Read option is back in NFL and better than ever
"Most people don't count on the quarterback being a viable option," Fox said. "When you have that ability, it opens your run game. How long it will stay around, how long it will be? It's legit. It creates problems."
One problem for teams with the versatile quarterback, however, is that they are exposing $100 million investments and the most valuable player on their teams in the run game, where all protections for the passer are nullified. Once the QB commits to the run, opponents are free to smack him in the head, dive at his knees, throw him to the ground.
Fox said that doesn't necessarily mean the read-option is more hazardous to their health.
"I can't really say that because you expose the quarterback in the pocket passing probably more than any time," Fox said, "because his eyes are down the field, he's watching routes progress. So, remind people that that can expose a quarterback pretty heavily, as well. You just look at the numbers of quarterbacks lost through time in the pocket."
Not just anyone can run the option, though.
"There's no doubt when you're asking him to run the ball he'd better be real fast or big enough to take hits," Fox said. "That's the fine line."
In his last game as a Bronco, a 45-10 playoff loss at New England, Tebow played through rib, lung and chest injuries he sustained on a third-quarter tackle. (He's recently been sidelined with broken ribs but said he's not sure when he got hurt, only that it happened on offense and not in his role as a personal punt protector.)
Griffin, who's listed at 217 pounds — 28 pounds lighter than Newton — took a beating earlier this season, and one reason was that he's so good at pretending he still has the ball after handing it off, giving defenders freedom to clobber him. There were plays, said left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, that Griffin looked sprawled "like a question mark" on the field after a tackle.
The solution was to tone down the trickery, stop extending the fake after handing off and have him put his hands in the air instead. While that advice goes against years of coaching that says a quarterback should sell deception as long as possible, it's helped reduce the number of hard hits the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has taken.
Read-option quarterbacks also need to learn when to slide or get out of bounds to protect themselves when keeping the ball. Tebow was probably the best college quarterback ever to operate the option during his time at Florida, but NFL linemen and linebackers are bigger, faster, stronger — and hit harder.
In one game last year, Tebow was hit 17 times. In another, he ran it 22 times, more than any NFL quarterback since 1950, prompting Vikings coach Leslie Frazier to crack that he'd like to get his star tailback Adrian Peterson that many touches.
"There's not a person in the league that says, 'Hey, sign me up for a car accident every play,'" Griffin said. "But we know what we signed up for."
Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who burnished his head coaching credentials as the architect of the turn-back-the-clock offense in Denver last year, ran the option just one time while he was a quarterback at the University of Utah two decades ago.
"Yeah, I called it once up in Wyoming and I broke my collarbone and my first rib," McCoy recalled.
It's not for everybody, but for those teams with the quarterbacks who can do it, the option is turning out to be, well, a great option in today's pass-happy NFL.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich and AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley, Steve Reed and Joseph White contributed.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
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