BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — The building blocks for the read-option are right out in the open for everyone to see in the first week of training camp.
From the shotgun formation with an offset running back, quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Josh McCown and Matt Blanchard have used mesh-point action that would be the starting point for a read-option play. It’s the kind of fake handoff designed to hold the second-level defenders or strong safety just a split second.
Maybe it’s a sign of things to come in the build-a-Bears offense that Marc Trestman still is supplementing at Olivet Nazarene University.
The quarterbacks have been running a dash (half roll) off the play fake, moving outside the pocket where a throwing lane should open off play action. When they hand the ball off, it’s an inside zone play much like what the Packers do with Aaron Rodgers on occasion.
In the progression of a play, the next step would be a zone read for the quarterback, the kind of offense that shook up the NFL last season and sent defensive coaches scurrying to the college level this offseason for answers to stop it.
There is no reason the Bears shouldn’t toy with the mechanisms in the offense. They had plenty of trouble stopping it themselves last season against a trio of young, mobile quarterbacks — the Panthers’ Cam Newton, 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. Six of the seven longest completions the defense allowed in 2012 came against those three.
Kaepernick made his first NFL start against the Bears in Week 11, a 32-7 blowout for the 49ers at Candlestick Park, and ran the ball only four times for 10 yards. In the playoffs, he ran for 181 yards and passed for 263 and two touchdowns in a 45-31 victory over the Packers.
Are we going to see Cutler pull the ball back and keep it on the edge?
“I don’t know,” McCown said. “We’ll see what happens with it. Obviously, it’s prevalent in our league right now so there are merits to practicing it if anything just to give your defense a look.”
The first question has to be whether Trestman believes Cutler, who has the seventh-most rushing yards for a quarterback since 2006, can execute the scheme?
“Jay has the skill set to do just about everything, anything,” Trestman said. “We are trying to give him the things he has had the most success with first.
“Whether we’ll do it, I don’t know. We’ve studied it.”
Trestman acknowledged the Bears are using elements of it in practice but said they have not had Cutler study the read-option yet. Trestman had parts of it in his offense in the CFL last season, specifically designed for Montreal Alouettes backup quarterback Adrian McPherson when he entered the game in short-yardage situations. But it was more a wrinkle of the offense than a staple of it. Most CFL teams have mobile quarterbacks so the option is in their playbooks.
“There is no question Jay is athletic enough,” McCown said. “All three of us could get it done if we needed to. It’s going to have to be a part of (the offense) a little bit because we are going to have to give our defense looks on it because it’s so successful in our league. We’re all waiting to see if the defenses can stop it.”
The Bears will have to prepare for the read-option against the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, who they face in Week 7. According to the Washington Post, Griffin averaged 16.4 yards per completion after fake handoffs using the read-option and 8.2 yards when he ran it himself.
The biggest discussion in Washington is centered on the health of Griffin, who is returning from a torn ACL. The Bears are mindful that Cutler has suffered two concussions in the previous three seasons and they don’t want to expose him to unnecessary danger.
But if Cutler hands off a few times, runs a couple of play fakes during exhibitions and then keeps it (himself) in a zone read just once, it’s going to give the Bengals plenty to think about for the Sept. 8 opener.
If opposing defensive ends keep crashing down inside to stop the run, it’s going to create an opening on the perimeter.
“You have to at least talk about it,” McCown said. “That’s always part of the chess game. Even if it is not on the menu, you want your opponent to spend time talking about it.
“We’ll see where it is going. Just keep watching.”
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