Is NFL's read-option craze here to stay?

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Is NFL's read-option craze here to stay?

Maybe it’s here to stay. Maybe it will quickly fade into oblivion, like the Wing T, the Wishbone and the Wildcat.

Either way, there’s no question that as 32 NFL teams prepare for the draft, free agency and the 2013 season, the read option is factoring heavily into everybody’s decision-making.

“That will be the emphasis in everyone's defensive room in the offseason and do a big study,” said new Cards coach Bruce Arians, the former Temple coach and Colts interim head coach. “One of the things we did, I hired a defensive coordinator from college (new defensive backs coach Nick Rapone) who's dealt with it. He's got some good ideas on it.

“I think everyone is going to be going to the colleges, rather than the colleges coming to the pros, as far as information on how to handle it.”

Thanks to the success last year of Robert Griffin III of the Redskins, Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, Russell Wilson of the Seahawks and -- to a lesser extent -- Cam Newton of the Panthers, the read option has become the single hottest topic in the NFL.

With Chip Kelly taking over as head coach of the Eagles, the sustainability of the read option -- an innovative system that asks the quarterback to read the a linebacker or end as he takes the snap and almost immediately decide whether to run, throw or handoff -- will certainly become a huge issue here in Philly.

“Is it sustainable? If you have one [quarterback] and that's what he does and the other guy doesn't do that, and your first guy gets hurt, now you've got to bring in the other guy and change your offense,” said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, a former Andy Reid assistant with the Eagles. “That's where you get in trouble.

“If a team's going to commit to it, you're going to see teams have two or three quarterbacks that are the same. If your offense doesn't have any flexibility where it can go from a zone read back to a pro style back to a spread, you can get in trouble. So you've got to be very careful if it's a commitment you're going to make.

“We never really made that type of commitment. We have it as a mixer. We have it just enough that coordinators have to pay attention to what we do. I think off of it we can do so many different things.”

The symbolic arrival of the read option was the 49ers’ 45-31 playoff win over the Packers in the conference semifinals. Kaepernick, in only his eighth career start, threw for 263 yards and ran for 181, and the Niners piled up 579 total yards, fourth-highest in NFL postseason history.

So yeah, Packers coach Mike McCarthy is certainly making it a priority to prepare this offseason for the read option.

“Definitely, there’s a lot of conversation about the read option -- rightfully so,” McCarthy said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “Five hundred seventy nine, that’s a number that will stick in our focus as a defense throughout the offseason.”

McCarthy said he has some college coaches coming to the Packers’ facility this spring to work with his assistant coaches, and he’s also sending his defensive coaches to College Station, Texas, to study defending the read option under Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

“Kevin Sumlin is someone I have great respect for, with his ability to share from both the offensive side and the defensive side his experience in the read option,” McCarthy said. “It’s something from an education, preparation standpoint that we will grow as a staff and be better prepared for in the future.”

The read option is so unique that even Tim Tebow flourished in it.

Tebow led the Broncos to the playoffs in 2011 and a postseason win over the Steelers, a game in which he threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 50 yards and another TD.

Playing in a conventional offense with the Jets, he was a non-entity.

“There’s a lot to be said about it,” said first-year Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, Tebow’s offensive coordinator in Denver. “It creates a lot of problems for the defense. It’s not something they see every day in practice. The teams that don’t have those type of players, it causes them some issues on Sundays.

“You’ve got to play disciplined football. As we did two years ago, if you get out of place, the guy reads it the wrong way, that’s when you saw Tim make some big runs. Or they overplay Tim, you saw Willis McGahee going for 20 yards inside.

“The way guys are playing it right now it’s going to cause some headaches for a time to come.”

But for how long?

Football, as Marty Mornhinweg used to remind us on a daily basis -- if not an hourly basis -- is cyclical.

Offenses find new ways of scoring points. Defenses adjust. It’s happened throughout history. The only real constants are tackling, blocking and hitting.

“It obviously has been successful,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “Where it will go and how successful it will be, I can’t say.

“Systems come and go, and success of a system will dictate changes defensively. It may fade away, it may not, you can’t really trend where it will stick. All I know is it was successful this year.

“If we have to play a team that utilizes that system, we have to be prepared for it. But you don’t necessarily draft -- at least we won’t -- to play a particular scheme.”

As exciting as the read option can be, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman points out that most successful teams still run a conventional offense.

Joe Flacco won the Super Bowl. There’s still a place for old-school quarterback play in the NFL.

