Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

January 18, 2013

Option in the NFL, really?

By Jake Thompson

— Since I first started playing football at a young age, I had always heard that the option will never work in the NFL. Upon hearing that blanket statement, I always wondered “Why not?”

Among the answers I’ve received are that it’s a gimmick offense sometimes seen in high school, seldom witnessed in college, and non-existence in the NFL. Another argument was that the speed of the average NFL defense would negate the advantages of the option. Players were simply too fast and the option would simply fail.

Yet another, and probably, most decisive reason for the option not being run in the NFL is fear of injury to the quarterback.

But as with high school and college teams that run the option in some form — Wing T, Wishbone, Flexbone, Spread, and the rare I option attacks — it’s difficult to defend because teams seldom see it and cannot mimic in preparation the week before. The running of these offenses require precision, perfect timing, and deception, paired with a quarterback’s savvy decision to make to work.

High schools in our area have found great success with it over recent seasons. Brownsburg’s flexbone option helped them to an undefeated season last year, along with an outright conference title. Danville rode an option attack to the Sagamore Conference title last season. Warren Central ran the option for all it’s worth and that led to four consecutive state titles in the mid 2000s.

More and more college teams are finding success with some form of the option. Air Force exclusively ran the wishbone for years, along with Army and Navy utilizing option attacks. Georgia Tech made the switch just a few seasons back and Urban Meyer has brought the spread option to all four universities he’s coached.

Several other college teams have dipped their toes in the water, running a hybrid spread option that has had so much success, NFL teams are now changing their tune about the much maligned offense.

Starting with the Wildcat formation the Miami Dolphins utilized a few seasons back, teams began to see that with the right athletes in the backfield, the option can be effective. The NFL is most certainly a copycat league and so more teams came on board, running their versions of the Wildcat offense.

That paved the way for Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton, who came from a spread option attack at Auburn that won a National Championship, to bring that style to the NFL last season. While at Auburn his final season, Newton passed for 30 touchdowns and rushed for 20 more.

Newton was so effective with that style of play last season that he broke the NFL rookie passing yards record, threw for 21 touchdowns and rushed for 14 more, a true dual-threat quarterback the likes the league hasn’t seen.

To a lesser extent, Tim Tebow effectively ran the option offense in Denver last season as coach John Fox played to the quarterback’s strengths coming out of college where he played for Meyer. That gamble paid off to the tune of a playoff win, something the first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning could not deliver for the Broncos this year.

Their play paved the way for this season’s group of teams that dove head first into the option attack. Like I stated before, if there is success with a particular play, formation, or style in the NFL, teams will try to copy it and find success where others before them have.

Washington’s Robert Griffin III, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, and San Francisco’s Colin Kapernick have all excelled using an option attack. Wilson and Griffin III are both rookies that took their teams to the playoffs and Kapernick started Week 11 of this his sophomore season.

Kapernick set the NFL quarterback rushing record in a single game last week, carving up the Green Bay Packers defense for 181 yards while scoring twice. He also threw for 263 yards and two TDs. Kapernick’s performance has the 49ers on the precipice of a Super Bowl berth with a win over the Falcons this weekend.

That type of production, both on the ground and through the air for an NFL quarterback was unheard of — until now.

With more and more athletes learning the quarterback position — instead of the proto-typical body type of the current NFL QB — and being given the opportunity to play to their strengths, it was just a matter of time before the option found a place in the NFL.

I think it’s safe to say the option attack will be here to stay in some form or fashion until defenses find a way to stop it. When run correctly, the option attack is unstoppable, especially with NFL players who are the most disciplined of the bunch.

So now, finally, after all of the years of excuses and to all of the naysayers out there I am able to say, “An NFL option attack. Why not?”

— Jake Thompson is sports editor of the Hendricks County Flyer.