The read option took the NFL by storm down the stretch last season, but it's not going to take defensive coaches by surprise this time.
Football evolution is a history of offensive innovation leading to defensive adjustment. The read option works because it finally evens the numbers, forcing the defense to account for the quarterback even on running plays.
The offseason buzz phrase among NFL defensive coaches has been "attacking the mesh point," which is code for aggressively attacking the quarterback before he can force the defensive linemen and linebackers into a dilemma involving the running back.
Or as Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin so succinctly explained at the NFL Annual Meeting in March, let's see "if guys are committed to getting their guys hit."
According to Hall of Fame coach John Madden, co-chairman of the NFL's safety committee, Tomlin's mindset is shared by defensive coaches around the league.
"Every guy I've talked to is going to go after the quarterback," Madden said, via Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. "That's going to be their answer. If you watch what they did last year, a lot of guys played the quarterback. If he pitches, get off him. If he keeps it, tackle him. Now, they're just going to go after him whether he pitches or not."
Madden no longer is in the broadcast booth, but he has long-standing connections to coaches and executives around the league. We have no doubt that defensive coaches share the sentiment of Detroit Lions coordinator Gunther Cunningham and Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis that the read-option craze will be tempered by the quarterbacks'inability to withstand relentless punishment.
Even coaches with offensive backgrounds concede the dangers, best summed up by Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: "If you put a quarterback in harm's way enough times, harm will come to him."
Defenses will be more prepared this year after spending the offseason examining college strategies. They're not "sitting around looking out the window and having coffee," New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin quipped.
The read option will be slowed with in-depth study, but it's not going away any time soon. College defensive coordinators still are cognizant of the problems posed by the read option more than a decade after the spread took hold in the NCAA ranks.