NFL Rules: Read option Quarterbacks can be hit like Running Backs

The rules of NFL are constantly changing and adapting, and San Francisco 49ers coach John Harbaugh is not happy with one interpretation of the laws.

NFL defenses will be able to hit read-option quarterbacks as if they are running backs this season. It is a controversial new ruling to help defenses cope with dual-threat quarterbacks.

The read-option is currently football's biggest trend and it is putting defenses around the league in a bind. Whenever the quarterback sticks the ball into the running back's gut, he has three options, all based on the actions of the defense.

Often the quarterback will read the nearest defensive end. If that lineman crashes inside towards the runner, the quarterback will pull the ball away and can either execute a pass, or run himself.

It is the running ability of the new breed of super athletes at the quarterback position that is causing the most headaches for defensive coordinators.

Dual-threat players like Washington Redskins' star Robert Griffin III and San Francisco 49ers' ace Colin Kaepernick are annihilating defensive schemes with their ability as runners.

The only choice left for defensive players is to increase the number of hits on the signal-callers who make the read-option possible. The league's new ruling has now provided defenders with the legal means to do just that.

Simply put, when quarterbacks go to stick the ball in a runner's gut, known in read-option parlance as the "mesh point," they are now considered fair game.

Because of the high threat of a run by the quarterback from the mesh point, the likes of Griffin and Kaepernick are considered potential running backs.

That means defenses get to treat them accordingly. It is a strange ruling given the league's push to increase player safety.

The chief concern is that there is no "strike zone" when tackling a running back. Workhorses like Baltimore Ravens' mini marvel Ray Rice absorb hits everywhere and often.

San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh has already voiced his concerns that defensive players may target the upper body and even the knees of read-option quarterbacks.

According to's Kevin Patra, Harbaugh even took his concerns to league officials, who were reportedly unmoved.

Regardless of whether Harbaugh is attempting to influence referees to protect Kaepernick, his concerns are valid. This is a new rule fraught with dangerous implications.

For instance, Griffin's rookie season in Washington was littered with examples of hits that stretched fair practice to breaking point. Many of them came after read-option fakes.

Defenses now have the impetus to punish quarterbacks to the point where coaches will be afraid to use the read-option at all.

image: © Au Kirk