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Pro Football

Read option's staying power in doubt

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Published:   |   Updated: June 15, 2013 at 08:10 PM
TAMPA -

This, too, shall pass.

The read-option attack that traumatized NFL defensive coordinators last season will undoubtedly return in force this fall.

The Buccaneers have to prepare for speedy Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and San Francisco's ultra-quick Colin Kaepernick, who destroyed Green Bay with his legs and his right arm in an NFC playoff game five months ago.

There's also a chance Tampa Bay's defense will be tested early against the read option because Jets coach Rex Ryan is toying with the idea of using rookie quarterback Geno Smith on a situational basis as early as the Week 1 matchup against the Bucs.

“Certainly that's a possibility,'' Ryan said. “We'll let this thing work out and pan out and we'll see.''

Although Smith wasn't utilized extensively as a runner at West Virginia, he boasts the mobility to make pass rushers pay for venturing too far upfield.

The main principle behind the read-option, also known as the zone read, is to give quarterbacks more choices as plays develop. Based on the defensive alignment and how the play unfolds, especially on the edges, the quarterback can either hand off to a running back on a dive or slant or choose to keep the ball.

Since Kaepernick ran for 181 yards against the Packers in his first playoff game, sparking the 49ers to a 45-31 triumph, Green Bay coaches have been obsessed with stifling the read option.

They're not alone.

In the offseason, every NFL coaching staff has focused time and effort to defend the NFL's latest rage, which could quickly become yesterday's news.

Remember when the 2008 Dolphins seemed to be on the cutting edge with their Wildcat formation, featuring running back Ronnie Brown taking direct snaps?

Guess what? The wildcat is now an endangered species.

In the NFL, it doesn't take long for the other side of the ball to react to new wrinkles.

“I think the read option is the flavor of the month,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We will see whether it's the flavor of the year. There are coaches in rooms preparing themselves to defend it and coaches in rooms that are preparing themselves to run it. It's going to sort itself out on the grass and I look forward to it.''

After coaching football for 43 years and hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy twice with the Giants, Tom Coughlin figures he has seen it all.

“You have three or four teams in the league that have the people in position to go ahead and do that (read option),'' Coughlin said. “My position still is it's going to take five years to evaluate, to see where this stuff goes with the running quarterback. It's still risky business.

“I don't care if you hit him in the pocket or he's running with the ball, those hits are cumulative. Obviously, it's been very effective, but some of these defensive coaches aren't sitting around, looking out the window having coffee. They're into it.

“The energy level on the defensive end of the hall in most buildings has been perked up by what's happened.''

In a few years, we'll look back at the read option as an entertaining diversion.

But as any fan of the Washington Redskins can attest, the zone read also leaves quarterbacks exposed.

“I always take a skeptical approach,'' Tomlin said. “We will see. We will see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit because when you run the read option, obviously (quarterbacks) are runners … there is something associated with that.''

ikaufman@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO

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