Nick Saban providing pointers on read-option to NFL coaches

Nick Saban has provided pointers on the read-option this offseason. (USATSI)

Late last month we told you about a series of visits a contingent of defensive coaches on the Atlanta Falcons’ staff made to Clemson to receive a crash course on defending the read-option.

At the time, Tigers coach Dabo Sweeney estimated that a number of NFL staffs would follow suit as the revolutionary offense continues to make its way from college to the professional ranks. It didn’t take long for Sweeney’s predictions to materialize. A handful of NFL coaches have also traveled down to Tuscaloosa to learn more on facing the scheme from Nick Saban.

“People are getting up the field to pass rush because of the Tom Bradys of the world -- that’s what you’ve got to stop,” Saban told ESPN. “You’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback. Well, that’s just what you don’t want to do against (read-option quarterbacks). You have to play on the line of scrimmage just like old option football.”

Saban is particularly impressed with how the 49ers execute the read-option under emerging quarterback Colin Kaepernick. One of the most daunting challenges when facing San Francisco, he indicated, is comprehending the various looks provided by Greg Roman’s offense. The 49ers often call the same runs (counters, traps, Power O) they use out of a pro-style offense, when appearing in the Pistol. Roman uses the read-option out of a 2 WR-2RB-1 TE set, as well as an ace formation with two wide receivers, two tight ends and one running back.

“I think the teams that do a really good job like the 49ers, do it from multiple formation looks so they make more defensive players have to understand how to do it,” Saban said. “I think that’s the biggest challenge.”

Twice in the last three seasons, the Crimson Tide has faced a Heisman Trophy winner that has flourished in the Pistol. In 2010, Alabama held Cam Newton to 39 rushing yards on 22 carries but squandered a 24-0 lead in a 28-27 defeat to its archrival. Last season, Johnny Manziel finished with 345 total yards, including 92 on the ground in Texas A&M’s upset win over then top-ranked Alabama. Still, the Crimson Tide finished 2012 with the top-ranked run defense in FBS (76.36 yards per game).

In 2012, five teams in the NFL ran at least 30 option plays according to ESPN. As a team, the Redskins gained 738 yards on 5.8 yards per carry when running the option. The Redskins operated out of the Pistol a league-high 82 percent of the time on option runs. 

“I know that our coaching staff is going to spend a whole lot of time on it because it could be the wave of the future,” Falcons coach Mike Smith told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I'm not saying that it will be, but that it could be.” 

Keep your eye on everything NFL by following Matt Rybaltowski on Twitter @mattrybaltowski.

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