“Ten of the 12 teams in the playoffs this year had true pocket passers,” Gettleman said. “I think the read option is an option, exactly what [it’s called]. But at the end of the day, your quarterback has got to make plays from the pocket, and if he can’t you’re going to struggle.”

Cards general manager Steve Keim was one of the few NFL executives who spoke at the Combine who was less than enthusiastic about the read option.

He emphasized that a quarterback still needs to have a quality NFL arm to win football games and said the hits that quarterbacks are likely to take running the pistol or read option make the scheme very dangerous.

We saw it with Robert Griffin III in Washington this year. He put up incredible numbers, but when the playoffs came around, he wasn’t healthy and didn’t last the game.

“At the end of the day you need to be able to spin the football and spin it accurately,” Keim said. “I think that one of the concerns that comes with that is durability. Those guys are going to take shots, and durability really equals availability.

“And if a player is not going to be available, that's an obvious concern.”

RG3 got hurt, and Kaepernick started only half the season, but Newton hasn’t missed a game in his two-year career, and the Seahawks’ Wilson managed to stay healthy all year as a rookie.

“Russell … would run out of bounds, he would slide, he would do things to keep him out of harm's way,” said Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley, who was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator last year, when Wilson and the read option carried the Seahawks to the playoffs.

“That's the big thing with quarterbacks -- if they're going to keep the ball and run on the perimeter, they're really opening themselves up to some hits and injuries. Franchise quarterbacks are so difficult to find, you really need to protect them.”

And that will likely get harder and harder to do as defensive coaches start devising ways to stop it.

“Without a doubt now defenses are going to start preparing more for it through the offseason program, through training camp,” McCoy said. “Two years ago we were the first ones really to get into this on a game-by-game basis. Now a lot of teams are doing it. So there’s a lot more time in the offseason to prepare.

“‘What is our plan? How we going to stop this? What are we going to do?’ So really, the advantage changes a little bit to the defense having more time to prepare.”

It’s one more thing for defenses to worry about in an era when practice time has been curtailed, two-a-days have been eliminated and offseason workouts have been reduced.

“We’re doing as much as we can,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It’d be foolish not to.”

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

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Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

Villanova’s chances at repeating as national champions just got much better.

Josh Hart is returning for his senior season.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer from last season’s title-winning team tweeted this Tuesday night:

Shortly after, Villanova officially announced the news.

Hart was in the midst of going through the NBA draft process, attending the combine in Chicago and working out for teams. By not hiring an agent, he was able to test the waters without jeopardizing his final year of college eligibility. Hart had until Wednesday to make a decision, which is coming back to the defending champs.

“I enjoyed the process and learned a lot,” Hart said in a statement released by the school. “It was definitely worthwhile. I look forward to graduating next year and coming back to play with my teammates.”

As a junior, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Villanova’s 95-51 Final Four win over Oklahoma, before following it up with 12 points and eight rebounds in the NCAA Tournament title game in which the Wildcats thrillingly won at the buzzer, 77-74, on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer.

Hart and Jenkins, the team’s two leading scorers, return along with key pieces Jalen Brunson (9.6 ppg), Phil Booth (7.0 ppg), Mikal Bridges (6.4 ppg) and Darryl Reynolds (4.5 rpg).

“Josh Hart did a great job in this process,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’m really proud of the way that he showed himself. I am really happy for him that he is returning to play with his classmates and that he will graduate on time.” 

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

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AP

Instant Replay: Tigers 3, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

DETROIT – What figures to be the Phillies’ most challenging road trip so far is not off to a good start.
 
The Phillies lost for the second time in as many nights to the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander manhandled the Phillies in leading his team to a 3-1 victory.
 
The Phillies were held to just three hits in the first eight innings. They rallied for a run on two hits and a sacrifice fly by Tommy Joseph after Verlander had exited in the ninth.
 
The Phils have lost four out of their last five games and are 25-21 on the season.
 
After a slow start, the Tigers have come alive. They have won eight of their last nine.
 
The series ends Wednesday afternoon. The Phillies open a three-game series against Chicago Cubs on Friday. They have the best record in the majors.
 
Starting pitching report
Jeremy Hellickson delivered a very solid start of seven innings and three runs, but received no run support. He walked just one and struck out seven.
 
Hellickson has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.
 
Verlander gave up just two singles and a double over eight shutout innings. He walked two and struck out 10.
 
