Whether or not read-option quarterbacks like the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, Redskins' Robert Griffin III or Seahawks' Russell Wilson should be hands-off after handing off to a running back has been debated since the offensive scheme came into vogue last season. Jim Harbaugh even sought clarification from the league office on whether defenders could hit or tackle Kaepernick after he had handed off the ball on a read-option play.
On Wednesday -- the day before the 2013 NFL season opens with the Ravens at the Broncos -- NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino informed all teams and media via a video that read-option quarterbacks can indeed be hit like ball-carrying running backs, even if they don’t have the ball -- especially if the quarterback carries out a fake in a running posture.
In the video, Blandino explains:
“He is still treated as a runner until he is clearly out of the play,” Blandino said. “The quarterback makes the pitch, he’s still a runner — he can be hit like a runner until he’s clearly out of the play.”
The league believes a running a play specifically designed to keep potential tacklers guessing makes any player who might fake carrying the ball should be fair game.
“The quarterback and the running back, they’re both treated as runners. We don’t know who has the football, we don’t know who’s going to take it, so both players are treated as runners,” Blandino said.
Blandino emphasizes that, while quarterbacks retain the ability to protect themselves by sliding to the ground, they are not granted the same protection while running the read-option.
“The basic concept is, the quarterback position is not defenseless throughout the down. It’s the posture he presents that will dictate his protections,” Blandino said.
Blandino points out that quarterbacks are not fair game for defenders when it's obvious he no longer has the ball.
“If the quarterback is out of the pocket, he’s clearly out of the play, he cannot be unnecessarily contacted,” Blandino said.