Quarterback EJ Manuel has skills to run read option in NFL

Mobile quarterbacks have been asked about their ability to run the read option and whether it enhances their draft stock. (Alan Diaz/AP file photo)

INDIANAPOLIS - The read option has been a very popular topic at the scouting combine this week. Not quite as popular as Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend, but a close second.

Just about every NFL coach has weighed in on its effectiveness and the possible solutions defenses might come up with next season to combat it.

Mobile quarterbacks like West Virginia's Geno Smith, Florida State's EJ Manuel and Miami of Ohio's Zac Dysert have been asked about their ability to run it and whether it enhances their draft stock.

"I don't think I have to be Colin Kaepernick," said Manuel, who ran a 4.65 40 on Sunday at the combine. "I don't have to be Russell Wilson. I can be EJ Manuel. But I do see a lot of my abilities in those guys.


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"When I saw those guys having success this year, it gave me a lot more confidence going into the [preparation for the] draft. Knowing that that kind of quarterback, a guy who can run and throw, not necessarily run first, but who can throw the ball and also have that run threat, it's more accepted now, as opposed to 5-10 years ago, it really wasn't accepted.

"Back then, you didn't want to act like you [wanted to] run. You just wanted to sit in the pocket the whole time. Now, it's more embraced as a quarterback."

Smith, one of the draft's top two rated quarterbacks, along with Matt Barkley, ran a 4.56 40, confirming that he definitely is fast enough to run the read option.

"I played in three different systems in college, including the read option," he said. "I think that's something I've always been capable of. I have the skill set that fits any offense. I can play within the pocket, but I'm athletic enough to run that style of offense."

The read option definitely isn't going anywhere. They intend to keep running it in San Francisco and Seattle and Washington and Carolina, and some more read-option franchises are expected to open in other NFL cities in September, including one in South Philadelphia.

"You saw it throughout the league, and we're probably going to see more of it run," Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.

"It made a lot of defensive coordinators nervous. I know we're going to spend extended periods of time in the offseason looking at, 'OK, what do we need to do to slow this thing down a little bit?' Because it does put some strain [on a defense]."

As the Redskins' Robert Griffin III found out late last season, it also can put a bit of a strain on the quarterback as well. If anything is going to dissuade teams from going all-in on the read option, it will be the hits the guy behind center is going to take.

After Baltimore's 34-31 Super Bowl XLVII win over the 49ers earlier this month, Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that his defense's strategy against Kaepernick was to hit him every chance it got, whether he had the ball or not.

"How many times can you run that play?" Harbaugh said the morning after the game. "Because if you're going to hit the quarterback every play, which is what our goal was to do . . . "

That's why the Eagles signed Dennis Dixon a couple of weeks back. That's why they almost certainly will use a third- or fourth-round pick on Manuel or Dysert or one of the other mobile quarterbacks in this draft. Because one is not going to be enough.

"Is it sustainable?" Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the other day, repeating a question. "It's going to depend on the health of your quarterback. If you have one guy that that's what he does, and the other guy doesn't do that, and your first guy gets hurt, now you've got to bring in the other guy and change your offense.

"That's where you get in trouble. If a team's going to commit to it, you're going to see teams have two or three quarterbacks that are the same [type]. If your offense doesn't have any flexibility where it can go from a zone-read back to a pro-style back to a spread, you can get in trouble.

"So you've got to be very careful if it's a commitment you're going to make. We never really made that type of commitment [with Cam Newton]. We have it as a mixer. We use it just enough that coordinators have to pay attention to what we do. I think off of it, we can do so many different things."

Time will tell just how prominent the read option will be in Chip Kelly's offense next season.

If you believe Nick Foles will be the Eagles' starting quarterback, which I don't, then the read option will be scarcer than a Kardashian at a Mensa meeting.

The Eagles have four quarterbacks on their roster: Foles, Dixon, Mike Vick and Trent Edwards. Edwards' days in Philadelphia are numbered. He's at the bus terminal at 10th & Filbert right now, waiting for the next Greyhound out of town.

Foles probably is the best quarterback of the other three. But if you played the which-one-doesn't-belong game with him and Vick and Dixon, he'd be odd man out. Vick and Dixon both have the speed to run the read option. Foles doesn't.

Kelly insists he's keeping his options open right now.

"I've never had a chance to work with Michael or Nick," he said. "I saw Nick play in college. I've spoken with all of those guys on the phone, but that was just an introductory, 'Hey, how you doin'?'

"I can't tell you what the future's going to be or who it's going to be [playing quarterback]. A lot of that will come when we have a chance to spend time with them out on the practice field."

Kelly insists he's not married to the read option, that he'll fit his system around the talent on his roster.

But it makes little sense that Kelly would make the giant leap from college to the pros, then be willing to bag the read option, which was a critical component in his offensive system at Oregon.

It also would make little sense to keep Foles around as a backup to Vick, since, as Rivera pointed out, you'd have to alter your offense if Vick got hurt.

"Nick Foles has a skill set that, it's our job, if he's our quarterback, to put him in a position to make plays," Kelly said.

"Obviously, one player throws certain routes better than another player, one person does a better job in certain check-with-mes at the line of scrimmage. That's what I think every coach does. I don't think anybody runs the same exact playcall sheet [with different quarterbacks]."

It would be a shock if the Eagles didn't select a quarterback in the draft in late April, and it would be a shock if it isn't one of the guys with the skill set to run the read option.

It's unlikely they would take Smith with their first-round pick - the fourth overall - unless they traded down. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock doesn't have a top-20 grade on either Smith or Barkley.

After Smith, Manuel is considered the best of the quarterbacks who could run the read option. He did well at the Senior Bowl workouts, was named the game's MVP, and has done nothing at the combine to hurt his draft stock. He is expected to go in the third or fourth round.

"He's a big, strong, physical kid," Mayock said. "He's got some natural physical running ability, not that he's a running quarterback. But he's an athletic kid.

"Before the Senior Bowl, people were all over the board on him because he was up and down this past season. He's got mechanical issues with footwork and timing. The more pressure he comes under in a game as far as edge or any flashes of color [opposing pass rusher], his mechanics break down a little bit, which is typical of a lot of college quarterbacks.

"I get nervous when I see that, because he doesn't have that solid a base from a fundamental perspective. But he's got a live arm, and he's really athletic."


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