Will the option be an option in the NFL? In towns like Norman, Oklahoma, old men gathered to watch NFL games this year, and smiled knowingly as Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III did their best Jamielle Holloway impersonations. College teams have been running the option in one form or another since Don Faurot designed the split-T at Missouri in the early 1940’s. While college teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska won national championships with the option, the NFL never followed suit.
NFL coaches and executive have always preferred their signal callers to be of the drop back variety, the bigger the better. NFL coaches have long preferred the stability of rocked armed statues, glued in the pocket, like Dan Marino. GM’s prefer that their priciest assets remain in one piece. Once a mobile quarterback himself, Broncos GM John Elway traded away playoff winner Tim Tebow and signed Peyton Manning faster than Tommie Frazier ran the 40.
Maybe it was fitting that maverick coaches like Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh, who each had great success in college, finally thumbed their nose at NFL convention. So as the NFL transitions into its offseason, will the option be a fundamental part of the NFL in 2013, or will it go the way of Tony Sparano’s wildcat.
For years I wondered why an organization didn’t give it a shot. Using the law of supply and demand it made sense to me, if a team ran the option, they could have their pick of a large pool of players no other franchise would touch. And, as evidenced by the success of playoff teams quarterbacked by Griffin, Kaepernick and Russell Wilson the option can be an effective offense at the pro level.
The option adds another dimension to an offense, making it more difficult for the opposing team to gameplan against and to stop on Sunday. Time for NFL GM’s and coaches to kick those glue footed 6’4” pocket passers to the curb and grab an option quarterback faster than Chip Kelly reuniting with Dennis Dixon, right. Well, as Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend.
There a few reasons why the option may be more than a passing fad, but not yet the offense of choice for most. Running the option is hard at the college level, the quarterback must learn to read defensive ends and linebackers. At the pro level, with the complexity of passing schemes and defenses, another layer of difficulty is added. A team willing to commit to the option must have a quarterback who is both an option runner and an NFL quarterback capable of deciphering zone blitzes and complex coverages.
The transition has been difficult for the many who have tried. Scott Frost and Eric Crouch of Nebraska weren’t strong enough passers. Tim Tebow shares the same problem, limited by his long throwing motion and lack of accuracy. The best spread quarterback of the past decade, Vince Young flamed out after initial success and Pat White was a wasted second round pick by the Dolphins.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for an option offense are the behemoths on the opposite side of the ball. Robert Griffin III was the most exciting player in the NFL through 13 weeks of the season and appeared to be a transcendent player. But when a quarterback is exposed to players of Haloti Ngata’s speed and size, the inevitable eventually happens. For a team to run the option, its coach might need to train a different quarterback each week (and its GM might need to pay one each week).
Even with the NFL trying to create a safer league and protecting its quarterbacks, there is no way to mitigate the risk. If the NFL legislates against hitting quarterbacks running free outside the pocket, we might as well be watching soccer.
As you watch the combine hoping your GM can find the next Colin Kaepernick in the second round, keep this in mind. Haloti Ngata’s not getting any smaller, Bernard Pollard is not getting any nicer and Dick LeBeau has an offseason to scheme. After Ngata’s handiwork on RG3’s knee, who would you rather have your GM invest a $20 million signing bonus in Andrew Luck or Griffin III?