Jim Harbaugh never has been timid about lobbying officials or the league office for a favorable ruling, and he's at it again when it comes to just how much abuse defenses can deliver to Colin Kaepernick when he runs the read option.
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, for example, said this week that the Packers plan to take their "shots" against Kaepernick and other read-option quarterbacks this season. "One of the things that the referees have told us is that when these quarterbacks carry out the fakes, they lose their right as a quarterback, a pocket-passing quarterback, the protection of a quarterback," Matthews said Monday on ESPN Radio. "You do have to take your shots on the quarterback, and obviously they're too important to their offense."
An NFL officiating crew arrived in Santa Clara in August to discuss that and other points of emphasis this season. Umpire Garth DeFelice backed up Matthews' point - even if a quarterback no longer has the ball, he can be hit if he's carrying out a read-option fake, DeFelice told reporters.
Harbaugh, however, called it "a gray area," and he said he's been in contact with the league office and will seek more clarification from the officiating crew before Sunday's game. Harbaugh went as far to say that all the "tough talk" coming from defensive players this offseason is tantamount to "targeting a specific player."
"You're hearing all the tough talk right now," he said. "You're hearing some intimidating type of talk, the same thing we were hearing a couple of years ago. It sounds a lot like targeting a specific player. You definitely start to wonder. A man doesn't usually tell you his bad intentions. And this is being discussed publicly. You know what's being said privately by what's being said publicly. You hope that their intent isn't going to be anything that's outside the rules."
How defenses counter the read option is a hot topic this offseason given the proliferation of quarterbacks - Kaepernick, Washington's Robert Griffin III, Carolina's Cam Newton, etc. - who run it. And it's especially significant this week considering that Kaepernick gained 181 rushing yards - an NFL record for a quarterback - when the 49ers beat the Packers in January.
The Packers coaching staff went to Texas A&M to study how to counteract the read option. Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, however, noted that the bulk of Kaepernick's initial yardage in the playoff game came on scrambles not designed read-option runs. "The first read option was a 5- or a 6-yard gain," McCarthy said.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, seemed decidedly unconcerned about potential rough treatment from the Packers. "It's football," he said. "You're going to get hit." Asked whether college opponents had similar strategies when he ran the read option at Nevada, he said, "They tried just about everything."
-- Matt Barrows