Verlander’s 108th and final pitch of the game was a 97 mph fastball past Odubel Herrera.
 
Bullpen report
Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez survived a shaky ninth for the save. He squandered his team’s shutout bid by allowing the Phillies’ only run.
 
The save was Francisco’s 400th. He is the sixth pitcher in big-league history to reach that milestone.
 
At the plate
Ryan Howard entered the night hitting .083 (4 for 48) in the month of May. Three of those hits were homers and the other was a double. Howard had not had a single since April 29, a span of 19 games. He ended the singles drought with a base hit against Verlander in the second inning.
 
Howard popped out, struck out and grounded out in his next three at-bats as his average actually climbed to .159.
 
Howard batted fifth and Joseph hit fourth. Joseph, who had a homer and a double in Monday night’s game, stung the ball right at the shortstop and leftfielder, respectively, in his first two at-bats before singling in his third at-bat. He lined a sacrifice fly to left for the Phils’ only run in the ninth.
 
Freddy Galvis doubled twice for the Phils.
 
Miguel Cabrera, who had two homers and a double on Monday night, continued to scorch the Phils. He doubled home a run in the first inning and plated another with a groundout in the sixth. Victor Martinez, who drove in the go-ahead run Monday night, drove in the Tigers’ third run with a single in the sixth.
 
In the field
Catcher Carlos Ruiz threw out two runners trying to steal second.
 
Third baseman Maikel Franco unsuccessfully tried to backhand a bounding ball from J.D. Martinez in the sixth inning. If Franco makes the play, he probably starts an around-the-horn double play. Instead, it got by him, was generously scored a double and led to the Tigers’ second run of the game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche, rehabbing from an oblique strain with the Double A Reading club, hit a two-run home run Tuesday night.
 
Up next
The series concludes Wednesday afternoon. Aaron Nola (3-3, 2.85) starts for the Phillies against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 6.23).

NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

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NFL Notes: Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles awarded Super Bowls

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you spend billions of dollars to build it, they will come.

Three times over.

The NFL awarded Super Bowls to Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles, three cities that made significant financial investments in new stadiums or recently upgraded an existing one. Atlanta will host the game in 2019, followed by Miami (2020) and Los Angeles (2021), it was announced Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.

"I think if they find guys like me that are willing to do it, I think they want to show them that it is worthwhile," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

Atlanta will host its third Super Bowl, but the first at its new $1.4 billion stadium which opens in 2017. The previous two were at the Georgia Dome.

Miami will have its record-setting 11th Super Bowl following a $450 million stadium renovation.

Los Angeles, which gets the relocated Rams this season, has not had a Super Bowl in the area since 1993 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The game will be played at the new $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, which opens in 2019.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans were also in the running to host a Super Bowl (see full story).

Steelers: Bell believes Bengals targeted him
PITTSBURGH -- Le'Veon Bell considers the first injury of his NFL career -- a sprained foot in a preseason game three years ago -- a freak accident.

The last two? Not so much.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back took the field with his teammates Tuesday for the first time since tearing the MCL in his right knee last November against Cincinnati. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict twisted Bell awkwardly as the two tumbled out of bounds just a few yards away from where Bell's 2014 season ended after taking a shot to the same knee from Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson.

Burfict celebrated openly as Bell writhed in pain, a memory that lingers even after Burfict reached out on social media in March to express support as Bell worked his way through rehab.

"Obviously it looked like they were happy about it," Bell said. "I'll take the liberty of just thinking everybody plays just football to love the game. But people aren't out here playing like that. People are playing to take people out. Obviously I know that now" (see full story).

Cardinals: Fitzgerald not thinking beyond this season
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Larry Fitzgerald has been an Arizona Cardinal all 12 of his NFL seasons, breaking every franchise receiving record along the way.

Now, he enters the final year of a two-year, $22 million contract, and he said Tuesday that he doesn't even think about whether he will play football beyond this season, with the Cardinals or anyone else.

"We're just in OTAs right now, man," he said. "We've got training camp and minicamp and the regular season. We've got a long ways to go before that's even a point of discussion. So I'm enjoying this. I'm trying to make it the best year yet."

Fitzgerald will turn 33 before next season begins. And last season proved he remains one of the most prolific receivers in the NFL.

"I think Larry has a lot of tread left on the tire," Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "Obviously he's in the last year of his deal. That's out of my pay scale. But obviously I think he's still got juice in the system" (see full story).