For the second exhibition game in a row last Saturday, the San Francisco 49ers offense had backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick run read-option plays. In both games against the Vikings and Texans, he ran the read-option on the second play he was in and succeeded on both. Against the Vikings, the quarterback ran for a 78-yard touchdown. In the loss to the Texans, offensive coordinator Greg Roman had him run two straight read-option plays. On the first one, the backup QB kept the football and ran for 12 yards. On the next play he handed off to LaMichael James who ran for 8 yards. If you are counting, that is a total of 98 yards and one touchdown on three read-option plays. With Kaepernick’s skills as runner, should the 49ers use him as read-option specialist in the regular season?
Kaepernick on running the read-option,
I feel comfortable with everything that we do. That (fast tempo) is just something they asked me to do the last couple weeks. It’s similar to what I did in college, so obviously I’m going to be comfortable with it.
There are many perils with running the read-option in the NFL. One of those is throwing the starting quarterback out of rhythm if he needs to be pulled off the field for a running quarterback to operate the read-option package successfully. For the 49ers, that would be the case because Kaepernick has superior running skills than Alex Smith. But it’s a change of pace and would be similar to the Wildcat offenses in that it makes defenses have to game plan for it and keeps the defenses guessing. Say what you will about the Wildcat, but in 2009 the Dolphins ran it often with Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown. The team averaged 139.4 yards per game that season, ranking them fourth overall in the league in rushing.
The 49ers would not run the Wildcat but read-option plays. However, the similarities between the two are that defenses will not know whether you will run or pass, even with Kaepernick in the game. With a backfield filled with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James and a proven track record they can run the football well, brining Kaepernick in for a different style of offense could do wonders for the 49ers.
Another issue running the read-option is exposing your quarterback to injury. There could be plenty of times Kaepernick finds himself isolated with defenders in open space that can led to big hits and injuries. However, if you look at the two quarterbacks who ran the read-option often and successfully last season, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, they are similar to Kaepernick’s size (Tebow is 6-3, 240 pounds; Newton is 6-5, 245 pounds; Kaepernick is 6-5, 233 pounds). Tebow and Newton were running QB’s in college much like Kaepernick, who is the only quarterback in NCAA history to have three-straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Unlike Tebow and Newton last season, Kaepernick would not be on the field for every series and the 49ers will not exclusively rely on the read-option for the offense this season.
The only way it would be successful is with Kaepernick becoming more than just a running threat, but also a passing threat in the pocket which is where he has struggled. Against the Texans, he played 14 snaps in four drives and had two three-and-outs. He finished the game 4-of-8 in passing, totaling 19 yards.
In two exhibition games he is 9-of-17 in passing, with 59 yards and no touchdowns and interceptions. Those are not exactly huge numbers for a quarterback can trying to prove he is ready to be a starter, but they show he is improving. All of those stats came not against first-team defenses, but against second-team defenses. Still, I bet with his speed and talent, he could outrun first-team defenses as well.