By Bill Swartz
Running quarterbacks used to have a very short shelf life in the NFL because they were not big and strong enough to take the punishment. In the case of guys like Chicago’s Bobby Douglas, they were better runners than throwers.
Russell Wilson ran for 27 yards on nine carries Sunday. (AP)
Now, the league is starting to see more and more quarterbacks in a linebacker’s body. They are hybrids who are threats to throw deep or make a fake and run 40 yards.
Given the success of Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and now Robert Griffin III, more teams are looking to incorporate some form of the zone-read option.
Last Sunday against Minnesota, the Seahawks used Russell Wilson’s unique talents with read-option plays to pick up relatively easy running yards. Coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell saw the effectiveness of the option package in the Redskins offense with Griffin at the controls.
“We borrowed some of the Redskins’ ideas with RG3. While you’re studying defenses you get to watch the opponents who played them,” Bevell said earlier this season. “Some ideas are great, some you can’t use because of your personnel.”
According to Bevell, it takes the right quarterback’s skill set to mesh with a team’s offensive philosophy.
“RG3 and Russell are two different style quarterbacks. There are some things he can do we wouldn’t ask Russell to do,” he said. “We have to determine, is that a viable play, is it good for Russell and does it fit in with the scheme for us?”
Seattle’s opponent on Sunday uses plenty of zone-read option because the Jets acquired Tim Tebow in their trade with Denver. New York coach Rex Ryan says just because Tebow’s on the field doesn’t necessarily mean you tip your hand to the defense.
“There’s all sorts of stuff you can run off zone reads, including screens like in Seattle’s package,” Ryan said. “That’s part of the reason it’s effective. When you have a guy back there with that kind of skill set, it is difficult to prepare for.”
While the wildcat offenses with running backs taking snaps have largely declined in the NFL, the zone-read could have some staying power. It will flourish as long as larger, faster quarterbacks continue to enjoy success in the most demanding position in pro football.