MICHAEL ZAGARIS/GETTY IMAGES SPORT hits the quarterbacks take, the more teams have to think: ‘Do we really want to do this?’ “Maybe they feel like we can’t hit them. I think we can.” Maybe that’s why new Washington coach Jay Gruden has said Griffin won’t be running it so much this year. He averaged eight carries a game as a rookie in 2012 and 6.6 last year while playing on a knee that was still healing. He is considered healthy and ready to go, and it would be foolish to try to turn such a game-changing player into a pocket passer. Griffin will still run, to put better pressure on defenses. He might not do it so much, but the threat will still be there. That’s what offenses are counting on. It will be interesting to see how that applies to Foles in Philadelphia. No coach in the NFL is as wedded to the read option as Kelly, who ran it repeatedly and with great success while at Oregon. When Kelly came to the Eagles, many thought incumbent quarterback Michael Vick was the perfect man for his system. Vick had rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006 and topped 550 in his first two seasons as a regular in Philadelphia. When Vick was hurt, and Foles stepped in, Kelly was faced with a completely different kind of QB. He certainly didn’t scrap the read-option section of the playbook, and Foles did average 4.4 carries per game last year and 3.9 yards per carry. But Kelly admits that his offense is somewhat elastic and can accommodate a runner like Vick (now with the Jets) or a more traditional pocket passer in Foles. “The biggest thing that you have to do is identify the skill sets you have and adjust those skill sets, and that’s what football has always been,” Kelly told The Philadelphia Inquirer in early August. “Our offense has changed every year I’ve been in charge of the offense, whether I was at New Hampshire, Oregon or here.” Don’t expect the Eagles to convert their attack to the I formation, with a fullback hammering his way into the chests of middle linebackers on iso plays. Philadelphia will spread the field, play with tempo and run the read option, even if Foles isn’t the ideal QB for the scheme. Washington is going to use it with Griffin, despite his twice-repaired knee. Seattle isn’t abandoning it. Buffalo, Carolina and San Francisco will maintain it as a big part of their attacks. And don’t be surprised when Cleveland breaks it out, once Johnny Manziel ascends to the top spot under center. It’s a good bet Peyton Manning won’t be sneaking out the back door in Denver (although the Broncos quarterback before Manning ran it with success), but the zone read will continue to grow in popularity. It just makes sense to employ it. When Lou Holtz was coaching in college, people used to ask him why his teams ran the option when it was no longer effective as an offense. His response was always the same: “It gives the defense something else to prepare for every week.” The zone read does something of the same thing—and more. It forces defenses to adjust their approach, because ends can’t come crashing down when the QB sticks the ball in a back’s stomach, because if there isn’t support from a linebacker or safety, there is wide-open space available for the quarterback. And putting another threat into the ground game prevents defenses from packing the box against run-first teams. It’s a smart philosophy that can only be countered by a ferocious hit on the QB, something that can be avoided with a Russell Wilson only ran the ball three times during Super Bowl XLVIII, but one of them was for a first down. well-timed slide or dash out of bounds. JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES SPORT “You’re giving them an opportunity to hit the quarterback, and the goal of the whole game is to make sure defenders don’t hit him,” Bevell says. “We’re putting Wilson in situations where they can take shots at him, and he took some shots last year. We’re not trying to make Russell Wilson Marshawn Lynch. “We’re just trying to make them respect him.” Consider that mission accomplished. Since taking over the reins as the 49ers’ starting quarterback midway through the 2012 season, Colin Kaepernick has rushed for over 900 yards.
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