility of the receivers, who should be able to block, and the tight ends, who, at some point, need to catch the ball. All of this keeps defenses honest.

That’s different from an I-formation. An I-formation uses a second back, usually a traditional fullback, who can be motioned or lined up on either side of the running back. The same rules apply to the receivers and tight ends, though there’s one less player to work with because of the presence of the fullback.

This is the traditional offense that nearly everyone recognizes. It’s been around since the dawn of football time, it seems, dating back to the Erhardt-Perkins system. It uses smash mouth football combined with a play-action passing game, which can include the shotgun and five-wide formations.

It’s the most traditional offense in football short of the Lombardi Sweep. But in recent years, the concept of a professional-style offense is completely different. The game of football is centered, now more than ever, on the passing game, resulting in more pro teams going with spread formations.

Though early versions of the spread found its way to teams in the early 1990s, the New England Patriots popularized it with a variation of Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense of the 1980s. Using multiple receivers, the possession pass underneath essentially replaced the three-yard run, and changes in rules designed to protect both the quarterback and wide receiver made it more advantageous to use. Multiple teams currently use the spread in some capacity, including the Patriots and the Green Bay Packers.

But the spread, despite its increased use in the pros, is still not a “pro style offense.” So it can be confusing to think about the video game numbers teams currently put up on a week-to-week basis and assume Boston College, with a “pro style” quarterback in Patrick Towles, will all of a sudden start chucking it everywhere.

Instead, expect BC to utilize its offensive line and running games, then open things up with the pass. Expect BC to still run a smash mouth rushing offense but also expect a little bit more. We ultimately won’t know what the offense uses full-time until we see it, but if they truly are going to a pro style offense, it’ll be interesting to see how they can apply the principles and pick up some more wins in 2016.