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.”

Future Flyers Report: Welcome to North America, German Rubtsov

Future Flyers Report: Welcome to North America, German Rubtsov

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we feature the Flyers’ 2016 first-round pick who escaped his motherland of Russia for a better situation — no, not the United States, Canada.

German Rubtsov, C, 6-0/190, Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
If there was any doubt as to why it was important for Rubtsov to terminate his KHL contract to relocate to North America, the questions were answered last week. Rubtsov made waves in his QMJHL debut tour for the Chicoutimi, quadrupling his KHL production in just three games for the Saguenéens, registering four points in three games.

It did not take long for the 6-foot forward to make noise for Chicoutimi, which had the center playing on the wing as he gets acclimated to the North American game. In a 4-3 shootout win over Halifax, Rubtsov immediately put his stamp on the Saguenéens with a two-assist, six-shot performance in which he was named the game’s third star.

Both of Rubtsov’s apples were nothing to write home about, though he made strong hockey plays on both, his second assist in particular in which he scooped up the puck along the boards and pushed it to the blue line. In the overtime period, he twice had serious scoring chances on the same shift, displaying his speed and power on one and failing to score on a breakaway the other. It was a quiet night for Rubtsov on Friday in Chicoutimi’s 1-0 loss to Saint John, but the Russian showered the stat sheet Saturday.

In his third contest, Rubtsov registered his first career QMJHL goal, a power-play tally, and another assist in a 6-4 win over Acadie-Bathurst. Outside of the points, there was plenty else to like from Rubtsov from last week. Touted as a 200-foot player, he showcased his defensive prowess Friday against the Sea Dogs, taking away a passing lane that resulted in a Chicoutimi rush.

There was much to like about Rubtsov’s first week in the Q. Considering the frustrating start to this season with HC Vityaz, Rubtsov will finally get a fair shake at playing time.

Anthony Stolarz, G, 6-6/210, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Stolarz missed both weekend games against Providence and Hershey because of a lower-body injury believed to have been suffered in his 5-3 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday, which was also his 23rd birthday. Head coach Scott Gordon said Saturday night he was “waiting to hear from the doctor.” Lehigh Valley called up Mark Dekanich from Reading to fill in as Alex Lyon’s backup — Dekanich did see game action Saturday.

It looked like Stolarz was on track to start at least three of the Phantoms’ four games last week before the injury. He stopped 25 of 28 shots in Lehigh Valley’s 4-3 over Springfield on Monday, and followed that outing up with 35 saves in a 5-3 victory to the Penguins on Friday night. It’s unclear if Stolarz will miss any time this week.

Battling for the net with Lyon, Stolarz is 9-3 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .921 save percentage and one shutout in 12 games this season. His competition, Lyon, has been strong as well, despite a clunker on Saturday night against the Bruins.

Lyon was yanked against Providence after 27:02 and allowing four goals on 16 shots, but rebounded well Sunday night against Hershey. Lyon stopped 25 of 26 shots against the Bears, and lost his shutout bid about seven minutes into the third period.

The crease is crowded at Lehigh Valley, but if Stolarz should miss time, Lyon has shown this season he’s more than capable of handling the workload.

Carter Hart, G, 6-1/181, Everett (WHL)
Another strong week for Hart, the Flyers’ top goaltending prospect. The 2016 second-round pick picked up two more wins in four games last week for Everett, stopping 113 of 94 shots he faced. On Friday, Hart picked up his sixth shutout of the season, a 33-save blanking of the Seattle Thunderbirds in a 1-0 victory of the Silvertips. In Everett’s 4-3 shootout loss to Spokane on Sunday night, Hart stopped 16 of 19 shots, but did give up 2-0 and 3-2 leads in the loss. He was beaten just once in the shootout. Hart is now 19-4-5 on the season, with a 1.90 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Scott Laughton, C, 6-1,190 , Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Remember Laughton? The 2012 first-round pick had a huge week for the Phantoms last week, as he’s continuing to work his way back into the Flyers’ future plans. Laughton turned in a five-point week, recording points in all four games and picking up his third multi-point game of the season Sunday. He had a goal in three of those four games, and tallied an assist in the Phantoms’ 9-1 blowout loss to Providence Saturday. He helped the Phantoms to a 5-1 win over Hershey on Sunday with a goal and an assist. He’s now up to eight goals and 18 points in 26 games this season at Lehigh Valley.

