How quickly things have changed.
Read-option football has taken over at the high school level. As teams have put their best athlete at quarterback and let him run with the football, the number of pure dropback passers has declined in the college ranks. And as the read-option has spread across the college landscape as a result, NFL teams found that fewer and fewer pure dropback passers were available to them. So Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick have been drafted, put on the field, and given a chance to do what they do best.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly has now been handed the keys to the Philadelphia Eagles franchise in what amounts to the ultimate test of the read-option’s viability in the pro game.
With the read-option becoming a legitimate weapon in the NFL, defensive coordinators are turning to coaches in the college ranks for tips on how to stop or slow that style of offense. Alabama’s Nick Saban is one of the college coaches pro coaches have turned to:
“Several NFL coaches have come to visit this year to say, ‘How do you stop these guys?’ Because they’re not accustomed to seeing that…
That’s a pass-rush oriented league. People getting up the field to pass rush is what it’s all about because of the type of quarterbacks — the Tom Bradys of the world, Drew Brees, that’s what you’ve got to stop. You’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback. Well, that’s just what you don’t want to do against (read-option quarterbacks). You have to play on the line of scrimmage just like old option football…
I think the teams that do a really good job like the 49ers, they do it from multiple formation looks, so they make more defensive players have to understand how to do it, and I think that’s the biggest challenge that they have right now.”
Alabama isn’t the only SEC school that’s on the visit list of curious pro coaches. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy announced in February that his staff would be visiting Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M program for tips on defending the read-option, too.
For those who believe the read-option is just a fad, think again. As long as high school coaches rely on mobile quarterbacks over pure pocket-passers, the levels above the high school ranks will have to adjust their offensive systems to match the skills of the signal-callers being produced.
Teams will find ways to slow the read-option offense and zone-read plays, but they won’t be able to completely drive those tactics from the game until once again high schools begin producing more traditional-style quarterbacks.