Chris Brown does his usual fine job describing how much of the NFL spent the offseason trying to figure out a way to defend the read option. What’s so enjoyable about his piece is that it nicely illustrates one of the college game’s big advantages over the NFL – diversity. That’s because what the pros are struggling to defend now is something their college cohorts had to deal with a while back:
Last fall, these plays — common in college football but relatively new to the NFL — brought havoc. As one SEC offensive line coach put it, watching NFL teams try to defend the read-option was like stepping into a time machine: The poor technique, naive tactics, and ugly results were like seeing college defenses try to defend these plays, but a decade ago.
Indeed, what’s striking about the NFL’s search for answers this past offseason is how often it took the pro coaches to the college ranks.
To stop the read-option, ostensibly a “college” scheme, NFL coaches have gone back to school. Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy sent his entire staff to visit with Kevin Sumlin’s staff at Texas A&M, and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers separately spent time with Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who faced Colin Kaepernick and his Pistol Offense for years at Hawaii and then Utah State. I’ve been told of visits from NFL coaches — some official, some very off-the-record — to schools as diverse as Stanford, Oklahoma State, Clemson, Alabama, Vanderbilt, BYU, and Florida State, where the primary topic of discussion was how to stop, or at least slow, the read-option.
What comes across as you read the article is how much more confident the college coaches sound about defending and deploying the read option than the pro guys do: “NFL coaches have been understandably vague about just how they plan to stop the read-option. Even with all of last fall to focus on answers, teams still struggled, which led to the question of where solutions could be found.” They went were the action was, because they had no better choice.
When it comes to scheming at the college level, necessity is definitely the mother of invention. A lack of top-to-bottom parity, both in talent and financial resources, forces the have-nots to get creative to have a fighting chance. It’s kind of like watching bacteria mutate in a petri dish. And it’s definitely not what the NFL’s about:
The lower levels of football are always going to be more experimental than the inherently conservative NFL, as hundreds or even thousands of teams, many of them lacking even basic resources, grasp for any advantage they can get as part of a collection of teams with disparate talent. Rich Rodriguez famously said his staff invented the zone read at lowly Glenville State because they were “just trying to get a first down.” NFL teams, by contrast, are awash in facilities, technology, a relatively open market for players, and, maybe most important of all, time — time for coaches, who don’t have to zip around the country recruiting, and for players, who are full-time professionals.
As I’ve said before, Paul Johnson may be an ass, but I love having the triple-option as part of the college game. It’s part of the charm.