Quick hits
Tanner Laczynski missed both of No. 11 Ohio State’s showdowns with No. 1 Penn State last weekend. The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions split the weekend series.

• Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen rebounded well after a rough outing last Tuesday in an 8-4 loss to Dartmouth, in which he yielded six goals on 18 shots before being pulled.

Madsen responded with a 26-save shutout in No. 6 Harvard’s 3-0 win over Brown University on Friday, and then stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 1-1 tie with Yale.

• Michigan forward Cooper Marody went pointless in the Wolverines’ weekend home-and-home with Michigan State, but did score the shootout winner Saturday night.

Mark Friedman added two assists in Bowling Green’s 3-2 loss to Alaska on Friday, and was pointless Saturday, as the Falcons split the weekend with the Aces with a 2-1 win. With 19 points, the junior blueliner is third on Bowling Green in points.

• Brynäs IF netminder Felix Sandstrom gave up four goals on 24 shots in a 4-3 overtime win over Orebro on Thursday night in his lone game last week.

• Sandstrom’s teammate, Oskar Lindblom, added another goal last week, also in Thursday’s game against Orebro. Lindblom had three shots on net in 20:52 against Orebro. He now leads Brynäs with 31 points and is tied for third in the SHL.

David Kase found himself playing fourth-line center for Piráti Chomutov on Friday and Sunday, partially because of a team need down the middle. Kase did have an assist Tuesday. Sunday, he played just 3:35 against HC Vítkovice Rider and was 3 for 3 in the faceoff dot. He played more Friday (9:25) and saw some PP time vs. HC Karlovy Vary.

Connor Bunnaman had a productive week for Kitchener, adding two goals and three assists in four games. He had a goal and an assist Tuesday in a 4-3 win over Windsor, and then a goal in the Rangers’ 5-3 win over Ottawa on Sunday.

• Phantoms All-Star Taylor Leier had a goal and two assists Friday vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, an assist Saturday against Providence Saturday and another Sunday against Hershey. He now has 19 assists and 27 points in 31 games.

Eagles storylines to watch this week at Senior Bowl

Eagles storylines to watch this week at Senior Bowl

It's time again for the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. 

This is the week where the NFL world converges into the smallish Alabama city and takes it over until the game. The North and South squads will practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, leading up to the game Saturday. 

This offseason hasn't been as crazy as the last one for the Eagles, but there are still plenty of organizational questions left to be answered. 

Maybe we'll start to get those answers this week: 

Play nice, Howie
Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said at his season-ending press conference that new personnel head Joe Douglas will be the guy who sets the draft board, but Roseman said the responsibility still falls on him. 

That, theoretically, means the Eagles could find themselves in a situation where on draft day, they go against their draft board. 

Douglas came to the Eagles as the result of a long search for a personnel head and comes with an impressive pedigree. But he can only be as successful as Roseman lets him be. Now, we'll have to try to figure out if their relationship is really working. 

Doug's role
The last time Doug Pederson was in Alabama for the Senior Bowl, his full staff was just coming together and he was pretty consumed with trying to learn how to become a head coach and implement his scheme. So he answered a few questions about the players he wanted on the team – and very likely let his opinion be known about the quarterbacks – and went back to his business. 

But as this season wrapped up, Pederson said he'd like to play a bigger role in the entire process. Will the Eagles let him? 

If nothing else, Pederson should at least be more available to give his opinion on players and spend time with them during the pre-draft process. 

Filling the holes 
The Eagles have had decent success finding players at the Senior Bowl. Last year, they got their first extended look at a quarterback from North Dakota State who was soaring up draft boards. 

Aside from Carson Wentz, they've drafted plenty of other Senior Bowl players in recent years: Jordan Hicks, Eric Rowe, Lane Johnson, Jordan Matthews and Marcus Smith. 

There are plenty of interesting prospects at this year's Senior Bowl too. Four possible first-round corners will be in attendance: Cordrea Tankersley, Tre’Davious White, Cameron Sutton and Jourdan Lewis. There are also a few wide receivers to keep an eye on: Cooper Kupp, Zay Jones, Taywan Taylor, among them.