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.”

Best of MLB: Streaking Indians top Jays, run win streak to 13

Best of MLB: Streaking Indians top Jays, run win streak to 13

TORONTO -- Carlos Carrasco struck out a season-high 14, Jason Kipnis and Rajai Davis hit solo home runs and the Cleveland Indians matched a franchise record by winning their 13th consecutive game Thursday night, beating the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1.

Cleveland's streak is the longest by any team this season, and the longest for the Indians since winning 13 straight in 1951. Cleveland also won 13 in a row in 1942.

Indians starting pitchers are 10-0 during the streak, and Cleveland has outscored its opponents 80-26.

Carrasco (4-2) allowed one run and three hits in 7 1/3 innings to win back-to-back starts for the first time since April 13 and 19. The right-hander was sidelined from April 25 to June 2 with a strained left hamstring.

Cody Allen got the last three outs for his 17th save.

R.A. Dickey (5-9) allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings (see full recap).

Passed ball gives Yanks 2nd straight walk-off win
NEW YORK -- Chase Headley scored on a passed ball with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees won in their final at-bat for the second straight game to beat the Texas Rangers 2-1 on Thursday afternoon.

Four New York pitchers combined to strike out 16 Rangers as the teams split the four-game series. Didi Gregorius, who had the winning home run Wednesday night, hit a solo shot in the fifth to tie the score after Shin-Soo Choo homered to lead off the game.

Tony Barnette (5-3), the third Rangers reliever of the afternoon, walked Headley to lead off the bottom of the ninth. With runners on second and third and two outs, his pitch got through catcher Robinson Chirinos and Headley just beat the throw.

Aroldis Chapman (2-0) earned the win after pitching a scoreless ninth (see full recap).

Espinosa slam helps Nationals clobber Reds
WASHINGTON -- Danny Espinosa hit a grand slam and a three-run homer to finish with a career-high seven RBIs, and the Washington Nationals cruised past the Cincinnati Reds 13-4 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

Espinosa's second career slam put Washington up 8-1 in the third inning, and his next drive made it 13-1 in the fourth. Espinosa ranks second on the team with 15 homers despite usually batting eighth.

The switch-hitting shortstop connected off Brandon Finnegan (3-7) batting right-handed, then went deep from the left side against Josh Smith.

Espinosa's previous career high for RBIs was six, and his only other grand slam came in his fifth major league game on Sept. 6, 2010.

Gio Gonzalez (4-7) gave up four runs and struck out nine over six innings for the NL East-leading Nationals, whose current winning streak comes on the heels of a seven-game skid. Gonzalez was 0-6 with an 8.44 ERA in his previous seven starts (see full recap).

Ron Hextall on free agency: Flyers hope to get better but 'not at all costs'

Ron Hextall on free agency: Flyers hope to get better but 'not at all costs'

Cautiously optimistic.

That might be the best way to describe how Ron Hextall feels about free agency, which begins Friday at noon.

The Flyers' general manager is going to be very cautious in who he targets, won’t get caught up in a bidding war and is optimistic that he can find the right top-nine player at a fair price and term.

In perfect salary cap world — one in which the Flyers had oodles of money — they would be tempted by L.A.'s Milan Lucic, St. Louis’ David Backes or Boston’s Loui Eriksson.

Lucic, in many ways, is the kind of Flyer-type player the organization covets. But all three of those players are going to command more salary and term than the Flyers can afford, and Lucic appears headed to Western Canada, anyway.

The Flyers need a scoring winger.

They go into free agency with less than $12 million in salary cap space and still have to put aside close to $5 million for restricted free agent Brayden Schenn and $1 million or so for unrestricted free agent Ryan White (see story), a very valuable and versatile fourth-liner who can move around the lineup.

On top of that, Hextall needs about $2.5 million in reserve on his cap for call-ups.

Which means, without losing a contract of say $4.5 million or so, he has at best $4 million to sign a supporting cast player — not an impact player.

“I’d like to upgrade our top six, but I would certainly upgrade our top nine,” Hextall said. “We’re not going to do something that ties our hands next summer. There’s not going to be any short-term vision that doesn’t play out long term.

“I don’t want to get into a spot here where it costs us a young player and we’re forced into a deal.”

A player such as the Isles’ Kyle Okposo would be nicely suited for the Flyers. He’s going to command more dollars than the Flyers have.

So unless Hextall can move a decent-sized contract, the only way to sign an impact free-agent forward would be to gamble and go the CBA-allowed 10 percent over the cap now and hope to get under by October when the season begins.

