The way Bill Musgrave sees it, using the shotgun isn’t a gamble, not if it allows a quarterback to get out of a backpedaling center’s way, see what the blind-side rusher is doing and have more time to find receivers.
Reacting to an NFL trend that saw 28 of 32 teams use the shotgun at least occasionally and trying to cure an offense that was 31st in scoring and 30th in passing last season, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has given his quarterbacks the option of lining up five yards behind center Casey Rabach.
“We talk about having a knife that you’re trying to carve up a defense with, and this gives you a sharper knife,” said Musgrave, Washington’s new quarterback coach. “The ball can fly back to him faster than he can take five steps away from center. It gives you added time and vision, especially to your blind side immediately rather than one or two seconds after the ball is snapped.”
As the Redskins prepare for Sunday’s season opener against Chicago, it’s unclear how much they will use the shotgun. Musgrave was Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator last year and used it nearly 30 percent of the time.
In the preseason, Patrick Ramsey was in the shotgun formation 15 times in 95 snaps (15.8 percent). From the formation, he was 6-for-13 passing for 116 yards and one interception. He was sacked twice.
Ramsey welcomes a return to the shotgun. He said he used it “predominantly — 80 to 90 percent of the time” at Tulane.
“I feel really good about it,” he said. “It felt very natural when we started using it. I think any quarterback would say it’s very comforting to use it in passing situations.”
Before this season, Gibbs had used the shotgun exactly once in his Redskins career.
“Hearing when you’re underneath center, getting the ball in your hands so you can throw breakout stuff — there are a lot of reasons why teams don’t use it,” he said.
But the NFL in 2005 is different from the NFL in 1992, and after last year’s offensive debacle, Gibbs said he was open to new ideas. Days after Musgrave was fired by Jacksonville (the Jaguars were 29th in points), he joined the Redskins and brought his pro-shotgun philosophy with him.
Musgrave analyzed each team’s offense and discovered only four teams — Tampa Bay, Seattle, the Jets and the Redskins — did not use the shotgun.
Musgrave certainly used the shotgun in Jacksonville. In the Jaguars’ last five games of 2004, they were in the shotgun 96 times in 300 snaps (32 percent) and not just on third down. Byron Leftwich was in the shotgun a combined 49 times on first and second downs.
In all shotgun snaps, Leftwich was 46 of 83 passing for 474 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The Jaguars also used designed runs from the formation, so a play that features a direct snap to Clinton Portis is possible.
“We used it probably more than most teams because of our quarterback,” Musgrave said. “Byron came from a shotgun system in college [Marshall], and athletically he preferred to be back there. The way he’s built [6-foot-5] and we had a squatty center, and that made it tougher for him to get under center and then unfold and get away from him in a timely manner.”
Musgrave was a West Coast offense fraternity pledge while a reserve quarterback in San Francisco (1991-94). He backed up and worked with offensive coordinators Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan in San Francisco. Those offenses did not include the shotgun.