A number of clubs, including Minnesota and Detroit, are reportedly interested in Okposo and have far more cap space.

Given the conservative approach Hextall has taken so far as GM, it’s unlikely he would go over the cap now unless he absolutely had a deal in hand to move salary.

He tried to trade at last weekend’s NHL draft in Buffalo and failed.

“We didn’t get close to that,” he said.

As it was, there were only a handful of trades during the draft.

“Every time you turn around, someone is trying to trade a pick and you almost lose touch with what is going on,” Hextall said.

“I think the cap being where it’s at kind of restricts things. Guys aren’t easy to move and a lot of teams don’t want to add too much because they can’t afford it.”

This week saw two significant deals leading into free agency involving P.K. Subban and Shea Weber, plus Taylor Hall and Adam Larsson.

And the top pending free agent, Steven Stamkos, re-signed for eight years in Tampa Bay for $68 million.

Don’t be shocked if Hextall waits a few days to see if the market changes for certain players and price tags to come down.

“July 1 is a funny day,” Hextall said. “Now the cap, it’s somewhat flat. Might be some guys out there who are good buys, but that is not going to happen July 1. It’s usually [July] 5th or 10th or 15th when guys figure out there’s not much out there.”

One thing to keep in mind is the Flyers also recognize that defensive prospect Ivan Provorov and forward prospect Travis Konecny could both make the roster this fall.

Such a scenario would add a total of about $1.79 million onto their cap. Hextall has to figure that into the equation, as well.

One player the Flyers had genuine interest in was Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey, the unsigned prospect originally drafted by Nashville in 2012.

The Preds traded his rights to Buffalo at the draft and have until Aug. 15 to sign him or Vesey becomes a free agent.

A possible “stopgap” player today for the Flyers would be Toronto’s P.A. Parenteau, a 20-goal guy, who even at age 33, would upgrade coach Dave Hakstol’s offense at a reasonable price.

He’s the kind of bargain player Hextall seems more inclined to target if he can’t move salary for a top-six winger.

“We’re committed to getting better,” Hextall said. “Just not at all costs. At a reasonable cost.”

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A week ago after waking up in Paris to flurry of congratulatory text messages, Serge Ibaka wasn't quite sure how to feel about the NBA draft night trade that landed him in Orlando.

But one text message in particular helped him feel better about his transition from the Oklahoma City Thunder -- a team contending for an NBA championship -- to a young team trying to figure out how to make the postseason.

"One of things that made me feel good at that moment was dad texted me," Ibaka said Thursday a news conference. "Before I could get excited and happy, my dad was happy. He congratulated me and said he was real happy for me. That's what changed everything at the moment.

"This is a business, and things happen for a reason. So I'm happy to be here and for my family and for my daughter" (see full story).

Mavericks: Center Mejri has knee surgery
DALLAS -- Mavericks center Salah Mejri has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, a procedure that isn't expected to sideline the 7-foot-2 Tunisian during the season.

Mejri, who had surgery Thursday, emerged as an energetic shot-blocker and rebounder in the second half of his rookie season in Dallas. He turned 30 in June.

While the Mavericks plan to pursue a starting center in free agency, they like the youth and promise in Mejri and the 6-11 Dwight Powell, who turns 25 in July. Powell is all Dallas has left to show for the ill-fated Rajon Rondo trade with Boston in December 2014.

Mejri averaged 3.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 34 games with six starts last season.

Clippers: Frank promoted to front office
LOS ANGELES -- The Clippers have promoted Lawrence Frank to executive vice president of basketball operations under Doc Rivers.

Frank has spent the last two seasons as an assistant under Rivers, who coaches the team and serves as president of basketball operations.

In his new job, Frank will oversee the basketball operations department and report to Rivers.

Frank coached the New Jersey Nets from 2003-10 and the Detroit Pistons from 2011-13. He was an assistant in Vancouver, New Jersey, Boston and Brooklyn before joining the Clippers.

Bucks: GM Hammond gets contract extension
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that the Milwaukee Bucks have extended the contract of general manager John Hammond through the 2017-18 season.

It's an extra year on Hammond's contract and the plan is for him to continue to serve as a consultant after that while assistant GM Justin Zanik takes over the main front office duties. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Bucks have not announced the move.

Zanik was hired away from the Utah Jazz in June to be groomed as Hammond's successor.

Hammond has been the Bucks GM since 2008 and was the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2009-10. He has helped bring in promising youngsters including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker.

Yahoo Sports first reported the extension.